Friday, July 18, 2014

O quam mirabilis est

Antiphon for the Creator (R 466r-v) 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 and deed,
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.

Antiphon: O quam mirabilis est by Anonymous 4 on Grooveshark


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. 

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