Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 154v, R 467ra) by Hildegard of Bingen
aperuit nobis clausa porta
quod serpens in muliere suffocavit,
unde lucet in aurora
flos de Virgine Maria.
was opened unto us a shut-up gate.
For the serpent drew it tight, in woman choked—
yet from it gleams within the dawn
the Virgin Mary’s flower.
Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell
by Nathaniel M. Campbell
Although this is one of Hildegard’s shortest antiphons, its textual brevity merely serves to heighten the elegant coincidence of three striking images with which to describe that wondrous moment when the Incarnate Christ entered the world through his Mother Mary: a gate, a flower, and the dawn light. One could imagine Hildegard composing this piece while tending to the gardens that would have been kept behind the walls of the two monasteries in which she lived, accessible only by a gate.
The metaphor of vowed virginity as an enclosed garden (the hortus inclusus) was a frequent one especially in twelfth-century monastic spirituality, and takes on a particularly striking meaning within the context of Hildegard’s renown as an herbalist, putting into practice the theological theory of viriditas—nature’s fresh green vitality—that was her special hallmark. Here, Hildegard causes the closed gate of her garden to be symbolically aligned with the shut-up gate of the Temple described near the end of Ezekiel’s visionary journey through it (Ezekiel 44:1-3). As Barbara Newman notes, this prophecy of the Temple’s gate that would open only for the Prince “was a sign of Mary’s perpetual virginity,” the gate representing her womb, which opened not for any man but for the Son of God alone (Symphonia, p. 273). The gate thus symbolizes for Hildegard the power of virginal motherhood, and image she further explores in the responsory, O quam preciosa).
She then skillfully transitions the imagery from the gate of the garden sanctuary to the flower blooming within it by using the verb suffocavit to denote Eve—the “Everywoman” of mulier—losing that power of virginal motherhood to the trickery of the serpent, who simultaneously closes the gate to the life-giving garden, cuts Eve’s children off from Eden, and chokes out the seeds of the blooming flower within the garden. This transition then allows Hildegard to glimpse the flower that sprouted from the Virgin, freed from the serpent’s poisonous infertility, gleaming in the dawn light through the gate that has been reopened.
The musical setting enhances the thought movement between open and closed, choked and fertile. As Marianne Richert Pfau has shown, the musical phrases, while anchored on c, alternate tonalities between an initial octave range from G-g (introduced on Hodie) to a secondary range one fifth lower from F-f (introduced on aperuit nobis); moreover, the setting in D ends the piece on the secondary tonality, for “the F-context provides a tonal anchor for the fantastic upward surge toward the climax on flos” (Pfau, “Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons”, p. 92). Furthermore, the opening phrases concerning the gate and the closing phrases concerning the Virgin’s flower are both elaborately melismatic, while the middle phrase describing the serpent’s duplicitous destruction of maternal power is jarringly declamatory, with just a few notes on each syllable. The story would not make any sense without that fallenness, but in the light of the Incarnation, it makes no more sense to dwell upon it. Darkness and drought there may be for a time, but joy and verdant life come in the morning’s dawn light.
Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer
by Beverly Lomer
Range: F below the final to D an octave and a second above the final
Setting: melismatic, neumatic
There are a number of differences between the manuscripts in this antiphon. The small discrepancies are noted above the staff in text, and the more extensive ones are depicted on ossia staves. The opening word Hodie (“Today”) appears only in the early Dendermonde manuscript; other manuscripts read Nunc aperuit (“Now was opened”). This likely reflects the fact that the antiphon was originally composed for a specific feast, such as the Annunciation or Christmas; and that the text was later changed to make it more generally useful.
The phrasing is fairly regular and utilizes the final of the mode as the primary grammatical marker. In the Dendermonde manuscript, flos de virgine is outlined by G. This tone is often used as a tonal demarcator in C mode by Hildegard. In the Riesenkodex, the phrase ends on C.
There are also two other phrasing issues to look at. Line three of the transcription begins on E, which is not a grammatical marker in this mode; thus, it goes with the previous line. This makes for a long phrase to sing. If it has to be broken, after nobis is probably the best place.
The other is the discrepancy between the manuscripts on line 5 of the transcription. This is the start of the key phrase related to Mary’s virginity. It is unlikely that it would begin on the pitch D, and while Hildegard sometimes does not synchronize text and musical phrasing, in this case, the incongruity seems too much. The neumes are quite clear in the Riesenkodex, but it is probably best to go with the Dendermonde version here. Finally, the phrase, flos de virgine ends on C in R and G in D. Outlining by G sets this image apart and thus serves as an emphatic device. However, as the melody is quite different in each manuscript, as is indicated by the full ossia staff, it is up to the performer to decide which to use.
The form of this piece is narrative. It does not address Mary as most of the others do, and there is no salutation, and so would not fall into the category of epideictic rhetoric. Each of the key words and phrases is outlined by the final C. The exception is the phrase flos de virgine in D, which is outlined by G. This phrase can be grouped with the previous one, unde lucet in aurora, but would make for a long line to sing. Flos is clearly the climax and most significant image in this antiphon—not only is it set apart by the fifth, G, but it also attains the highest pitch, D an octave and a second above the final. While Hildegard has employed the high D in other pieces as a type of dissonance (e.g. Ave Maria, O auctrix vite and O clarissima), here it clearly accords with the grammatical punctuation by G and thus the temporary change of ‘tonality’ also serves as an emphatic strategy.
Further Resources for Hodie aperuit
- Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 116 and 273.
- 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.
- Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons.” In Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Newman, pp. 74-94, esp. 91-3.
- For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography