America: A Mayan Prophecy

While doing research on the Chilam Balam of Chumayel’s sacred texts, we found an interesting BBC brochure which describes an original classical piece of music composed and conducted by Thomas Adès. The work was entitled America: The Prophecy, Op.19., with Susan Bickley participating as mezzo-soprano.

Asked by Kurt Masur to provide a”message for the millenium”, for performance by the New York Philharmonic on the eve of 2000, Adès.turned his gaze from 1,000 years ahead to 500 years back, and looked for his message in the events of the Spanish Conquest of the Maya (meaning the Aztecs culture) in the Yucatan peninsula. A benign civilization, living in harmony with nature, was destroyed by looters. Or, looking at the case differently, a population in bondage to priests and princes was liberated to join the modern world of advancing knowledge, technology, and self-determination.

Although it doesn’t contain Maya music to be quoted, the books of Chilam Balam as the jaguar-seer or oracle provided Adès with the text for his mezzo-soprano’s prophecy lament as the singer repeats ‘Oh my nation’ with intimations of the Spanish music leading up to the full-scale musical battle, and to destruction.

From the Programme notes by Paul Griffiths © 2007, we include the prophetic text,

Oh my nation

The people move as if in dreams
They are weak from fuck and drink
The prophets and the priests are blind
In his bed the governor weeps
It is the end of all our ways

Oh my nation

They will come from the east
Their god stands on the pole
They will burn all the land
They will burn all the sky
They will break with a cross
Oh my nation
Your gods your fathers your children

Your cities will fall
Your trees will be scaffolds
They will rule from the backs of your fallen

Todos los buenos soldados que asentaren a esta guerra
no quieren ir descansados
Si salieren con victoria la paga que les darán será que
siempre tendrán en el cielo eterna gloria
[All the good soldiers who enlist in this war
do not seek for rest
If they emerge victorious their pay will be
eternal glory in heaven]


Burn burn burn
On earth we shall burn
We shall turn to ash
Drift across the land, over the mountains, out to sea

Weep weep weep
But know this well:
Ash feels no pain

Haec est victoria qua vincit mundum fides nostra
[This is the victory by which our faith conquers the world]


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