Friday, November 21, 2014

O vos angeli

Responsory for the Angels (D 159r-v, R 468v, Scivias III.13.2b)
by Hildegard of Bingen
Back to Table of Contents
R. O vos angeli
qui custoditis populos,
quorum forma fulget
in facie vestra,
et o vos archangeli
qui suscipitis
animas iustorum,
et vos virtutes,
dominationes et troni,
qui estis computati
in quintum secretum numerum,
et o vos
et seraphin,
sigillum secretorum Dei:

R. Sit laus vobis,
qui loculum antiqui cordis
in fonte asspicitis.

V. Videtis enim
vim Patris,
que de corde illius
spirat quasi facies.

R. Sit laus vobis,
qui loculum antiqui cordis
in fonte asspicitis.
R. O angels, you
who guard the peoples in your care
whose form reflects in flash
upon your face;
O archangels, you
who lend your aid
to righteous souls;
O virtues,
dominations, thrones—
you’re reckoned
in the mystic fifth;
and O you
and seraphim,
the seal upon God’s mysteries:

R. Praise be to you,
who glimpse the chamber of the ancient heart
within the fount, the source.

V. For you look into
the Father’s
inner strength—
the breathing of his heart
as of his face.

R. Praise be to you,
who glimpse the chamber of the ancient heart
within the fount, the source.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer and Nathaniel M. Campbell

E Mode
Range: G below the final to D an octave and a 7th above
Setting: neumatic and melismatic, with one very long melisma on asspicitis in the respond

Needless to say, this is one of Hildegard’s most elaborate pieces. It displays an extensive pitch range, ornate and extensive melismatic statements and makes liberal use of large intervallic leaps in both directions, including one upward move of a 6th.

Hildegard considered the angels to be the highest ranking personae in the celestial hierarchy, who interacted directly with divinity and whose speech was imitated most closely by music. Thus it is unsurprising that songs to the angels would be exuberant and ecstatic constructions.

O vos angeli opens with the melismatically set salutation, “O you angels,” which is melodically articulated in close range to the final and below to G. The melody extends upwards to the E an octave above the final on the word custoditis [you guard], which refers to the angelic guardianship of humanity, whose form is reflected in the faces of the angels. On page 2 of the transcription, the melody ascends dramatically from the E an octave above the final to D a 7th higher on suscipitis [you receive], which describes the angels as receiving the souls of the just. The highest ranges are again attained on the words principatus [princedoms], and dominationes [dominations] that describe the exalted attributes of the angelic beings.

The phrasing is in this responsory, despite its range changes, is fairly straightforward. The final, E an octave above the final, B, and A are the primary grammatical marking tones, and most phrases are outlined by one of these pitches. When the phrase is too long for one line in the transcription, it is continued to the next line and a tick barline inserted at the end of the phrase.

This piece offers insights on one of the vexing issues in Hildegard’s songs - the question of phrase lengths. Here, it is clear that the lengthy melismas assigned to individual words are intended to be sung on one breath. For example, on page 2 of the transcription, the single words potestates, principatus, and dominationes [et troni] are set to melismas that contain 34 or more notes. This gives us a bit of a clue about tempo, as such long statements would be difficult to sustain on one breath at a slow speed.

The word asspicitis in the respond [page 4] occupies 3 staves in the transcription. Obviously this needs to be broken in performance. The phrasing given here is one possible interpretation. ingers, however, should make breathing spaces according to what works individually for them. If one wants to keep to the standard grammatical markers, one might consider breaking line 4 in the middle between E and B. These are not conjoined neumes, so breathing is possible. It does, however, diminish the significance of the leap some. Again, individual interpretation and choice applies.

Another interesting question brought up by O vos angeli is the manner of performance Hildegard intended. While the respond and the verses would have been sung by different choirs, the extensive pitch range appears in the verses. For example, the melody moves from the lowest to the highest pitch by line 1 of page 2 of the transcription. According to Julia Smucker, some singers might have possessed such a range - as she does. Nathaniel Campbell suggests that another potential division in the first section before the respond would have been to divide each ‘o vos’ statement up, with different singers taking one segment. At any rate, O vos angeli is quite a remarkable work that would have been spectacular in performance.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Laus Trinitati

Votive antiphon for the Trinity (D 157r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Laus Trinitati, que sonus et vita
ac creatrix omnium in vita ipsorum est,
et que laus angelice turbe
et mirus splendor archanorum,
que hominibus ignota sunt, est,
et que in omnibus vita est.
Praise to the Trinity—the sound and life
and creativity of all within their life,
the praise of the angelic host
and wondrous, brilliant splendor hid,
unknown to human minds, it is,
and life within all things.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this antiphon, Hildegard grapples with the Trinity with her usual verve—but it remains insufficient to the task and its vitality becomes muddled. (This may perhaps account for the fact that it is one of only two pieces that appear in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript, but which were left out of the later Riesenkodex—the other is O frondens virga.)

Its opening image of the praise owed to the Trinity is connected, in the middle of the antiphon, to the praise of the heavenly host, whose symphony attempts to reflect the Trinitarian mystery. The dominant theme, however, is life, first within the Trinity, and then in God’s every creation. Both the thrice-repeated vita and its musical treatment confirm this point: the cascade of descending notes on vita at the end of the first line (line 2 in the transcription) is redoubled in its third appearance in the final line, which carries the longest melisma of any syllable in the piece and spans every note save one of the antiphon’s complete range.

Around that central conceit of life Hildegard builds a trinity of images—sound, life, and creatrix, the feminine version of the noun creator; yet, Hildegard gives us no indication of how this triplex is to be applied to the persons of the triune God. We know from her vision of the Trinity in the Scivias (Part II, Vision 2) that she did not lack the creativity or nerve to employ innovative images. Indeed, that vision’s supple language is justly famous:[1]
Scivias II.2: The Trinity.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 47r.
Then I saw a bright, serene light (serenissima lux), and in this light a human figure the color of sapphire (sapphirini coloris species hominis), which was all blazing with a gentle, red-glowing fire (suavissimus rutilans ignis). And that bright light bathed the whole of the red-glowing fire, and the red-glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the red-glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in one power of potential.
Hildegard then offers three more analogies for Father, Son, and Spirit respectively:
  • a stone’s damp viridity (umida viriditas), solidity to the touch (palpabilis comprehensio), and red-sparking fire (rutilans ignis);
  • a flame’s brilliant light (splendida claritas), scarlet verdure (pupureus viror), and fiery heat (igneus ardor);
  • a word’s sound (sonus), force or meaning (virtus), and breath (flatus).
In that Scivias vision, the sound of a word signifies the Father; yet, Hildegard also uses sound to signify the Holy Spirit in the hymn, O ignee Spiritus; and in the Liber Divinorum Operum, the term sonus can often signify the sound of the divine Word, that is, the Son. She uses the imagery of life-giving life for the Holy Spirit in Spiritus sanctus vivificans; yet, in today’s antiphon, the entire Trinity subsists within all life, making it difficult to identify the first appearance of vita with any specific divine person. Perhaps most puzzling is Hildegard’s choice to feminize the noun creator into creatrix, a term she uses nowhere else to describe the divinity.[2] If it is simply a case of matching the grammatical gender of Trinitas, then the masculine gender of sonus remains awkwardly out of joint.

Despite these polyvalencies, we might loosely conjecture an identification of Father with sound, Son with life, and Spirit with creatrix, based on the following conditions: first, the traditional order of the persons; second, the Scivias’ analogy of the word, in which sound corresponds to the Father; and third, the association of the Spirit with creativity in the two antiphons to the Spirit that directly precede Laus Trinitati in the Dendermonde manuscript, Spiritus sanctus vivificans and Karitas habundat.

To make such a conjecture, however, is perhaps to miss the point of Hildegard’s poetical task. The second half of the antiphon strains considerably against textual syntax and constitutes her tacit admission that all of these analogies and images must remain only partially comprehensible, as the reality to which they point remains hidden from human knowledge. As the object of angelic praise, this Trinity recalls the unseen, unknowable void that Hildegard left in the center of the concentric circles that illustrate the nine ranks of the heavenly host in Scivias I.6 (cf. O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli and O vos angeli). Yet, Hildegard cannot remain wholly silent about this, and her attempt to describe the indescribable in a cataphatic deluge of images recalls the words of one of Walter Chalmers Smith’s most beloved hymns:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.
Through a fumbling attempt to describe the Trinity in images and an admission of such an attempt's epistemological impossibility, Hildegard returns in the end to the key word on which she can hang some type of certainty: vita, life. Whatever speculative failures might obtain in our attempts to joyously contemplate the Trinity, we can rest assured that the basic fact of life, of existence itself, is the most immediate revelation of the divine.

What does it mean, then, to say that life itself not only reflects but is, in a sense, the Trinity? Divine vitality is not merely one of individual simplicity, but also one of relational complexity. God lives because God lives in community, a sharing of life. The mystery of the Trinity is not merely a paradox around which we try—and repeatedly fail—to wrap our minds. Rather, the Trinity is a vocation to move outside of ourselves, to share our life, our love, our music, and our creativity with others.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer and Nathaniel M. Campbell

E mode
Range: D below the final to E an octave above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic, short melimas and one long melisma on last word, vita

While the title is given as Laus Trinitati, the first full phrase encompasses line two of the transcription, which ends on the final E. A light pause can be taken at the end of line 1 if a performer so wishes, as this line ends on B, the secondary grammatical marking tone in the mode. The next phrase dips below the final to D on the opening ac, which indicates that the ideas in this phrase are closely related to the previous one; it also ends definitively on E. In using the secondary tone B, the following two phrases contain what might be considered in modern music theory incomplete pauses at the ends of lines 4 and 5.

Line 6 is somewhat ambiguous as far as phrasing is concerned. The text above has broken it into two lines in accordance with the syntactical units, in which the first relative clause of line 6 (que hominibus ignota sunt) is subordinate to the relative clause of lines 4-5; its que refers to the archanorum (“mysteries”) at the end of the previous line, while the verb est completes the relative clause of lines 4-5. The final phrase, que in omnibus vita est, is syntactically at the same level of subordination as the relative clauses of lines 2 and 4-5, all in reference to Trinitati.

Because the line as transcribed begins conventionally on the modal final E and ends on the secondary tone B, it could be sung as one phrase. If one wants to separate the ideas as per the text, then some articulation is required. Musically, the conjunction et can go with either phrase. One option would be to break after it, so that que in omnibus… begins on D, as with line 2. A breath mark has been inserted to offer some guidance.

Further Resources for Laus Trinitati


[1] Translations adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 161-5; Latin text from the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 
[2] Its only other appearance in the corpus of her works is in Liber Vitae Meritorum, III.63, where its grammatical gender matches the antecedent impietas to denote the false “creativity” that impiety uses to rearrange and pervert the divine order. 

Karitas habundat

[Caritas abundat]Back to Table of Contents
Psalm antiphon for the Holy Spirit as Divine Love (D 157r, R466v)
by Hildegard of Bingen
habundat in omnia,
de imis excellentissima
super sidera
atque amantissima
in omnia,
quia summo regi osculum pacis
abounds in all,
from the depths exalted and excelling
over every star,
and most beloved
of all,
for to the highest King the kiss of peace
she gave.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

The connection between Divine Love (Karitas or Caritas) and the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ’s promise of the Paraclete’s coming in the Last Supper discourse. The new commandment, to love each other as Christ has loved us (John 13:34), is followed in the very next chapter:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [in the Vulgate, Paraclitum], to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
     —John 14:15-17
Like Spiritus sanctus vivificans, this antiphon shares a key thematic with O virtus Sapientie, for in Hildegard’s visionary allegories, Caritas takes her place alongside Sapientia (Divine Wisdom) as a manifestation of the eternal counsel and God’s self-manifestation into creation. She makes her most dynamic and impressive appearance in the opening vision of the Liber Divinorum Operum, where she declares herself in a jumble of different images and metaphors, moving effortlessly from one to the next, never stopping in any one place long, yet often circling back around from a new direction. In each instantiation of this panoply, she reveals herself as the creative, fiery force driving the living dynamics of all creation and its microcosm in the human being:
I am the supreme and fiery force, who sets all living sparks alight and breathes forth no mortal things, but judges them as they are. Flying around the circling circle with my upper wings, that is, with wisdom, I have ordered all things rightly. But I am also the fiery life of the essence of divinity; I flame above the beauty of the fields and I shine in the waters and I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And with the airy wind I rouse to life all things with some invisible life, which sustains all things.

Therefore I, the fiery force, lie hidden in these things, and they burn because of me, just as breath continually moves a human being and a flickering flame exists within the fire. All of these things live in their essences and are not found in death, because I am life. I am also reason, possessing the wind of the resounding Word, through which every created thing was made; and in all these things I blow, so that none of them might be mortal in its nature, because I am life. (…)

But I also fulfill my duty, since all living things are set ablaze from me; and I am uniform life in eternity, which has neither beginning nor ending. God is this life, working and moving itself, and yet this life is one in three forces. Therefore Eternity is called the Father, the Word is called the Son, and the breath connecting these two is called the Holy Spirit, just as God is signified in human beings, in whom are body, soul, and reason.
     —Liber Divinorum Operum, I.1.2[1]
This wide range of images is condensed in this simple antiphon into two key concepts—or perhaps, given the fact that most of Hildegard’s music was likely composed before the Liber Divinorum Operum, it might be better to say that, from the simple articulations of this antiphon was spun the complex web of Caritas’ powerful visionary appearance at the opening of the latter work. Each of these two key concepts is enunciated by a superlative adjective (a construction in which Hildegard revelled and whose rhythms are far more poetic in Latin than in English): Love embraces the cosmos as excellentissima (“most excellent”; in its etymology, the Latin concept of excellence relates to loftiness and height), and God, her royal spouse, as amantissima (“most beloved”).

The first half of the antiphon celebrates the exalted reach of Divine Love from the depths of the abyss to the heights beyond the stars. Because the subtle immensity of her being is the dynamic structuring principle of all levels of created being (habundat in omnia), she connects every link in the neoplatonic chain of being, overflowing from the Divine Source into each successive level. Love’s fundamentally connective office then transforms in the second half of the antiphon into the tender relationship between lover and beloved. While this imagery is classically scriptural, Hildegard here has assimilated a verse from Psalm 85 to reverse the imagery of the opening of the Song of the Songs. While the Bride cries out, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Sg. Sgs. 1:2), in Hildegard’s antiphon, it is Caritas who reaches herself up to kiss the High King with the kiss shared between Justice and Peace in Ps. 85:10 (84:11 in the Vulgate).

The music itself highlights Love’s active giving rather than passive reception by repeating the opening phrase on Karitas almost note-for-note in the long final melisma on dedit ("gave"). As in Spiritus sanctus vivificans, the dynamic paradox that animates the Spirit’s office is the tension between a rooted omnipresence that structures the world—denoted here in the first of the antiphon’s two verbs, habundat—and the constantly moving dynamism of the Spirit’s activity—denoted here in the second verb, dedit. In its guise as Caritas, the Holy Spirit is an active agent of peace—the harmony in and for which the world was created.

That harmony is further reflected in the pervasive homoioteleuton, or repetition at the end of words, of “a”—again, another feature seen in Spiritus sanctus vivificans. As Marianne Richert Pfau has noted (“Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons,” pp. 86-8), the intense repetition of “a” and “i”—the two vowels of the word Karitas itself—becomes wholly intertwined with the musical structure of the piece, in which five (or six, if you include the initial word Karitas) of the eight musical phrases ends on the modal final, D, and with the end-vowel “a” (omnia, excellentissima, sidera, amantissima, and omnia). The final two phrases are the exception—but in this case, the variatio proves the rule. The penultimate phrase ends with pacis and, rather than returning to D, remains high on A, pressing the melody onto the final phrase—a melisma on the first syllable of dedit—which begins and ends on the final while ranging all the way to its octave.

The repetition of final vocalic “a” and its marriage with the musical return to the final of D confirms the thematic structuring of the piece around the two superlative adjectives, which are further highlighted by the range of the music in which they are set. The two musical phrases that contain de imis excellentissima / super sidera also contain the broadest range of the entire piece, from the first appearance of the high D an octave above the final as the third note of de down to the low A on the first syllable of super (repeated on in omnia in the line after next), thus musically mirroring the breadth of Caritas’ ontological dynamic.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: A below the final to D an octave above the final
Setting: neumatic, with several melismas on key words

Set in the D mode, the antiphon revolves around the focal pitches of D and A, which are typical fulcrum pitches in this mode. The phrasing is straightforward. The opening, Karitas, is outlined by the modal final and carries a substantial melisma, thus endowing it with emphatic significance. While others have titled this piece Karitas habundat, the first word alone could serve as the title here because its melodic structure is so clearly defined by the final of the mode. The second phrase, habundat in omnia, begins on A, as do all of the subsequent phrases until the last two, which both open on D. The penultimate line ends on A, while the final phrase, like the antiphon’s opening, is outlined by the modal final.

Karitas is a favorite figure for Hildegard and plays a large role in the theological books. She receives less emphasis in the songs, with only one dedicated to her. However, some of the attributes assigned to Mary in the Symphonia are consistent with those given to the female allegorical figures in the theological writings.

Further Resources for Karitas habundat
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 140 and 279.
  • Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons.” (In Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Newman), pp. 86-8.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Trans. by Nathaniel Campbell, from the Latin text of Hildegard of Bingen, Liber Divinorum Operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, in CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 47-9.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

O ignis Spiritus paracliti

Sequence for the Holy Spirit (D 158, R 473r)Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1a. O ignis Spiritus paracliti,
vita vite omnis creature,
sanctus es vivificando formas.

lb. Sanctus es ungendo periculose
fractos, sanctus es tergendo
fetida vulnera.

2a. O spiraculum sanctitatis,
o ignis caritatis,
o dulcis gustus in pectoribus
et infusio cordium in bono odore virtutum.

2b. O fons purissime,
in quo consideratur
quod Deus alienos
colligit et perditos requirit.

3a. O lorica vite et spes compaginis
membrorum omnium
et o cingulum honestatis: salva beatos.

3b. Custodi eos qui carcerati sunt ab inimico,
et solve ligatos
quos divina vis salvare vult.

4a. O iter fortissimum, quod penetravit
omnia in altissimis et in terrenis
et in omnibus abyssis,
tu omnes componis et colligis.

4b. De te nubes fluunt, ether volat,
lapides humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.

5a. Tu etiam semper educis doctos
per inspirationem Sapientie

5b. Unde laus tibi sit, qui es sonus laudis
et gaudium vite, spes et honor fortissimus,
dans premia lucis.
1a. O fire of the Spirit and Defender,
the life of every life created:
Holy are you—giving life to every form.

1b. Holy are you—anointing the critically
broken. Holy are you—cleansing
the festering wounds.

2a. O breath of holiness,
O fire of love,
O taste so sweet within the breast,
that floods the heart with virtues’ fragrant good.

2b. O clearest fountain,
in which is seen the mirrored work of God:
to gather the estranged
and seek again the lost.

3a. O living armor, hope that binds
the every limb,
O belt of honor: save the blessed.

3b. Guard those enchained in evil’s prison,
and loose the bonds of those
whose saving freedom is the forceful will of God.

4a. O mighty course that runs within and through
the all—up in the heights, upon the earth,
and in the every depth—
you bind and gather all together.

4b. From you the clouds flow forth, the wind takes flight,
the stones their moisture hold,
the waters rivers spring,
and earth viridity exudes.

5a. You are the teacher of the truly learned,
whose joy you grant
through Wisdom’s inspiration.

5b. And so may you be praised, who are the sound of praise,
the joy of life, the hope and potent honor,
and the giver of the gifts of light.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In contrast to Hildegard’s hymn to the Holy Spirit, with its sparse music and taut themes, this sequence bursts into life with overflowing exuberance. At the same time, through Hildegard’s unique recasting of the sequence form, in which “she makes each pair [of versicles] melodically similar, at times identical, yet [with] a trace of asymmetry” (Dronke, Poetic Individuality, p. 158), it maintains a rhythm both steady and dynamic to express the Holy Spirit’s role as root of nature and as anima mundi, “the soul of the world.” (For a more detailed analysis of Hildegard’s melodic development of each versicle pair, see the “Commentary: Music and Rhetoric” below.) The poetry adopts the same paradoxical movement that animates some of Hildegard’s other pieces for the Spirit, especially the antiphon Spiritus sanctus vivificans, which combines the Spirit’s eternally rooted stability—the ground of being—with its dynamic activity. As Peter Dronke notes, this musical “pattern of echo and modification” is “beautifully reflected in the thematic development of the poetry: in each pair of versicles, the images and meaning of the second both mirror and carry forward those of the first” (ibid.).

The opening trope on the triple Sanctus reveals what Newman has called “the delicate balance” of this sequence’s images, as it moves between its Platonic role as “life-giver in the initial bounty of creation” to its grittier role as “source of healing” in “the ‘stricken’ world” (Symphonia, p. 281). This particular movement between grace and fallenness motivates the second and third versicle pairs, which begin, like the second, third, and fourth verses of Hildegard’s hymn O ignee Spiritus, by imagining the Spirit in relation to each of the five senses: the sound of the breath (the “mighty wind” from Acts 2:2), the felt heat of the fire, the taste and smell of divine virtue inspired in human hearts, and finally the contemplative gaze. Each of these physical senses is effortlessly connected to its deeper, spiritual signification—a perfect example of Hildegard’s visionary-poetic capacity to “construct” symbolic landscapes that “show no trace of [the didactic, allegorical, or figural] scaffolding” upon which they rely.[1] Indeed, verse 2b requires for clarity in translation the addition of some of that scaffolding—in this case, to explain that the indefinite quod (that which “is seen” [consideratur] in the Spirit’s fountain) refers to the opus Dei, “the work of God,” held eternally reflected within the creative divine foreknowledge. As Hildegard explains in the words of Divine Love (Caritas) in Liber Divinorum Operum III.3:[2]
For I have written humanity, who was rooted in me like a shadow, just as an object’s reflection is seen in water. Thus it is that I am the living fountain, because all creation existed in me like a shadow. In accordance with this reflected shadow, humankind was created with fire and water, just as I, too, am fire and living water. For this reason also, humans have the ability in their souls to set each thing in order as they will. Indeed, every creature possesses this reflected shadow, and that which gives each creature life is like a shadow, moving this way and that.
And so the living fountain is the Spirit of God, which he distributes unto all of his works. They live because of him and have vitality through him, just as the reflection of all things appears in water. And there is nothing that can clearly see this source of its life, for it can only sense that which causes it to move. Just as water makes that which is in it to flow, so also the soul is the living breath that always pours forth in a human being and makes them to know, to think, to speak, and to work by streaming forth.
Wisdom drew from the living fountain the words of the prophets and the words of other wise people and of the Gospels, and she entrusted them to the disciples of the Son of God. This she did so that the rivers of living water might flow out through them into the entire world, that they might return humanity to salvation like fish caught in a net. Indeed, the leaping fountain is the purity of the living God, and in it shines his radiant glory. In that splendor God embraces all things with great love, for their shadow appeared, reflected in the leaping fountain before God bade them to come forth in their forms.

And in me, Divine Love, all things shine resplendently, and my splendor reveals the form of creation just as a shadow indicates the form [of its object]; and in Humility, my helper, creation goes forth at God’s bidding. Likewise in humility, God bowed down to me, so that he might refresh those dried-out, fallen leaves in that blessedness by which he can do all things that he wishes. For he had formed them from the earth, and thus he has also freed them after their fall.
As I have noted elsewhere, Hildegard’s symbolic-poetic mode excels in connecting “the highest levels of contemplative knowledge (of divinity itself) with the lowest levels of concrete images and artifacts” as she envisions each particular image in the light of the entire scope of salvation history.[3] This mode of thought and expression participates in the neoplatonic metaphysics that Hildegard deploys particularly strongly in the fourth pair of versicles of today’s sequence. As Dronke explains (Poetic Individuality, pp. 158-60):
[T]he Spirit is characterized first as an irresistible force that penetrates the universe from without; then, in the complementary half-stanza, as the source of motion and fertility within the natural world. When the pervasive power has moved from the circumference of the cosmos right through to its centre, it becomes the centre-point from which new elemental life radiates.
The threefold action in [versicle 4a] recalls the functions of the three wings of the virtus Sapientie, as well as perhaps the Neoplatonic triad of processio, conversio, and reditus: the divine force descends and enters into all things, it harmonizes them, and draws them to itself. If here the language associates the powers of the Holy Spirit with those of the Anima Mundi, in the second versicle it links them with those of the goddess Natura. (…) At the same time, these functions, cosmic and terrestrial, complement each other; the movement of the thought and that of the music are shaped by same symmetrical-asymmetrical pattern, the undulation of parallelism and contrast.
In the final pair of versicles, the musical symmetry breaks down, however—5a illuminates the Spirit’s particularly pentecostal task within the teaching life of the Church, while 5b summarizes the sequence in a final burst of praise. Those final “gifts of light,” however, are also the tongues of fire that “through Wisdom’s inspiration” came upon the apostles at Pentecost, and the one trace of melodic parallel in this final verse pair connects “gifts of light” to the joy of the apostolic teaching; they can also be thematically connected to the Holy Spirit’s office as lucerna anime, “lamp of the soul,” in verse 3 of Hildegard’s hymn, O ignee Spiritus.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer and Nathaniel M. Campbell

A mode
Range: E below the final to A an octave above the final.
               In one instance in D, B an octave and a step above the final occurs, but this could be an error; see below.
Setting: syllabic and neumatic

While some of Hildegard’s sequences (e.g. O virga ac diadema) depart significantly from the traditional form, in which each verse pair shares the same melody, this one shows tighter control, with subtler variations between versicles. The melody in part b of each verse is usually a repetition or variation of the melody in part a, and the phrasing of the music often accords nicely with the textual sense. There are several places in this sequence, however, where parallel melodies create disjunctures in the textual sense of the poetry.

In verse 1a, the melodic phrasing is clearly in harmony with the poetic sense of the text. In its corresponding verse (1b), however, the congruence between text sense and melody is irregular. Keeping in mind once again that word order in the strict sense is not as important in medieval devotional Latin as it is in modern vernacular languages, the decision was made here to follow the musical logic rather than to adhere to the poetic phrasing. Thus, on p. 1 of the transcription, lines 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6, respectively, contain almost literal parallel melodies that are also fairly equal in length. Though this rendering disrupts the poetic sense of verse 1b, the repeated use of the A to E leap at the beginning of the lines and the C,G,A figure at the ends of phrases were interpreted as clues to Hildegard’s melodic intentions. This disruption to the triple Sanctus trope may rhetorically reflect the broken woundedness described in the text.

Verses 2a and 2b (p. 1, last line, through p. 2, line 3; and p. 2, lines 4-7 of the transcription) consist of very short segments, in accordance with the textual sense. However, their second lines (o ignis caritatis and in quo consideratur) begin with C, an unusual note as a tonal marker in this mode. The phrases could be combined in performance if singers prefer. The suggestion would be to combine the first and second lines of each versicle—O spiraculum sanctitatis with o ignis caritatis and O fons purissimus with in quo consideratur. That said, our decisions regarding phrasing of Verses 4a and 4b, which are discussed below, do consider C as a grammatical marker.

On p. 3 of the transcription (verse 3a), line 1 contains what appears to be an error in Dendermonde. The melody ascends from F to B, which is improbable for several reasons. B is an unlikely highest pitch in the A mode, and the movement from F would require the Bb, also suspect, as Hildegard never uses Bb in the upper register. To ascend to the climactic pitch on the less stable flat is equally doubtful. On the other hand, Hildegard sometimes breaks the rules, and the C clef clearly moved in the manuscript for this segment. According to our singer consultant, Julia Smucker, the R version is the more singable.

In verses 3a and 3b, the melodic phrasing as it is rendered in the transcription (p. 3) is uneven in length, in part because of the variation in melody between the pair, and in part because of the use of C as a tonal marker. If performers prefer, the phrase, Custodi eos qui carcerati sunt ab inimici (p. 3, line 2) could be sung together with et solve ligatos (line 3) if the tempo is brisk enough.

The phrasing in verses 4a and 4b is particularly fraught, because of ruptures between melodic parallels, on the one hand, and textual sense units, on the other. As Hildegard is quite consistent in the deployment of parallel melody in this piece (with the exception of the final pair, on which see below), we chose to make the line break between penetravit and omnia in verse 4a (p. 3, lines 5-6) in order to preserve the melodic parallels between the versicles. Although this delineation puts the object (omnia) on a different line from the verb (penetravit) in the first two lines of verse 4a, it preserves the melodic parallels forced by the more distinct syntactical unit of of the second line of verse 4b, lapides humorem habent (p. 4, line 1), which cannot be as easily broken up. From a musical standpoint, this phrasing uses C as a grammatical marker, which, though unusual for this mode, seems to be a common secondary tone in this particular sequence. Moreover, while it would also be possible to combine the first two lines of each versicle into a single phrase, Julia Smucker has indicated that such a phrasing would require a fast tempo and good breath support. An alternative delineation, following Dronke, Poetic Individuality, pp. 158-9, would break each versicle into five lines, phrased around the note pairs A-A, A-A, E-G, G-A, and A-A, thus:
4a. O iter fortissimum,
quod penetravit omnia
in altissimis et in terrenis
et in omnibus abyssis,
tu omnes componis et colligis.
4b. De te nubes fluunt,
ether volat, lapides
humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.
From the standpoint of Latin syntax and poetic style, separating the object, omnia, from its verb, penetravit, in verse 4a is not a significant break in the flow of the text. After the initial salutation, O iter fortissimum, the versicle enters the syntactical subunit of a relative clause, which runs from quod all the way to abyssis, before resetting to the principal clause in the final line of the verse. The three prepositional phrases, in altissimis et in terrenis / et in omnibus abyssis, all belong within the relative clause and describe where the Spirit's powerful course penetrates all things. Placing the object (omnia) and prepositional phrases after the verb gives them special emphasis. This delineation also reveals a particular aspect of the poetry that a more prosaic phrasing would hide: the use of the three different forms of the noun omnis at the beginning of the second, third, and fourth lines, thus emphasizing the Spirit's omnipresent activity.

Verses 5a and 5b, finally, depart from the mirrored pattern of the rest of the sequence, as their first lines are set to different melodies (p. 4, lines 4 and 7), though both begin on F. In verse 5a, F is repeated at the octave to open the second and third phrases (p. 4, lines 5 and 6), while in verse 5b, the octave F also begins the final line (p. 5, line 1), which is a variation of the final line of 5a (p. 4, line 6); while its second line begins on G (p. 4, line 8). In this section, there is an extended discrepancy between the manuscripts. It begins on the word educis (verse 5a, p. 4, line 4) and continues through the word inspirationem on the next line. The melodic motive reaches to the high A, but neither of the versions is consistent with the other melodies in the verse(s) in which the high pitch is reached. Finally, the piece ends on B in Dendermonde and A in the Riesenkodex; the R ending is more likely in the A mode.

Further Resources for O ignis Spiritus paracliti
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 148-50 and 281-2.
  • Dronke, Peter. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages: New Departures in Poetry, 1000-1150 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 157-60.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Peter Dronke, The Medieval Poet and His World (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1984), p. 85. 
[2] Trans. by Nathaniel Campbell, from the Latin text of the Liber Divinorum Operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, in CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 379-81; translation © The Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming. 
[3] See Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 29-30; accessible online here.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spiritus sanctus vivificans

Psalm antiphon for the Holy Spirit (D 157r, R 466va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Spiritus sanctus vivificans
vita movens omnia,
et radix est in omni creatura
ac omnia de inmunditia abluit,
tergens crimina ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans
The Holy Spirit: living and life-giving,
the life that’s all things moving,
the root in all created being:
of filth and muck it washes all things clean—
out-scrubbing guilty staining, its balm our wounds constraining—
and so its life with praise is shining,
rousing and reviving
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Recording with Psalm 110/111, sung by the nuns of the Abtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen, Germany:

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this opening antiphon of Symphonia’s section devoted to the Holy Spirit (eighth in the Riesenkodex, fifteenth in the Dendermonde, but either way, the first addressed to the third person of the Trinity), Hildegard offers swift, fulsome movement to convey the Spirit’s place, both rooted and rousing, as the source and sustainer of all created life. It is useful, then, to take this piece alongside O virtus Sapientie, as the spiraling movement of Wisdom’s wings propels also this dance through the Holy Spirit’s life-giving action. The mention of the Spirit’s cleansing and wiping away of filth also recalls the responsory, O vis eternitatis, with its movement from the fleshly garments of Adam to the Incarnation; and it is echoed in verse 1b of Hildegard’s sequence, O ignis Spiritus paracliti. In verses 4a-b of that same sequence, Hildegard also expands this antiphon’s treatment of the Holy Spirit as anima mundi, the “World-Soul” that courses through all existence with dynamic vitality.

Although Newman has criticized the syntax of this antiphon for being “clumsy” (Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 279), the alternation of participles with finite verbs sustains the essential movement of the Spirit’s own dynamis. The participles keep the Spirit’s action continuously in motion, rather than static or discrete. I have tried to maintain that continuous rhythm with the numerous participles in the translation, which also serve to convey another striking feature of this piece: its enumeration of words ending with “a”. Many of these (e.g. omnia, crimina, and vulnera) are neuter plural nouns, while others are feminine singular (e.g. creatura and inmunditia); but they are all connected by their vocalic ending to the key word: vita, “life” (feminine singular).

The thought-movement of the piece takes us from the Holy Spirit as the source of life, paradoxically both moving and the root of all life, to the Spirit’s cleansing and healing action to restore to life that which has been stained and wounded. The repetition of the same musical motif on sanctus (“holy”, line 1) and movens (“moving”, line 2) connects the Spirit’s holiness with its movement in the world—another paradox that juxtaposes the holy as set apart with the holy as synthetic. After a central section meditating upon the Spirit’s succor to cleanse the fetid wounds of fallenness, the antiphon returns to a celebration of the Spirit as giver of life. Another musical repetition links the scrubbing away of guilt (tergens, line 5 / 6 of the transcription) with the Spirit’s shining splendor (fulgens, line 7 / 8 of the transcription), as newly-polished silver gleams in the sunlight.[1]

A hallmark of Hildegard’s theology of the Spirit is this paradox of the Spirit as eternal root of being, on the one hand, and agent of dynamic metamorphosis on the other. This may reflect Hildegard’s own experience of the religious life, in a way, for her first entrance into the monastery at the Disibodenberg was as an anchoress with Jutta on All Saints’ Day, 1112—the technical terms of their enclosure there forbade them to leave the anchorhold, which was to be their permanent, stable place of service to God for the remainder of their lives. But Hildegard did leave the anchorhold, and in dramatic fashion, leading her community of nuns to an entirely new foundation (the Rupertsberg) around 1150, and traveling widely on preaching tours thereafter. Like the patron of that new foundation, St. Rupert, Hildegard could be the “fresh viridity of God’s creative finger, in which God planted his green vineyard,” precisely because she drew her strength as “a lofty pillar” and “the mountain’s height” that “never shall be laid low at God’s discerning judgment” (from her antiphon to St. Rupert, O viriditas digiti Dei).

Hildegard recognizes in her theology of the Holy Spirit that the power of the Spirit’s rootedness in eternity dynamically overflows into time and throughout the world, vivifying what would otherwise be passive and dead—for the antithesis of life is the immoveable stagnation of death, the failure of the dynamic. This idea of fixed strength overflowing into dynamic, creative life is reflected in the participles in this piece, which keep the Spirit’s action continuous rather than static. Likewise, Hildegard described the strength with which the Spirit endued the Church (confirmation) at Pentecost as one that bursts forth, a powerful and creative actor in the drama of salvation history:
The Father sent [the Holy Spirit] into the world for love of His Son, to enkindle the hearts of His disciples with fiery tongues and make them stronger in the name of the Holy and True Trinity. Before the coming upon them of the Holy Spirit in fire, they were sitting shut up in their house, protecting their bodies, for they were timid about speaking of God’s justice and feeble in facing their enemies’ persecutions. Because they had seen My Son in the flesh, their inner vision was unopened and they loved Him in the flesh, and thus did not see the bright teaching that afterward, when they were made strong in the Holy Spirit, they spread abroad in the world. But by Its coming they were so confirmed that they did not shrink from any penalty, but bravely endured it. And this is the strength of that tower, which strengthened [confirmed] the Church so much that the insane fury of the Devil can never overcome it.
     —Scivias II.4.1[2]

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: G below the final to A an octave above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic with some short melismas

In this antiphon, phrasing is generally straightforward, with A and E serving as the grammatical markers. There are two less regular situations in which F has been designated here as the opening pitch of a line/phrase.

The first incidence is found on line 5 of the first page of the transcription (abluit). This is an interesting segment, as the phrase as given in the transcription begins on F and ends on B with no flat, thus outlining the tritone. Perhaps this was an intentional rhetorical strategy designed to highlight the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, one of Hildegard’s favorite themes.

It is possible to align this section differently, but it would seriously disrupt any sense of textual order. The musical phrase that begins on ac omnia de inmunditia could continue past abluit to encompass tergens on line 6. Crimina would then begin on the A an octave above the final and the phrase would begin with a downward leap of a fifth—a very unusual opening for Hildegard. Thus ordered, this next phrase would continue to include et sic est on line 7. Such a division would keep the phrases outlined by either A or E, the typical demarcating tones in this mode. However, although word order was less important in medieval Latin than it is in modern languages, this solution would negate any textual phrasing. The music would dominate rather than emphasizing and enhancing the words. Such an interpretation, while not unacceptable, is nevertheless unlikely.

Interestingly, the range of the piece only reaches to the A an octave above the final once in the Riesenkodex, while it attains the highest pitch several times in Dendermonde. The placement of this high A is always associated with a downward leap of a fifth, except in the first line. This melodic gesture can be thought to link the idea of (the root of) life with the cleansing and saving power of the Holy Spirit. The rhetorical emphasis gained by such melodic repetition is not as strong here, however, as it is in other works.

Further Resources for Spiritus sanctus vivificans


[1] I have elsewhere argued that Hildegard made the intentional and costly choice to illustrate the Rupertsberg manuscript of her Scivias with extensive silver, precisely to symbolize the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit: Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 46-8; accessible online here
[2] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 190. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

O tu illustrata

Votive antiphon for the Virgin (R 466vb-467ra) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O tu illustrata
de divina claritate,
clara Virgo Maria,
Verbo Dei
unde venter tuus floruit
de introitu
Spiritus Dei,
qui in te
et in te exsuxit
quod Eva abstulit
in abscisione puritatis,
per contractam
contagionem de
suggestione diaboli.

Tu mirabiliter abscondisti in te
inmaculatam carnem
per divinam racionem,
cum Filius Dei
in ventre tuo floruit,
sancta divinitate
eum educente
contra carnis iura
que construxit Eva,
integritati copulatum
in divinis visceribus.
Illumined by
God’s clearest brightness,
O Virgin Mary bright,
with the Word of God
your womb then flourished at
the entrance of
God’s Spirit—
within you
he breathed,
within drew out
the loss of Eve,
a purity cut off and silenced
by that disease
contracted at
the Devil’s sly persuasion.

You wondrously held hid within yourself
a flesh kept undefiled
according to God’s Reason—
for when the Son of God
within your womb was blossomed,
divinity most holy
brought him forth
to abrogate the laws of flesh
establishéd by Eve,
for he was joined to whole integrity
in flesh and womb divine.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

O tu illustrata by Hildegard Von Bingen on Grooveshark

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this antiphon, Hildegard celebrates the restoration of procreative purity and integrity in the Virgin’s womb, prepared to receive and bring forth the flower of the Incarnate God. It is a fitting close to the Marian section of the Symphonia, as it reflects and refracts many of Hildegard’s most characteristic themes for the Virgin. The piece naturally falls into three unequal thematic movements: its first half contrasts the realms of the divine and of the fallen, while the final movement celebrates Mary’s place in mediating the two.

This thematic movement is echoed in the musical setting. In the first third of the antiphon (O tu illutrata…qui in te sufflavit), Hildegard establishes a steady rhythm that repeats a set of several self-contained motifs with various minor variations, including transpositions up or down the scale. Many of the phrases in this first section also begin with leaps of the fourth and the fifth within the plagal octave of A-D-A (for an explanation of the piece’s shifting modalities, see Beverly Lomer’s commentary on the music below). The repetition creates an appropriate atmosphere for meditating upon the steady and self-referential movements of the divinity in its relationship to the Virgin, first in the Father’s light, then in the Son’s Word, and finally in the Spirit’s breath. The mood of the music then shifts as we enter into the drama of Eve’s purity lost to the Devil’s poison, with much less repetition and quicker movement up and down the scale, further emphasized by the temporary shift of tonal outlining to E on contagionem de suggestione diaboli. Finally, in the second half of the antiphon, Hildegard marries these two musical styles by reintroducing the use of repeated motifs (e.g. on in te and carnem) within the wider movement of pitch, especially as the piece reaches a fifth higher on ventre than it had up to that point, to its highest note of the D two octaves above middle C, producing an entire range of two-and-a-half octaves.

Despite the thematic height of the opening lines and their meditation upon the divine power flowing into the Virgin’s womb, that musical height is only reached in the later return to that womb, for a full appreciation of its exaltation can only come in mirrored contrast to the depth of fallenness from which the divinity had to restore it. As in other pieces (e.g. Ave Maria, O auctrix vite, O clarissima, and O virga ac diadema), the symbolic parallels between Eve and Mary were a primary and powerfully fertile locus for Hildegard’s poetic imagination. The key to her exploration of this parallel in this antiphon is Hildegard’s perception that the Virgin’s conception of the Son of God took place in accord with the original, paradisical model of procreation—the state in which Adam and Eve were created, whose “most distinctive feature (…) was the state of integrity—wholeness of mind and body—which includes but transcends physical virginity.” As Barbara Newman continues:
In Paradise, Adam and Eve were indeed free from lust, but their union would not have been without pleasure. Rather, husband and wife would have lain side by side, and they would gently perspire as if sleeping. Then the woman would become pregnant from the man’s perspiration (sudor), and, while they lay thus sweetly asleep, she would give birth to a child painlessly from her side … in the same way that God brought Eve forth from Adam, and that the Church was born from the side of Christ.”[1]
The gentle and noble beauty of this paradiscal nature is taken up in the Incarnation in Hildegard’s explication of Ps. 44[45]:3, “Beautiful in form above the children of men:”
In Him shines forth beauty, the noblest form free from any spot of sin, without a splash of human corruption, and lacking all desire for the sinful works demanded by fleshly human weakness. None of these ever touched this human. And the body of the Son of Man was born more purely than other people, for the stainless Virgin bore her Son in ignorance of sin, and thus ignorant of the sorrow of childbirth. How? She never felt any stubborn urge to sin, and therefore the pains of childbirth were unknown to her; but the wholeness of her body [corporis sui integritas] rejoiced within her. Oh, how beautiful then His body!
     —Scivias III.1.8[2]
Hildegard explains in greater detail the importance of this paradisical integritas corporis in the Virgin’s salvific role in the figure of Chastity, one of the virtues that appears upon the Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity in Scivias III.8. In the vision itself, this figure of Chastity declares (Scivias III.8.7):
I am free and not fettered, for I have passed through the pure Fountain Who is the sweet and loving Son of God. I have passed through Him, and I have come forth from Him. And I tread underfoot the Devil with his limitless pride, who has prevailed to fetter me. He is alien from me, because I am always in the Heavenly Father.”
Later, Hildegard’s heavenly voice reveals the significance of Chastity’s appearance (Scivias III.8.24):
She is dressed in a tunic purer and more brilliant than crystal, which shines resplendent like water when the sun reflects from it. It is brilliant because of her simple intent, and pure because it is not covered with the dust of burning desire; miraculously strengthened by the Holy Spirit, she is enwrapped in the garment of innocence, which shines in the bright white light [in clarissima albedine] of the Fountain of living water, the splendid Sun of eternal glory.

And a dove is poised over her head, facing her with its wings spread as if to fly. This is to say that Chastity at her beginning, at her head, as it were, is protected by the extended and overshadowing wings of the Holy Spirit; and so she can fly through the Devil’s snares, one after another. For the Spirit comes with the ardent love of holy inspiration to wherever Chastity shows her sweet face.

Therefore too, in her womb as if in a pure mirror appears a pure infant, on whose forehead is written, “Innocence.” For in the heart of this purest and brightest of virtues there lives inviolable, beautiful and sure integrity [integritas]. Its form is immature because it is simple infancy that has integrity; and its forehead, which is to say its knowledge, shows no arrogance and pride but only simple innocence.

And in her right hand she holds a royal scepter, but she has laid her left hand to her breast. This is to say that on the right, the side of salvation, life is shown in Chastity through the Son of God who is the King of all people. And through Him as defender, Chastity confounds the left, the side of lust, and reduces it to nought in the hearts of those who love her.[3]
This image of virgin Chastity bearing the infant Integrity elaborates the second half of this antiphon, but also brings to mind two other of Hildegard’s compositions for the Virgin that illuminate the first half of the antiphon. Chastity’s gleaming garment shares the properties of reflecting and refracting light that Hildegard attributed to the Virgin in the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, in which the Virgin’s body is a sparkling gem through which the divine light pours, a lens to focus that light into the world. Moreover, Hildegard’s contrast of the Virgin to Eve’s diseased fall, together with her frequent references to the healing properties of gemstones, focuses our attention on the responsory, O clarissima, in which the Virgin becomes healer dispensing from her womb the balm of salvation.

The disease that the Virgin’s ointment heals is described in this antiphon as the infection that Eve “contracted / at the Devil’s sly persuasion”—her loss of virginal purity, the gleaming garment of a translucid gem that her body was made to be. The word that Hildegard uses to describe that loss of purity—abscisio—carries in Latin the same double meaning that being cut off does in English: it can mean both a literal loss and the loss of the right to speak. This is the shame-faced silence with which humanity’s first fallen parents looked mournfully upon their homeless offspring in the antiphon Cum erubuerint—and it is the silence that was broken in that same antiphon by the Virgin’s clara voce, “crystal voice”. The Virgin’s clarion call reechoed the musical harmony of Adam and Eve’s paradisical speech, silenced by the Devil’s acrimony in the Fall but restored by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the prophets and saints. Hildegard’s most powerful theological meditation on this restoration of prelapsarian harmony came in the last year of her life, when she described its paradisical power to overwhelm the devil in the famous (and scathing) letter she wrote to the prelates of Mainz in her attempts to have an interdict lifted from her abbey:
When we consider these things carefully, we recall that man needed the voice of the living Spirit, but Adam lost this divine voice through disobedience. For while he was still innocent, before his transgression, his voice blended fully with the voices of the angels in their praise of God. Angels are called spirits from that Spirit which is God, and thus they have such voices by virtue of their spiritual nature. But Adam lost that angelic voice which he had in paradise, for he fell asleep to that knowledge which he possessed before his sin, just as a person on waking up only dimly remembers what he had seen in his dreams. And so when he was deceived by the trick of the devil [suggestione diaboli] and rejected the will of his Creator, he became wrapped up in the darkness of inward ignorance as the just result of his iniquity.

God, however, restores the souls of the elect to that pristine blessedness by infusing them with the light of truth. And in accordance with His eternal counsel, He so devised it that whenever He renews the hearts of many with the pouring out of the prophetic Spirit, they might, by means of His interior illumination, regain some of the knowledge which Adam had before he was punished for his sin.

And so the holy prophets get beyond the music of this exile [in hoc exsilio] and recall to mind that divine melody of praise which Adam, in company with the angels, enjoyed in God before his fall. For, inspired by the Spirit which they had received, they were called not only to compose psalms and canticles (by which the hearts of listeners would be inflamed) but also to construct various kinds of musical instruments to enhance these songs of praise with melodic strains.
Consider, too, that just as the body of Jesus Christ was born of the purity [ex integritate] of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, so, too, the canticle of praise, reflecting celestial harmony, is rooted in the Church through the Holy Spirit. The body is the vestment of the spirit, which has a living voice [vivam vocem], and so it is proper for the body, in harmony with the soul, to use its voice to sing praises to God.[4]

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: This antiphon changes modal centers and involves variously G, D, A, E, and B. It moves from a start on G/D, to D/A, to E, and finally to B. Some editors have ‘regularized’ these changes by transposing parts of the antiphon, but because the shifting tonalities are very clearly specified in the manuscript, the transcription remains faithful to its source.
Range: A below middle C to D two octaves and a second above middle C
Setting: neumatic, with short melismatic gestures

This antiphon is a most interesting piece in the way it changes modal centers. It appears only in the Riesenkodex, and while the changes seem idiosyncratic, the neumes and clef changes are quite clear. The salutation, O tu illustrata, begins on G and ends on A, as does the next phrase, with a similar melody expanded to a higher range. The third musical line also begins on G, but ends on D. It is possible to interpret these three musical segments as they are divided in the transcription, or as one long phrase that works with both the G mode and its plagal version on D. As the next part begins on that plagal D and then makes use of A as a punctuating pitch, it could be that Hildegard is playing with the sonorities, as A is the plagal version of D.

It remains within these sonorities until page 2, lines 8 and 9 of the transcription (contagionem de | suggestione diaboli), when it briefly moves from A-G to E to outline phrase segments. In the antiphon’s second half, the melody then returns to A for its tonal outliner until page 3, line 3 (cum Filius Dei), where C is introduced as an additional grammatical marker. The modulation gets even more interesting thereafter, as the final line of the antiphon is outlined by B, while the next-to-last line (integritati copulatum, end of page 3) begins on C. It is possible to shift the focus to G and B by ending the previous line at construxit on B and moving Eva to the beginning of the next phrase to make it begin on G rather than C. This would accord better with the last line of the piece, which is outlined by B, but doing so would seriously disrupt the text. This irregular use of C makes little sense theoretically, but perhaps Hildegard was experimenting with changing tonal centers and, given her lack of formal music training and her penchant for throwing in some idiosyncratic gestures, that might be all there is to it.

So as far as performance decisions are concerned, there is room for interpretation. It should be kept in mind that medieval Latin did not prize word order the way modern languages do, and that the language of monastic devotion emphasized certain key themes and images. Hildegard often musically emphasizes the key themes with tonal markings and other emphatic gestures such as leaps, melismas and repeated melodic segments. Therefore, there does not appear to be a definitive ‘version’ of the phrasing here.

Further Resources for O tu illustrata
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 106 and 270.
  • Lomer, Beverly R. “Rhetoric and the Creation of Feminist Consciousness in the Marian Songs of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).” Ph.D. diss., Florida Atlantic University, 2006.
  • Lomer, Beverly. Music, Rhetoric and the Sacred Feminine. Saarbrücken, Germany: Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987), p. 111. 
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 314-15; Latin text in the edition of Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43a (Brepols, 1978), pp. 336-7. 
[3] Adapted from the trans. of Hart and Bishop, pp. 445-6; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43a, pp. 510-11. 
[4] Letter 23, Hildegard to the prelates at Mainz. Adapted from The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume I, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 76-80; Latin text in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Brepols, 1991), pp. 61-6. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

O quam preciosa

Responsory for the Virgin (R R 468rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
R. O quam preciosa est
virginitas virginis huius
que clausam
portam habet,
et cuius viscera
sancta divinitas
calore suo infudit, ita
quod flos in ea crevit.

R. Et Filius Dei per secreta ipsius
quasi aurora exivit.

V. Unde dulce germen,
quod Filius ipsius est,
per clausuram ventris eius
paradisum aperuit.

R. Et Filius Dei per secreta ipsius
quasi aurora exivit.
R. How precious is
this Virgin’s sweet virginity,
a closéd
whose womb
divinity most holy with
its warmth has flooded so
a flower sprung within it.

R. The Son of God has come forth from
her hidden chamber like the dawn.

V. And so the sweet and tender shoot—
her Son—
has through her womb’s enclosure
opened Paradise.

R. The Son of God has come forth from
her hidden chamber like the dawn.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

O quam preciosa by Hildegard Von Bingen on Grooveshark

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This responsory is an expanded meditation on the themes of the antiphon, Hodie aperuit nobis: the gate, the flower, and the dawn light. It again draws on the imagery of Ezekiel 44:1-3 to envision the Virgin’s chaste womb as the “closed gate” of the Temple whose threshold only the Lord’s Prince could cross. The connection between the Temple gate and the gate behind which Hildegard and her cloistered nuns lived is made here more explicit, as is the symbolic conflation of temple, cloister, garden, and womb. The repetendum and verse in particular elegantly express the happy paradox of Mary’s hidden enclosure as a Virgin—an enclosure physically enacted by Hildegard and her nuns—from which the light of a reopened paradise burst forth.

There is a serene tenderness about this responsory that easily conjures the image of Hildegard herself sitting quietly in her garden, contentedly composing in her heart as her hands tended to the flowers and herbs. The Virgin’s secreta—an elegant expression for her private parts, as it were—are symbolically aligned with the privateness of the garden, a place where Hildegard could go to be alone with God in the viridity of creation. At the same time, there is an undercurrent of chaste eroticism in the tender warmth of God flooding into the Virgin’s womb as the warm sunlight floods into Hildegard’s private garden. The tenderness is reflected in the music’s effortless lightness of touch, which appears even in the octave-and-half run of notes up the scale on sancta divinitatis in the respond, as Hildegard circles round three more times to the A-C-D opening of sancta on infudit, ita, and crevit, a motif that reappears twice in the repetendum.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: A below the final to D an octave above the final
Setting: neumatic and melismatic

D is the primary grammatical marker in O quam preciosa. A is also used. On page 2 of the transcription, the phrase, quod Filius ipsius est, is outlined by G. It can be grouped with the phrase before and the phrase after to make one long statement, or broken up as indicated in the transcription.

The repetendum begins with a single neume D on Et and is followed by a compound one that includes the leap from D to A. The upward leap of a fifth is usually used to indicate the start of a phrase, but in this case, the repetendum must begin with Et. It is likely that the single neume D on Et should be slurred into the leap on Filius. The same doubled initial note before the leap is found in page 1, line 8, on the phrase, quod flos in ea crevit; one could alternatively group quod with the previous phrase and thus begin with flos on the leap.

There is also an alternative way to think about the phrasing of the opening respond: O quam preciosa est virginitas virginis could be sung as one phrase. Huius could then begin the next phrase: huius que clausam. This phrasing would outline the first statement with the modal final, and if one sings it that way, line 8 should probably be adjusted also to begin with flos on the D to A leap. The Latin sense is better served by the phrasing we have used in the transcription, but the freedoms of chanted verse allow interpretive latitude.

Further Resources for O quam preciosa

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli

Votive antiphon for the Angels (D 159r, R 468rb-va, Scivias III.13.2a) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli,
qui infra divinitatem
divinos oculos
cum mistica obscuritate
omnis creature aspicitis
in ardentibus desideriis,
unde numquam
potestis saciari:

O quam gloriosa
gaudia illa vestra
habet forma,
que in vobis est
intacta ab omni pravo opere,
quod primum ortum est
in vestro socio,
perdito angelo,
qui volare voluit
supra intus latens
pinnaculum Dei,
unde ipse tortuosus
dimersus est in ruinam,
sed ipsius instrumenta casus
consiliando facture
digiti Dei instituit.
O living light, O angels glorious!
Below divinity,
upon the eyes divine you gaze
within the darkness mystical
of all creation—
in yearnings set alight
where you can ne’er
be quenched nor satiated:

How glorious too
are these, your joys
your form possesses—
that form that in your number
remains untouched by ev’ry wicked deed
that first arose
in your companion,
that now lost angel
who wished to fly
above, within the hidden
pinnacle of God—
then twisted, tortured, he
was plunged into his ruin.
But yet, his fall’s devices
by cunning plot he laid against the craft
of God’s creative finger.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: E with a modulation
Range: G below the final E to F an octave and a second above the final
Setting: syllabic and neumatic with several short melismas

This is a musically interesting song in several ways. It begins and ends in E, but the pitch focus changes to A and then to D. Flats have been added, which suggests a temporary transposition. The way in which Hildegard achieves this ‘modulation’ or change of focal pitch is clever. On page 1 of the transcription, E is clearly established as the primary pitch, beginning the piece and outlining the first several phrases. Line 4, page 1 of the transcription, ends on A, and A and E alternate as key tones.

On page 2, line 3, the grammatical indicator becomes D. Line 2 ends on E, which is musically conclusive. However, the text is continued by the conjunction que, which is set to D on line 3. While this would not be unusual, to move to the pitch below the final to set a connecting word, the tonal center now shifts to D. It remains in alternation between D and A until the final line/pitch where it concludes on E, the final that was established in the beginning. According to Julia Smucker, our singer consultant, this feels odd and ‘unresolved.’ In this segment, D could be the plagal version of the A ‘modality,’ which is not used as a conventional mode in this period but appears frequently in Hildegard’s work. Or, alternatively, one could consider a ‘modulation’ to D with A as the plagal. In this case, the addition of the flats above the final E would be consistent with E only in the upper species.

In her transcription, Marianne Richert Pfau ‘regularized’ the piece by moving it up a second. The introduction gives no rationale for the editorial change, and she references the flats only to the Dendermonde manuscript.[1] Both D and R agree on the pitch changes and generally on the addition of the flats, so it is not likely to have been an error.

The opening salutes the glorious light-giving angels, who are beneath the divinity but gaze on God in “mystical obscurity of all creation” and in “ardent desires.” The verb, aspicitis [gaze] appears on line 6 of the transcription, after the descriptives. In this segment, E clearly outlines the first three phrases, but on line 4, a shift to A occurs. Aspicitis has been given its own line in the transcription because it is clearly outlined by the A below the final and on account of the choice to place it last in the narrative statement. It can be sung with the previous line, however, and Julia recommends thism because the leap of a sixth that would result if it was combined with line 7 would be awkward in performance. In the transcription, the next two lines begin with F. While line 7 could be considered as a continuation/completion of aspicitis, that leaves line 8, which begins also with F on its own. To combine all three would make for quite a long phrase.

On page 2, line 8 is coupled with line 7 to make one phrase, and a tick barline has been inserted for clarity.

Regarding the flats, there are several instances in which a similar melodic fragment has a signed flat and in which it does not. For example, on page 2, note the similarity in melody on forma, intacta, quod and vestro socio. Flats appear only on intacta and vestro. Habet forma is clearly outlined by E and so a flat would not necessarily be indicated. The others appear after the modal change and so it would not be incorrect to add flats on similar segments in the D/A focus segments.

On page 3, D becomes the primary tonal marker until the end, when the last two lines neatly segue back to E.

Further Resources for O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli


[1] Pfau, Marianne Richert. Hildegard von Bingen, Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, Volume IV Chants for the Celestial Hierarchy. Bryn Mawr, Pa., Hildegard Publishing Company, pp. 2-4.