Orlande de Lassus’ “Prophetiae Sibyllarum”: Ancient Mystic Voices

In mystical writings, the Ancient Greek Sibyls foresaw the coming of Christ. These oracles are included among the prophets Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Their poetic verses inspired the Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus to write Prophetiae Sibyllarum some time around 1555. The work is a collection of twelve brief motets which follow an opening prologue.

This is music filled with chromaticism and harmonic adventure, anticipating the audacious madrigals of Gesualdo. You can hear this from the first measures of the Prologue (Carmina chromatico), in which the tonal center is shifting constantly and every new chord seems to bring a surprise. Some writers have suggested links between this strange, spiritually transformational harmony and alchemy. Prophetiae Sibyllarum, written over 400 years ago, floats into mysterious, “new” territory:

The sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god.

-Heraclitus, 5th century BC

Recordings

  • Lassus: Prophetiae Sibyllarum, De Labyrintho Amazon

Photograph: The 13th century tympanum over the center portal of the north transept at Chartres Cathedral.

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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