The Voice of Prophecy

Vox Sibyla concert features music inspired by female prophets—literal and metaphorical.

By Josh Cox ’18 | November 29, 2018

“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.”

This is how the Greek philosopher Heraclitus describes the Sibyls, female prophets from the ancient world who were said to foretell future events. The Sibyls are also the inspiration behind Vox Sibyla: Voice of The Prophetess, the upcoming choral performance by the Reed Chorus and Collegium Musicum. Choral director John Cox, visiting assistant professor of music, explains that the performance is meant to investigate the theme of female prophecy and how the voices of women behind it are portrayed.

The first half of the concert will explore the Sibylline prophecies regarding the coming of Christ. It opens with O Virtus Sapientae by the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen, a saint and sibyl in her own right, whose visions were officially approved by the Catholic Church. The piece begins on a solemn note but soars by the end, a move that highlights the ways Hildegard’s compositional style differed from her male counterparts. Her works tend to be less somber and more monophonic (consisting of a single melody)  and melismatic (when a single syllable glides through several different notes) than traditional chant.

Hildegard is an apt inclusion due to the concert’s secondary intention: to commend female composers and musicians who are almost “prophetesses” in their own right. They eschewed social and artistic norms by choosing to move away from the work of their male counterparts and experiment instead. They anticipated the future by innovating what would eventually become trends within their genre. The concert’s second half will explore this theme beginning with Lux Aurumque, a radiant piece about angels singing to the newborn Christ that conveys a sense of mysterious light. It was composed by Eric Whitacre as part of his Virtual Choir series, in which he digitally brings together thousand of singers over video chat to perform together.

The performance ends with the exuberant, rolling, Hymne Au Soleil, composed by Lili Boulanger. Boulanger is another metaphorical prophetess. She was the first female winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome compositional prize in 1912 and is well-known as a visionary for the ways her intensely vocal, dissonant. and motif-filled works differed from her contemporaneous counterparts. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of her early death, a fact that is highlighted by the performance’s penultimate song, Robert Pearsall’s Lay A Garland.

Join us for this free performance on Sunday, December 2, at 3 p.m. in Reed’s Kaul Auditorium. The Collegium will also perform these pieces in January on their tour through California. They’ll be stopping in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco.

Tags: Campus Life, Performing Arts