Tuesday, September 16, 2014

O virga ac diadema

Sequence for the Virgin (D 156r-v [incomplete], R 473vb-474r)Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1a. O virga ac diadema purpure regis
que es in clausura tua sicut lorica:

1b. Tu frondens floruisti in alia vicissitudine
quam Adam omne genus humanum produceret.

2a. Ave, ave, de tuo ventre alia vita processit
qua Adam filios suos denudaverat.

2b. O flos, tu non germinasti de rore
          nec de guttis pluvie
nec aer desuper te volavit sed divina
claritas in nobilissima virga te produxit.

3a. O virga, floriditatem tuam Deus in prima die
creature sue previderat.

3b. Et te Verbo suo auream materiam,
o laudabilis Virgo, fecit.

4a. O quam magnum est in viribus suis latus viri,
de quo Deus formam mulieris produxit,
          quam fecit speculum
omnis ornamenti sui et amplexionem
omnis creature sue.

4b. Inde concinunt celestia organa et miratur
omnis terra, o laudabilis Maria,
quia Deus te valde amavit.

5a. O quam valde plangendum et lugendum
est quod tristicia in crimine
per consilium serpentis in mulierem fluxit.

5b. Nam ipsa mulier, quam Deus matrem omnium
posuit, viscera sua
cum vulneribus ignorantie decerpsit, et plenum dolorem
generi suo protulit.

6a. Sed, o aurora, de ventre tuo novus sol processit,
qui omnia crimina Eve abstersit
et maiorem benedictionem per te protulit
quam Eva hominibus nocuisset.

6b. Unde, o Salvatrix, que novum lumen humano generi
protulisti: collige membra Filii tui
ad celestem armoniam.
1a. O branch and diadem in royal purple clad,
who like a shield stand in your cloister strong.

1b. You burst forth blooming but with buds quite different
than Adam’s progeny—th’ entire human race.

2a. Hail, o hail! For from your womb came forth another life,
that had been stripped by Adam from his sons.

2b. O bloom, you did not spring from dew
          nor from the drops of rain,
nor has the windy air flown over you; but radiance divine
has brought you forth upon that noblest bough.

3a. O branch, your blossoming God had foreseen
within the first day of his own creation.

3b. And by his Word he made of you a golden matrix,
O Virgin, worthy of our praise.

4a. O, how great in power is that side of man,
from which God brought the form of woman forth,
          a mirror made
of all his ornament, and an embrace
of all his own creation.

4b. The heavens’ symphony resounds, in wonder stands
all earth, O Mary, worthy of our praise,
for God has loved you more than all.

5a. O cry and weep! How deep the woe!
What sorrow seeped with guilt
in womanhood because the serpent hissed his wicked plan!

5b. That woman, whom God made to be the mother of the world,
had pricked her womb
with wounds of ignorance—the full inheritance of grief
she offered to her offspring.

6a. But from your womb, O dawn, has come the sun anew;
the guilt of Eve he’s washed away
and through you offered humankind a blessing
even greater than the harm that Eve bestowed.

6b. O Lady Savior, who has offered to the human race
a new and brighter light: together join the members of your Son
into the heavens’ harmony.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell. This phrasing is based on the musical structure of the piece around the tonal makers of A (the final) and E, and thus employs longer lines (and fewer lines per verse) than Newman’s edition; for a setting according to shorter musical sub-phrases, see Nathaniel Campbell’s entry for this sequence at Fides Quaerens Intellectum.

O virga ac diadema by Hildegard von Bingen on Grooveshark

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Even in Hildegard’s own lifetime, this incredible sequence in praise of the Virgin was recognized as one of her best. According to reports gathered into the Acta Canonizationis (“Proceedings of Canonization”) prepared by three canons of Mainz and sent to Rome in 1233, it may have been one of Hildegard’s personal favorites:
The lay-sister [conversa] Hedwig from Alzey says this and adds under oath that blessed Hildegard was almost constantly bed-ridden because of illness by the scourge of God, except for those times when she was illumined with the Holy Spirit. At the Holy Spirit’s touch, she would then walk about the cloister and sing the sequence that begins, “O virga ac diadema.” With this the door-keeper and the cellarer agree under oath.[1]
It is not hard to see why Hildegard might have been so fond of it, as it deftly expresses much of her central theology of the place of the forma mulieris (4a) in salvation history—the “form of woman” stretching from the mater omnium (Eve, the “mother of all,” 5b) through Mary to Hildegard herself as a virgin mother of the community of nuns under her care.

The sequence follows a ring structure: the opening celebration of Mary’s royal stature (1a) is mirrored with the images of dawn and salvatrix (“Lady Savior”) in the final strophes (6a/b), with the middle two verse pairs forming the central thematic—the repeated opening image of the blossoming virga and its predestination (3a), the Virgin’s womb as golden material (3b), and the femininity it restores as mirror and embrace of all creation (4a), praised by the music of heaven and beloved as God’s bride (4b; cf. Ave generosa). In between these three thematic peaks come two mirrored meditations on the fallenness from which the Virgin’s womb and its fruit rescue humanity: on the one hand, the path of blooming life that Adam stripped from his progeny (1b-2a), restored in the Virgin by the procreative power not of created things but of the divine Creator (2b); and on the other hand, the lamentable pain and sorrow introduced into womanhood (in mulierem) and her progeny by Eve’s thorny embrace of ignorance (5a/b).

The grace of this sequence, moreoever, lies in its masterful musical composition, as music and word inextricably intertwine. Hildegard usually writes her sequences in the older compositional form of paired versicles, in which the two strophes of a pair share a common melody between them, but the piece is free to use different melodies for each successive pair. Hildegard, however, often allows herself more musical freedom than is traditional, as the textual expression presses beyond the strictly parallel melodies of each pair. In this sequence, Strophe 2b exhausts its parallel music from 2a at the end of its second line, while its third line takes its musical structure from the opening of strophe 3a—yet the musical transition occurs right in the middle of a textual phrase, as the end of the one line (divina) is an adjective modifying the noun (claritas, “radiance”) the opens the next. The final phrase of strophe 4a, moreover, cycles several times through its musical motif to cover the elaborate parallel images of speculum and amplexionem, whereas its paired strophe 4b needs only one round of its final phrase to express God’s love for the Virgin. The reverse occurs in the next pair of verses, as the final phrase of 5a is doubled in 5b to accommodate Eve’s two actions, decerpsit (“plucked”) and protulit (“offered”).

Most of the verses open with one of Hildegard’s most characteristic musical tropes, an upward leap of a fifth. After the anomalous opening pair (on which see Beverly Lomer’s commentary below), that leap is used to begin all remaining verses, with the singular exception of 5a and 5b, whose opening drops a half-step and is subdued and almost plangent, reflecting their focus on Eve’s fallen womanhood. These verses do invoke that leap from A to E, however, to open their second musical phrases on per consilium and cum vulneribus, where the melody then leaps another fourth from the E up to the octave A, the highest note in the piece. This motif that traverses the octave in just three notes was introduced in the second pair of strophes, where it appears on qua Adam and nec aer. Thus, three of its four uses center specifically on the Fall, with only one transmuted from the Fall to its redemption in the Virgin in strophe 2b, and there in the negative context of contrasting fallen humanity’s earthly begetting with the Virgin’s divine overshadowing.

It is in the variations upon this three-note octave span, moreover, that Hildegard pushes beyond the Fall. The sequence of notes on claritas in nobilissima (last line of 2b), which introduces already a portion of the opening melody of 3a, also contains those three notes (A, E, and the octave A) as anchor points, while another octave span from A to A appears in the melody of de quo Deus formam (“from which God [brought] the form,” 4a), but now with the middle anchor at D. That expansion of the leap to the high A into a fifth is found also on Deus (“God,” 3a), auream (“golden,” 3b), and o laudabilis (“o praise-worthy,” 4b). The high note then finds its most sustained use in the final verses on ventre tuo (“your womb,” 6a) and novum lumen (“a new light,” 6b), completing the divinely-driven redemption of womanhood as the dawn’s light bursts forth from Mary’s golden, praise-worthy womb.

The invocation, modulation, or absence of these musical motifs makes the mirroring of Adam and Eve in this piece particularly striking. They appear to have opposite but complementary roles in passing on the state of fallenness to their posterity of humankind: Adam stripped us of the abundant life in which he was first created, replacing it with a fundamentally different kind of life. Eve, meanwhile, gave that different kind of life its character: one full of grief (plenum dolorem, 5b), of guilt (crimina, 6a), and of harm (nocuisset, 6a). Unusually, however, Hildegard has used the language of the bloom for Adam, rather than for Eve—in 1b, Mary’s flowering (floruisti) is contrasted with Adam’s different mode (in alia vicissitudine) of blossoming, rather than against Eve. This likely reflects one of Hildegard’s unique inversions of the Fall in Scivias II.1, in which Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit is turned into a failure to pick the flower of obedience—illustrated strikingly in the Rupertsberg manuscript of the work as the same lily that the Virgin Mary holds as her scepter at the top of the choirs of the heavenly symphony in Scivias III.13. This context then informs Hildegard’s inversion in strophe 5b of today’s sequence, in which Eve “pricked her womb / with the wounds of ignorance.” The forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil now has thorns that tear away at the mother’s womb by plunging its pristine procreativity into the dark and painful darkness of death, in which one cannot see or “rise to true knowledge of God” (Scivias II.1.8).

As the blooming branch predestined from the very beginning of creation (3a), the Virgin Mary embodies the opposite images that counter the Fall. The explicit invocation of her eternal predestination together with her Son sets “the eternal counsel” (Ps. 32[33]:11) of the Incarnation against the consilium serpentis (“the serpent’s wicked plan,” 5a). Moroever, the celebration of womanhood as the speculum (“mirror,” 4a) of God’s every beauty recalls another feminine figure and manifestation of that eternal counsel—Sapientia, Divine Wisdom, whom Hildegard paired with the Virgin explicitly in O magna res, a piece whose themes and structure complement today’s sequence. Finally, Hildegard’s favorite image of the Virgin as the dawn “who offered to the human race a light / anew” (6b) articulates her place in rescuing humankind from the darkness of disobedience and thus ignorance.

To address the Virgin Mary as Salvatrix could be seen, from the perspective of modern theology, as problematic, in parallel to the theological contention that swirls over the title Co-Redemptrix, “Co-Redeemer.” It is clear enough from the context of this sequence, however, that Hildegard is not suggesting an independent salvific role for the Virgin. Rather, she is invoking another of her striking gender inversions to express the radical complementarity between feminine and masculine, Mother and Son, in the central event of salvation history. The Virgin’s paradoxically fertile womb is the necessary instrument for mediating the Incarnation, and the blessing that she offers is one of light and life. Moreover, Hildegard strives here to rescue the fullness of divine knowledge—the light from which Adam fell in disobedience, the thorns of ignorance that brought pain to Eve’s womb—from an overly rigid gender stratification that reserves the rationality of wisdom to the male and its emotional effervescence to the female. To paraphrase Scripture, we are wise by rationality alone, but rationality without the light of Love is dead.

Finally, it must be remembered that the concept of salvation is rooted in the physical idea of health: the Latin term salus meant “good health” long before it meant “salvation.” Hildegard had a tendency to use the term polysemously, often and intentionally leaving it ambiguous at times whether salus referred to physical health or spiritual health. Thus, the title Salvatrix invokes the Virgin Mary’s role as healer, as seen for example in O clarissima. Her healing is holistic, reintegrating complementary roles that had fallen apart between Adam and Eve in the Fall. Her blooming branch blossomed with the lily of obedience refused by Adam; and it brought forth the soothing balm that heals those wounds of ignorance and blesses where Eve brought harm, setting the broken limbs (collige membra, 6b) of her Son, the weak and fallen members of Church, and gathering them together “into the heavens’ harmony.”

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: D below the final to A an octave above the final
Setting: almost entirely syllabic, some small neumatic segments, no melismas

In this sequence, the verses are identified with capital letters in the manuscript. In R, the scribe apparently forgot the capital on the verse that begins with, O quam valde plangendum. The sequence is incomplete in D.

Tonal punctuation is fairly straightforward with some exceptions. A is the primary grammatical marker, with E used occasionally. However, many of the phrases where line breaks have been made around E in the transcription are intended to go on. Tick barlines have been inserted to clarify these instances. Our setting of the text employs longer lines (and thus fewer lines per verse) than Newman’s, on account of the musical phrasing.

The opening phrases are anomalous. The salutation, O virga ac diadema (“O branch and diadem”), is outlined by the modal final, A. While a break could be made here, with the next phrase beginning on C, it makes more musical sense to extend the first line to end on B. Line 2, page 1 of the transcription is outlined by G, an unusual choice in this mode.

Line 3, which starts a new verse, begins on G, but the melody is almost identical to line 1. It is more likely that the scribe made an error than not, as Hildegard rarely varies a melodic gesture that is used to open a phrase. The phrase opening is clear on account of the capital letter on Tu. Because the beginning is missing in D, no clarification can be obtained by comparing the sources.

Page 2 of the transcription contains a set of phrases in which E is used as a marking tone. The verse that begins, O quam magnum est in viribus suis latus viri, opens and is outlined by A; the next phrase is also regular. The third segment opens and ends on E. The last opens on the A an octave above the final—not a note generally used by Hildegard to begin a phrase. It might be considered as the conclusion of the previous phrase.

Finally, we see again the ending of a textual idea and some outlining by G on the last page of the transcription, in the last verse. There is no other way to divide this phrase, and the notes are the same in both manuscripts, so they must be considered intentional.

In this piece, Hildegard celebrates Mary’s recovery of the glory of the feminine. The lyrics state that the form of woman was made by God to be the “mirror of all [God’s] beauty and the embrace of all his own creation.” Though she includes the harm wrought by Eve, this is one of those instances in which she mitigates Eve’s guilt by placing the responsibility on the serpent. Eve was not malicious but ignorant and wounded by the evil one. On page 3 of the transcription (verse 5a-b), Hildegard underscores this idea musically. The emphatic melodic motive that begins with the consecutive leaps of a fifth and a fourth to reach the A an octave above the final, appears on both per consilium serpentis and cum vulneribus ignorantie.

Though Hildegard addresses Mary as the Salvatrix in this work, she links it to her act of bearing the new light. Musically, this segment does not receive special emphasis, although the final statement, in which she asks Mary to gather the faithful into celestial harmony, does imply a hint of salvific agency.

Further Resources for O virga ac diadema
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 128-30 and 277.
  • 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.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Acta Canonizationis, 9.2:
Hoc idem dicit Hedewigis de Alceia iurata adiciens, quod beata Hildegardis in lecto egritudinis continue fuit ex flagello Dei, nisi cum Spiritu sancto fuit perlustrata, et tunc sequentiam instinctu sancti Spiritus, que sic incipit: “O virga ac diadema,” per claustrum ambulando decantabat. Cum qua concordat custodissa et celleraria iurate.
In Vita Sanctae Hildegardis. Leben der heiligen Hildegard von Bingen. Canonizatio Sanctae Hildegardis. Kanonisasition der heiligen Hildegard, ed. and trans. Monika Klaes, Fontes Christiani 29 (Freiburg et al.: Herder, 1998), p. 256. 


  1. Hello! Firstly, let me thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for all of this incredible hard work. I'm currently working on learning all of Hildegard's songs to Mary, working up to using the native notation, and I'm finding these transcriptions invaluable as I do so.

    However, I did find something in this one that looked a little off to me. In 4a, the phrase that begins with "O quam magnum est in viribus suis latus viri," I think that there isn't really a C,D pes in the Dendermonde codex under "latus."

    If you look at the commonly used photographs of the D codex, you can see that there has been an oval cut out of the parchment at that point, similar to the one at the top left of the page in the middle of the word "nobilissima." It appears that the C,D pes is actually just a show-through from the following page.

    If Ms. Lomer used those photographs to make these transcriptions, that could be why she added that C,D pes in there.

    Holes in the parchment weren't uncommon back then. When they stretched and cured the animal skins they used, they sometimes had to cut out little blotches or moles which left holes in the material that had to be written around. Unfortunately in this case, it allowed some information on the following page to show through.

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    1. Janis, when I originally worked from the facsimile [the digitized version is much more clear] the mark didn't cause me any issue, as it appeared to be a possible water mark. However, in looking at the digital edition, it is clearly a hole, and you are correct. Not only is the pes on the folio 157, but the preceding punctum as well. And the porrectus on nobilissima. I will have to repair the edition, but in the meantime, users can just keep these issues in mind.

    2. Cool -- glad to have found something useful! :-) And again, I can't thank you enough for these transcriptions and making them available publicly. This is an amazing amount of invaluable work.

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