Friday, July 18, 2014

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

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