The origins of the Songs of the Sibyls date back to the 6th century BC. Semi-divine beings, their oracular powers enabled them to predict the future. The myth of the sibyl was appropriated by the early Christians to prophesy the second coming of Christ, heralding the last judgment and the end of the world. This mythological element survived as late as the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance. Originally sung in Latin, the Songs of the Sibyls were traditionally performed by a young boy disguised as a woman during Matins on Christmas Day or during Holy Week in France, Italy and especially the Iberian Peninsula from the 10th century.
The liturgy of the Dead – including the Requiem Mass, the Burial Service and the Office of the dead, properly speaking – was granted considerable importance by the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities and by the local church composers from very early times. Throughout the Middle Ages, according to the extant documentary descriptions, the death of a great Lord, such as the Count of Barcelona or the sovereign of any of the Spanish kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon or Navarre, was usually mourned with impressive ceremonies in which the solemnity of the liturgy was often enhanced by the addition of the planctus, a kind of lengthy optional lament that was sung monophonically and of which several examples have survived.
The name of gambist and conductor Jordi Savall's new Alia Vox Diversa label may seem puzzling, inasmuch as it's hard to imagine anything more diverse that the existing Alia Vox catalogue, covering music that spans half the globe. The unifying factor seems to be that Savall himself is not present; the leader of the Euskal Barrokensemble here is multi-instrumentalist Enrike Solinís, a member of Savall's Hesperion XXI. The music is for the most part not "Baroque" but covers a wide range of music associated with the Euskel Antiqva, the Basque legacy.
Like the Renaissance itself, Music for the Spanish Kings begins with a strutting fanfare and ends with a melancholic sigh. Attaining his usual high standards, Jordi Savall has fashioned a poignant and varied musical portrait of the century encompassing the reigns of three Spanish kings: Alphonso I (1442-58), Ferdinand I (1458-94), and Charles V (1516-56). Montserrat Figueras' rich mezzo-soprano voice carries over half the pieces on the first disc. Her stunning vibrato imparts a troupadour's sadness to the cancions.