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.

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