Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hildegard on BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time

Listen online to the June 26, 2014 BBC Radio 4 podcast

"Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess of a Benedictine convent, Hildegard experienced a series of mystical visions which she documented in her writings. She was an influential person in the religious world and much of her extensive correspondence with popes, monarchs and other important figures survives. Hildegard was also celebrated for her wide-ranging scholarship, which as well as theology covered the natural world, science and medicine. Officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2012, Hildegard is also one of the earliest known composers. Since their rediscovery in recent decades her compositions have been widely recorded and performed.
Miri Rubin
Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London
William Flynn
Lecturer in Medieval Latin at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds
Almut Suerbaum
Professor of Medieval German and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.
Producer: Thomas Morris"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Qualelibet Spring 2014

Spring 2014, Volume XXXI.1  - download PDF

The Spring 2014 issue of Qualelibet includes abstracts for the Hildegard presentations at the upcoming 2014 Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and features an essay by our president, Professor Pozzi Escot of New England Conservatory of Music  entitled Hildegard von Bingen’s Antiphon Sed diabolus (Riesenkodex No. 52, Dendermonde Ms. No. 54, as listed but not numbered, in old German neume notation.  This essay was originally published in 1999 in her book The Poetics of Simple Mathematics in Music. (Publication Contact International, publisher.)

It is with profound sadness that we communicate the recent passing of Dr. Werner Lauter at his home in Rudesheim, Germany. Dr. Lauter was a most extraordinary student of Hildegard von Bingen who dedicated his life to research into her life and works, which he communicated through his lectures and writing. 

He was a most ardent member of our Society and joined with us in celebrating the 900th anniversary of her birth in Germany.  He participated constantly in the Society’s development and will be deeply missed.
Announcement of Dr. Lauter's passing in the Rheingau Echo. October 10, 2013.

For past issues of Qualelibet, click here

Saturday, July 19, 2014

O eterne Deus

Antiphon/Collect for God the Father (D 153, R 466rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O eterne Deus,
nunc tibi placeat ut in amore illo ardeas,
ut membra illa simus, que fecisti in eodem amore,
cum Filium tuum genuisti in prima aurora
ante omnem creaturam,
et inspice necessitatem hanc que super nos cadit,
et abstrahe eam a nobis propter Filium tuum,
et perduc nos in leticiam salutis.
O eternal God,
may you be pleased to blaze once more in love
and to reforge us as the limbs you fashioned in that love,
when first you bore your Son upon the primal dawn
before all things created.
Look upon this need that over us has fallen,
draw it off from us according to your Son,
and lead us back into salvation’s wholesome happiness.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


In both its salutation and its petition to be loosed from the need (necessitatem) that has fallen upon us, this antiphon (also written in the collect form) initially strikes similarities with O magne Pater. However, it quickly starts to burn with greater intensity, both in its images and in its language—rather than the stately subjunctive request, ut aspicias in nos (line 8 in O magne Pater), Hildegard here uses more direct imperative commands: inspice… abstrahe… perduc (“Look upon… draw off… lead back”). In O magne Pater, the needy emptiness of humankind was our self-imposed absence from the fullness of being, signified by God’s name. In this antiphon, the emptiness that we yearn to be rescued from is our self-imposed absence from God’s passionate love.

Hildegard emphasizes the central importance of that love in this antiphon by ascending the music for the first time to its highest pitch point, G an octave and a third above the final, on the second appearance of amore (line 3 in the text, line 4 in the transcription). The musical phrase that contains that high note is repeated at two additional key points, on necessitatem (line 6), and Filium tuum (line 7). The music’s language connects the neediness that has overtaken us with the love with which we were first created, and finally points to the agent of that creative and redemptive love: God the Son.

The imagery in this antiphon is also more Hildegardian: rather than simply “establishing us by the Word” (per quod nos constituisti, line 5 in O magne Pater), in this antiphon, God made us “in love…when first you bore your Son upon the primal dawn.” The dawn is one of Hildegard’s favorite images for the irruption of divinity into time, both in the beginning and then at the Incarnation (that is, at the two In principio’s of Scripture: Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1). Moreover, in connection to that second irruption into time, the dawn also served as one of her favorite images for the Virgin Mary’s God-bearing womb (e.g. Hodie aperuit). Another phrase that alludes to the Virgin’s subtextual presence in this antiphon is ante omnem creaturam, which highlights Hildegard’s belief in the Virgin’s special predestination “before all creation”, the natural corollary to Christ’s eternal predestination (cf. Ave generosa, verse 3).

Light imagery naturally abounds in Hildegard’s visions, and alongside the concept of Creation as the “primal dawn” we find in Scivias II.1 and elsewhere the image of God as the blacksmith forging together humanity in the fire of his love. It is this image that we have allowed to inform the translation of the beginning of the third line of this antiphon, which literally means, “that we may be [or become] the limbs…,” a reference to the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ, her members as his limbs.

Interestingly, the term that Hildegard chooses here for God’s creative and redemptive love is not her usual visionary-allegorical figure of Caritas, but rather amor. This choice may simply be stylistic—to alliterate with the verb ardere, “to burn”—or it may indicate an even more intense fire, an evocation not only of God’s caring and paternal / maternal love, but also of the passionate desire that animates the spousal imagery of the Song of Songs, whose popularity in monastic circles (especially the Cistercians and their own Mellifluous Doctor, St. Bernard of Clairvaux) surged in the twelfth century. Hildegard herself employed this imagery in O dulcissime amator, her “Symphony of Virgins.”

Transcription and Music Notes

E mode
Range: D below the final to G an octave and a third above final
Setting: primarily syllabic, with a few neumatic episodes

The antiphon begins with a short salutation, O eterne Deus, outlined by the final E. The second line of the transcription begins on D, a frequent strategy that Hildegard uses to connect thoughts in two separate phrases. Lines 2 and 3 of the transcription should be construed as one phrase, and a tick barline has been included at the end of line 3 to indicate this. Line 4 begins similarly to line 2 and again serves to connect the two segments of the petition. The use of E an octave above the final in this section maintains the suspension or tension until the cadence on the final pitch at the end of line 5. The pause is not entirely conclusive, however, as the next line begins on B, the secondary tonal focus in this mode.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O eterne Deus

O magne Pater

Antiphon for God the Father (D 153, R 466r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O magne Pater,
in magna necessitate sumus.
Nunc igitur obsecramus, obsecramus te
per Verbum tuum
per quod nos constituisti
plenos quibus indigemus.
Nunc placeat tibi, Pater,
quia te decet, ut aspicias in nos
per adiutorium tuum,
ut non deficiamus, et
ne nomen tuum in nobis obscuretur,
et per ipsum nomen tuum
dignare nos adiuvare.
O Father great,
in great necessity we are.
Thus we now beg, we beg of you
according to your Word,
through whom you once established us
full of all that we now lack.
Now may it please you, Father,
as it behooves you—look upon us
with your kindly aid,
lest we should fail again
and, lost, forget your name.
By that your name we pray—
please kindly help and bring us aid!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


In this antiphon, Hildegard continues to use the formal structure of the collect found in O Pastor animarum, but with an unusually high level of formality. Although at first glance, the generally traditional tone and (for her) restrained level of imagery may seem a bit stiff, several characteristically Hildegardian themes soon emerge.

The first half is an unadorned meditation on the state of neediness and lack in which we humans find ourselves. God made us through his Word with a fullness of being, of life and vitality, that we have managed to drain away, left by our own devices half-blind and lost, fumbling through the shadows in a desperate attempt to fill the emptiness gnawing at our hearts.

But crucially, this empty neediness and hollow echo chamber of sin need not be the end. The second half of the antiphon fills out the plea of line 3 by calling upon God to act in accordance with his very nature, which is to fill all things with his overflowing being. Muscially, Hildegard begins to open up the antiphon towards a fuller sound at this point, with her characteristic leap of a fifth from A to E on per (line 4), nunc (line 7), and ne (line 10); and the setting of more notes per syllable, growing to the final, lengthy melisma on adiuvare—God’s help for which the antiphon pleads. Moreover, the antiphon’s range ascends out of the extended salutation and petition, as the leap on per leads into the the highest note, A above the final, on the key word Verbum. The next leap of a fifth begins Nunc placeat tibi Pater, which, like the previous phrase, ascends to the A an octave above the final on Pater, with a similar melodic line that links Pater with Verbum. This melodic structure appears again with the high A on nomen tuum (line 11) and adiuvare (last line), highlighting the main thematic movements of the text to signify the creative and re-creative power of God’s Word, expressed in its fullness to aid the being it creates.

That aid comes in the form of the restoration of our nature to its fullness, predestined in Christ and actualized in his Incarnation. This restoration is, moreover, an act utterly befitting God (quia te decet). The needy “necessity” in which we have placed ourselves is balanced, then, with the necessary fullness of God’s gift of being itself.[1] The petition of this prayer is that God will kindly aid us so that we do not fall again into the hollow emptiness where the light of his presence—his name—is hidden and forgotten as our shallow attention turns away from him and towards the shimmering but ultimately illusory fancies of pride and disobedience. God’s name becomes both that which we are in danger of forgetting and that which pulls us back from the brink of oblivion: for God’s name, revealed to Moses from the burning bush, is being itself (Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses,‘I AM WHO I AM.’”).

The “I AM” statement can often be found echoing in the speeches of virtues and other allegorical manifestations in Hildegard’s writing, as for instance in the speech of Caritas (Divine Love) in the first vision of the Liber Divinorum Operum: “I am the supreme and fiery force…. But I am also the fiery life of the essence of divinity… I am also rationality… For I am life, pure and whole.” (LDO I.1.2) And it is, of course, a frequent refrain of Jesus, especially in John’s Gospel, as when, on the night before he was betrayed, he told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) It is in remembering those statements of God’s identity that we are helped out of the poverty of sin and into the richness of truth and life.

Transcription and Music Notes

A mode
Range: E below the final to A an octave above the final
Setting: mostly syllabic, with limited neumatic episodes

Musical phrases are demarcated by A and E. Phrase lengths are mixed and coincide for the most part with the poetic phrasing of the text. In the transcription, the salutation, O magne Pater, occupies a short phrase beginning and ending on A. The next phrase (in magna necessitate sumus), which begins the “petition,” is an ornamented version of the basic melody on O magne Pater. With Hildegard’s characteristic leap of a fifth from the final A to E on per (line 4), the piece begins to ascend to the highest note, the A an octave above the final, on the next word, Verbum. The focal pitch moves from A to E at the end of Verbum until the resolution on A at the end of line 6 (indigemus). The cadence on the final concludes the first idea. Nunc placeat tibi Pater follows a similar melodic pattern, opening with the leap and ascending to the high A on Pater. This phrase continues to the end of the next line, where it concludes on the final of the mode. The melodic structure of the second half of the antiphon is similar to that of the first half. The A an octave above the final appears within a similar melody to what is found on Verbum and Pater on nomen tuum (line 11) and adiuvare (last line), again linking these words and endowing them with rhetorical emphasis.

As far as performance is concerned, larger sense units can be combined, and pauses of different lengths can be made in places where the edited text has been punctuated. For example, on page one, lines 7 and 8, the text, nunc placeat tibi Pater | quia te decet | ut aspicias in nos, can be broken into three short phrases that end on E above the final. These three phrases can also be considered as a single, long phrase, perhaps with a short pause after Pater.

Phrase breaks in the transcription are made according to the use of the final and the E above the final as outlining gestures, as well as the sense of the text and the length of phrase units.

One issue in this piece concerns the placement of the conjunction et at the end of line 10 (page 2, line 2 in the transcription). From the standpoint of Latinity, it would make little sense for this conjunction to be separated from the one that immediately follows, ne. However, to place et with ne at the beginning of the next phrase disrupts the rhetorical use of the A/E leap as an opening gesture. While leaps of this type are found within phrases in the Symphonia, when they appear at the beginning of the line, they are intended as the opening gesture and are often repeated throughout a piece with this same rhetorical function. It is possible that when Hildegard sets a conjunction to the final, with the leap from the final to the fifth above immediately following on the next syllable, she intended the first note to be slurred into the second, effectively retaining the musically rhetorical emphasis of the leap while not breaking with Latin syntax. Singers can choose how they want to perform this particular idiosyncrasy, but care should be taken to place sufficient emphasis on the leap on ne.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O magne Pater
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 104 and 270.
  • MacKendrick, Karmen. “The Voice of the Mirror: Strange Address in Hildegard of Bingen” Glossator 7 (2013), pp. 209-226; online here (PDF).
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] This “necessity” of God’s overflowing goodness and being entails a type of “necessity” of our redemption—but one that, critically, falls somewhere between what we today think of as the simple dichotomy between necessity and contingency. For medieval thinkers, and especially for Hildegard’s English counterpart a few centuries removed in time, Julian of Norwich, the story of salvation has its own type of logical convenience which is neither absolutely necessary nor completely accidental. Julian refers to this type of “just so” fittingness as “behovely”—thus our choice to render quia te decet as, “for it behooves you”. On Julian and the “behovely” narratival logic of salvation, see Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian (Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 32-51. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

O cruor sanguinis

Antiphon for the Crucified (R 466va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O cruor sanguinis qui in alto sonuisti,
cum omnia elementa
se implicuerunt
in lamentabilem vocem
cum tremore, quia sanguis Creatoris sui illa
ungue nos
de languoribus nostris.
O stream of blood, to heaven’s height you cried,
when every element
enwrapped itself
within a voice of woe,
with trembling misery, for their Creator’s blood
had covered them:
Anoint us
and heal our feebleness.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


This disturbingly evocative antiphon, appropriate for use during Holy Week, employs one of Hildegard’s signature poetic styles: synaesthesia. Because Hildegard’s visionary experiences were a unique blend of the visual—the striking array of images and colors that dance and shimmer in verbal description and manuscript illustration alike—and the auditory—the explicatory “voice of the Living Light” that speaks to her in those visions—she often allowed porous sensory boundaries to infuse her liturgical poetry with vibrancy.

Beginning from the visual image of the stream of blood pouring from the side of Christ, Hildegard’s meditation upon the Crucified finds the perfect material for the visual to gain sonic agency in the Gospel accounts of the way in which all of creation reacted to its Creator’s death—“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51). To Hildegard’s synaesthetic mind, it is Christ’s blood itself that cries out, “It is finished!” and its cry is then re-echoed by the very elements of earth and air and fire and water upon which it falls—the Word that spoke to bring them into being is the Word whose blood now drenches them. The transference of voice to blood is an audio-visual image that Hildegard will use again in her hymn to the virgin martyrs St. Ursula and her companions, Cum vox sanguinis, where its agency to cry aloud to God draws directly on this antiphon, for their blood has voice because its shedding in martyrdom imitates Christ’s own death.

Transcription and Music Notes

D mode
Range: C below the final to D above the final
Setting: primarily syllabic, with some neumatic gestures

This incomplete antiphon begins with the salutation, O cruor sanguinis, which is outlined by the final of the mode, D. However, the D that completes sanguinis is an octave above the final, which does not engender a sense of completeness. For this reason, the first phrase is rendered, O cruor sanguinis in alto sonuisti, in the transcription; in begins on the same octave D, and the melody continues with this pitch on alto until it descends to end on the secondary tonal marker in this mode, A.

Because the second line of the transcription beings on B (set to cum), this line can be considered a continuation of the first line, propelling the cry of the blood into the creation it has shaken with its shedding.

After the first statement (salutation), A becomes the primary grammatical marker. As the song ends on C, and a full staff is left blank in the manuscript, it is assumed that the piece is incomplete. The text has been completed based on its appearance without musical notation earlier in the manuscript (R 405va). The placement of the words on that final C is not clear in the manuscript, with sui squeezed in above illa. If one were to perform this piece, the C on which illa appears to end could be changed to D so that the melody would end satisfyingly on the modal cadence point.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O cruor sanguinis

O Pastor animarum

Antiphon for the Redeemer (R 466va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O Pastor animarum et O prima vox
per quam omnes creati sumus,
nunc tibi, tibi placeat ut digneris nos
liberare de miseriis
et languoribus nostris.
O Shepherd of our souls, O primal voice,
whose call created all of us:
Now hear our plea to thee, to thee, and deign
to free us from our miseries
and feebleness.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


The structure of the piece follows the classical lines of the ancient “collect” form of prayer: an opening apostrophe to the addressee of the prayer; a relative clause describing a relevant attribute of the addressee; a hortatory subjunctive to the addressee; and a purpose clause (often with ut) dependent on the action of the hortatory subjunctive. Yet, by setting this collect to music as an antiphon, Hildegard transforms its simple plea into a powerful meditation upon the voice of God.

While the opening apostrophe is to the Good Shepherd who tends his flock and goes in search of them when we are lost, the more arresting image is the second salutation: Christ, the Word, the “first voice” whose sounding (or singing?) brought all the world into being. Although the middle portion of the antiphon literally means, “Now may it please thee, thee,” we have chosen in the translation to respond to the “primal voice” with our own, plaintive, human cry, for Hildegard makes the unusual decision in describing that which was created through the Word, not in the third person (e.g. *per quam omnia creata sunt, “by whom all things were made”) but in the first person: “by whom we all were made.”

This piece is, then, intensely focused on the spoken relationship between us and God. God’s voice called us into being; now we cry to him to free us from our self-imposed weaknesses. We no longer languish in the pitiable muck of mumbled words and the drought of a hoarse, scratchy voice. Rather, with the healing freedom that this antiphon beseeches from him, we can sound forth with Hildegard the strong, clarion notes of celestial song.

Hildegard uses the music to emphasize these themes. Line 4 repeats with variation the melody of line 3, giving weight to its harmonic plea. The final line is then a close melodic parallel to line 2, thus musically linking our creation with our initial misery and highlighting God’s saving power.

In addition, Hildegard’s use of one of her favorite musical motifs—the opening fifth, in this piece the leap from the tonal D to A—breaks the text in an unusual place syntactically in the fourth line on liberare. The infinitive is dependent upon the verb digneris (“deign”), yet its object nos (“us”) remains separated from it in the previous phrase. (In Barbara Newman’s edition of the text, nos is placed at the opening of the line following digneris.) The music, however, favors the grammatical disjuncture. Preserving the leap from D to A as opposed to beginning the line with an unconventional melodic gesture serves to emphasize the central theological action for which this antiphon pleas: God’s gracious liberation of us from our hoarse and sinful suffering.

Transcription and Music Notes

D mode
Range: A below final to D an octave above final
Setting: syllabic with limited neumatic elements

As the commentary above points out, a central theme of this antiphon is the Voice of God. This is reflected in the salutation, O pastor animarum et O prima vox, which is conventionally outlined by the final D.

D serves as the primary tonal marker in this work, with one exception. The second phrase, line 2 of the transcription, begins on C. In Hildegard’s usage, the melodic line often dips one note below the final when a conjunction is intended to connect two phrases/thoughts. Both musically and textually, the second phrase, which describes the creation of humanity through God’s voice, completes the first. It ends on the final D.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O Pastor animarum

O quam mirabilis est

Antiphon for the Creator (R 466rb-va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O quam mirabilis est
prescientia divini pectoris
que prescivit omnem creaturam.
Nam cum Deus inspexit faciem hominis
quem formavit,
omnia opera sua in eadem forma
hominis integra aspexit.
O quam mirabilis est inspiratio
que hominem sic suscitavit.
How wonderful it is,
that the foreknowing heart divine
has first known everything created!
For when God looked upon the human face
that he had formed,
he gazed upon his ev’ry work,
reflected whole within that human form.
How wondrous is that breath
that roused humanity to life!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


This antiphon focuses on the unique place that Hildegard understood humanity to have within God’s plan for creation, whose total potential she finds reflected in the creation of the first human. As she would describe in greatest detail in her final visionary work, Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”), Hildegard conceived of humanity as the summit of all creation, astride the world and participating in it as a microcosm of the universal macrocosm. This cosmic anthropology is rooted in Hildegard’s neoplatonic cosmology: all being has its timeless, infinite source in God, the One, whose foreknowledge thereof overflows like the successive basins of a fountain in creating each successive level of being bound by finitude and temporality.

Yet, humanity holds a special place in this process of emanation, for we contain within ourselves a connection to every single level of being, from the most finite and material all the way to back to the rim of our Eternal Source. In this antiphon, the connection from “heart divine” down to “human face” is emphasized by the repeated melody shared by lines 2-4, which also illustrates aurally the cyclical process of emanation and return. Hildegard often invokes the image of divine being and foreknowledge as a fountain, both overflowing (and thus overshadowing) and reflecting like a mirror all reality, all being, and all history—as, for example, in the vision of Caritas, Humilitas, and Pax (Divine Love, Humility, and Peace) rooted in the fountain, from Liber Divinorum Operum III.3. Because of the intensity of her visionary experiences and the fundamental role they played in the construction of her self-identity, Hildegard often intuitively identified the Creator’s loving gaze upon the entire order of Creation, held foreknown, reflected and refracted, within his heart, with her own visions of the Living Light and its shadow or reflection. This connection between God’s predestination of creation and humankind as its pinnacle and perfection, on the one hand, and Hildegard’s own particular visionary vocation is most clear in the divine commission she records in the Prologue to the Liber Divinorum Operum:
“O poor little form, you are the daughter of many labors, tempered by grave infirmities of the body, yet also flooded by the depth of God’s mysteries. Commit to fixed writing these things that you see with the inner eyes and perceive with the inner ears of the soul, for they are useful and advantageous to humankind; so that through them, humans might understand their Creator and not flee from worshiping him with worthy honor. Write them not according to your own heart, but according to my will, for I am life without beginning and end. You did not invent them, nor did any other human consider them in advance; rather, they were preordained through me before the beginning of the world. For as I foreknew humankind before ever they were created, so also I foresaw those things that would be necessary for their existence.”[1]
Transcription and Music Notes

C Mode
Range: G below final to C an octave above final
Setting: syllabic and neumatic

As is often the case in the songs that are set in the C modality/tonality, the musical architecture is soaring, reaching to the high C above the final. Keeping in mind that this music was intended to be sung by women, and it is transposed up an octave here, the vocal register gives the music an additional exuberance.

The phrases are well organized, with C serving as the primary tonal marker. In addition to the phrases being clearly outlined by C, lines 2, 3, and 4 of the transcription contain almost identical melodies. The rhetorical use of repetition is musical rather than textual, but for Hildegard the text and music were closely aligned and thus emphasis could be articulated by melody as well as words. After the repeated lines, quem formavit is set to a unique melody that climbs by step and leap to the G above the final and thus underscores God’s creative power.

The last two lines of the transcription, que hominem sic suscitavit, can be considered as one phrase with a break, if needed, after the G on sic. Because G is the dominant pitch in this mode, the phrase could properly end there on sic, especially as the last line begins and ends on C. Alternatively, the two lines could be sung as one.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O quam mirabilis est
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 100 and 269.
  • Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons.” (In Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Newman), pp. 80-6.
  • 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 the Liber Divinorum Operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, in CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 45-6. 

O virtus Sapientie

Antiphon for Divine Wisdom (R 466rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O virtus Sapientie,
que circuiens circuisti,
comprehendendo omnia
in una via que habet vitam,
tres alas habens,
quarum una in altum volat
et altera de terra sudat
et tercia undique volat.
Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet, O Sapientia.
O Wisdom’s energy!
Whirling, you encircle
and everything embrace
in the single way of life.
Three wings you have:
one soars above into the heights,
one from the earth exudes,
and all about now flies the third.
Praise be to you, as is your due, O Wisdom.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


The figure of Sapientia (Divine Wisdom), personified at several points in some of the Old Testament’s more poetical books (e.g. Proverbs 8-9, Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 24, and Wisdom of Solomon 7-8), is one of Hildegard’s most constant visionary companions. Like Caritas (Divine Love), who appears in similar ways in others of Hildegard’s visions, she represents “the ultimate mystery of creation, the bond between Creator and creature” (Newman, Sister of Wisdom, p. 44). Hildegard’s thought often works within the platonizing mirror of emanation and return, the cycle at the center of which is the Incarnation. That cyclical process is, for Hildegard, the place in which the feminine side of God is most clearly revealed. The hallmark of both her theology and her poetic style is that the feminine is the place where God stoops to human weakness and human weakness can, in turn, reach out to touch the face of God.
Scivias III.5: The Zeal or Jealousy
of God. Rupertsberg MS, fol. 153r.

The triple-winged figure in this piece is often thought to recall an image that appears in the third part of the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript, though in the context of that vision, the grotesque, “terrible” face affixed to the Edifice of Salvation signifies the Zeal or Jealousy of God, each wing representing the Holy Trinity’s “ineffable power”, beating like mighty wings against the Devil (Scivias III.5.14-15). The antiphon above is a much lighter image, full of wonder not terrifying, but elevating and edifying. It recalls the six-winged Seraph of Isaiah 6, together with the omnipresent Wisdom as the agent of creation in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 24; as well as the two great wings of Caritas in the opening vision of the Liber Divinorum Operum, representing love of God and love of neighbor.

Fundamentally, however, it is the Trinitarian imagery that comes to the fore: the one wing soaring in the heavens like the Father, the second upon the earth like the Incarnate Son, the third sweeping everywhere, the vital force of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the “exuding” of the second wing from the earth grounds the Incarnation within a fertile, organic image: the verb sudat literally means “sweats”, but for Hildegard, it “has the associations not of the sweat of effort but of the distillation of a perfume, a heavenly quality, out of anything that is fertile or beautiful on earth” (Dronke, Poetic Individuality, p. 157). It thus latently evokes one of Hildegard’s favorite and expansive symbols of God’s fertile, creative goodness: viriditas, “viridity”, the overflowing, vibrant, fresh greenness of health and life. This Sapientia “creates the cosmos by existing within it, (...) an ambience enfolding it and quickening it from within” (Newman, Sister of Wisdom, pp. 64-5).

Moreover, in the movement of these trinitarian wings, Hildegard engages in one of her rare instances of clear musical word painting. The phrase quarum una in altum volat, et altera de terra sudat, contains a high point on G on altum (“high”). The lowest pitch of the piece, D, is found on et, which links the two segments of the phrase and leads to the word terra. The word painting would be more obvious here if the D appeared on terra, but it does not.

However, the musical architecture also serves to set those first two movements apart from Sapientia’s omnipresent third wing, because those first two segments are linked by the musical conjunction of the low D on et (since D is not a tonal focus in this mode, its function can be understood as connective). That leaves et tercia undique volat on its own, so to speak. Musically, it is outlined by neither of the two primary tones, but rather, begins on E and ends on B. If the third wing is understood as a representation of the Holy Spirit, perhaps the unique melodic and grammatical setting is intended to set it apart from the Father-and-Son relationship articulated by the high G and low D of the previous two phrases. Moreover, it flows directly into the next phrase of praise and thus has heightened significance as a blending of the Holy Spirit with Sapientia. Such an intent would be consistent with Hildegard’s allegorical representations of the divinity’s fertile creativity and interaction with creation with female figures like Sapientia and Caritas (cf. Karitas habundat).

The glory of this piece, which Peter Dronke describes as “an image of surrealist fantasy, but weighty with meaning,” (Poetic Individuality, p. 156), is that it is never bogged down by the complexity of these interactive images, but rather urged with a divine lightness of touch into the playful, joyous, and yet full-bodied twirling movement of God’s provident, creative, and life-giving Wisdom.

Transcription and Music Notes

E mode
Range: D below final to G an octave and a third above final
Setting: primarily syllabic, with some neumatic elements and one long melisma at the opening on O

E and B are the tonal markers in this antiphon. Most of the phrases are clearly outlined by one of these, or begin on E and end on B. The tonal marker of B is used especially to demarcate the fifth line (tres alas habens), thus giving musical weight to the imagery of the trinitarian three wings.

The first phrase (salutation) is a little unusual for Hildegard, in that one would expect a clear tonal demarcation of O virtus Sapientie. Although she does mark this phrase out, she then begins que circuiens circuisti on C, which musically links it to the previous phrase, perhaps to propel the urgent movement of Wisdom into creation with more force. A tick barline is placed after circuisti in the transcription, but one could also consider that que circuiens circuisti begins another segment of the text and can be phrased as such. It is possible that the C that begins this segment is an error and should be a B. That would make it consistent with the short phrases that follow.

At any rate, the use of B as a tonal focus and the conjunctive que after the salutation is similar to the construction of O vis eternitatis. It serves as a suspension of sorts, keeping the listener’s attention until the first pause on E on in una via que habet vitam.

The last two lines of the transcription, laus tibi sit sicut te decet o Sapientia, should be considered as one phrase.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O virtus Sapientie
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 100 and 268.
  • Dronke, Peter. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages. New Departures in Poetry, 1000-1150 (Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 156-7.
  • Grant, Barbara. “Five Liturgical Songs by Hildegard von Bingen.” Signs 5 (1980), p. 564.
  • Newman, Barbara. Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987 / 1997), pp. 42-6 and 64-6.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Welcome to the ISHBS

Recent Issue of Qualelibet:

Spring 2014, Volume XXXI.1

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About the ISHBS

Founded in 1983 by Professor Bruce Hozeski of Ball State University, The Interntational Society of Hldegard von Bingen Studies is comprised of scholars and enthusiasts interested in the promotion of the twelfth-century magistra, visionary, theologian, composer, healer, artist, leader of women, Saint and Doctor of the Church.

The purpose of the society is to promote study, criticism, research, and exchange of ideas related to all aspects of Hildegard von Bingen’s work. Methods of achieving this purpose include but are not limited to: faculty exchanges, inter-institutional cooperation, annual meetings, participation in conferences, the publication of a newsletter, and the endorsement of other publications relating to Hildegard von Bingen studies. In particular, the Society is working to make high-quality resources for the study and appreciation of Hildegard available electronically here on its website, including a brand-new edition of the collection of her musical compositions, the Symphonia.

Qualelibet is the Society's bi-annual newsletter, which features articles touching on all aspects of Hildegard's life & reception - from in-depth scholarly source studies to modern-day reception history and concert reviews. As the ISHBS is an inclusive organization intended to promote dialogue among scholars and enthusiasts, Qualelibet welcomes studies from all perspectives and methodologies as we explore the life and works of Hildegard and related subjects.

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