Wednesday, October 15, 2014

O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli

Votive antiphon for the Angels (D 159r, R 468rb-va, Scivias III.13.2a) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli,
qui infra divinitatem
divinos oculos
cum mistica obscuritate
omnis creature aspicitis
in ardentibus desideriis,
unde numquam
potestis saciari:

O quam gloriosa
gaudia illa vestra
habet forma,
que in vobis est
intacta ab omni pravo opere,
quod primum ortum est
in vestro socio,
perdito angelo,
qui volare voluit
supra intus latens
pinnaculum Dei,
unde ipse tortuosus
dimersus est in ruinam,
sed ipsius instrumenta casus
consiliando facture
digiti Dei instituit.
O living light, O angels glorious!
Below divinity,
upon the eyes divine you gaze
within the mystic darkness
of all creation—
in yearnings set alight
where you can ne’er
be satiated:

How glorious too
are these, your joys
your form possesses—
that form that in your number
remains untouched by ev’ry wicked deed
that first arose
in your companion,
that now lost angel
who wished to fly
above, within the hidden
pinnacle of God—
then twisted, tortured, he
was plunged into his ruin.
But yet, his fall’s devices
by cunning plot he laid against the craft
of God’s creative finger.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: E with a modulation
Range: G below the final E to F an octave and a second above the final
Setting: syllabic and neumatic with several short melismas

This is a musically interesting song in several ways. It begins and ends in E, but the pitch focus changes to A and then to D. Flats have been added, which suggests a temporary transposition. The way in which Hildegard achieves this ‘modulation’ or change of focal pitch is clever. On page 1 of the transcription, E is clearly established as the primary pitch, beginning the piece and outlining the first several phrases. Line 4, page 1 of the transcription, ends on A, and A and E alternate as key tones.

On page 2, line 3, the grammatical indicator becomes D. Line 2 ends on E, which is musically conclusive. However, the text is continued by the conjunction que, which is set to D on line 3. While this would not be unusual, to move to the pitch below the final to set a connecting word, the tonal center now shifts to D. It remains in alternation between D and A until the final line/pitch where it concludes on E, the final that was established in the beginning. According to Julia Smucker, our singer consultant, this feels odd and ‘unresolved.’ In this segment, D could be the plagal version of the A ‘modality,’ which is not used as a conventional mode in this period but appears frequently in Hildegard’s work. Or, alternatively, one could consider a ‘modulation’ to D with A as the plagal. In this case, the addition of the flats above the final E would be consistent with E only in the upper species.

In her transcription, Marianne Richert Pfau ‘regularized’ the piece by moving it up a second. The introduction gives no rationale for the editorial change, and she references the flats only to the Dendermonde manuscript.[1] Both D and R agree on the pitch changes and generally on the addition of the flats, so it is not likely to have been an error.

The opening salutes the glorious light-giving angels, who are beneath the divinity but gaze on God in “mystical obscurity of all creation” and in “ardent desires.” The verb, aspicitis [gaze] appears on line 6 of the transcription, after the descriptives. In this segment, E clearly outlines the first three phrases, but on line 4, a shift to A occurs. Aspicitis has been given its own line in the transcription because it is clearly outlined by the A below the final and on account of the choice to place it last in the narrative statement. It can be sung with the previous line, however, and Julia recommends thism because the leap of a sixth that would result if it was combined with line 7 would be awkward in performance. In the transcription, the next two lines begin with F. While line 7 could be considered as a continuation/completion of aspicitis, that leaves line 8, which begins also with F on its own. To combine all three would make for quite a long phrase.

On page 2, line 8 is coupled with line 7 to make one phrase, and a tick barline has been inserted for clarity.

Regarding the flats, there are several instances in which a similar melodic fragment has a signed flat and in which it does not. For example, on page 2, note the similarity in melody on forma, intacta, quod and vestro socio. Flats appear only on intacta and vestro. Habet forma is clearly outlined by E and so a flat would not necessarily be indicated. The others appear after the modal change and so it would not be incorrect to add flats on similar segments in the D/A focus segments.

On page 3, D becomes the primary tonal marker until the end, when the last two lines neatly segue back to E.

Further Resources for O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli


[1] Pfau, Marianne Richert. Hildegard von Bingen, Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, Volume IV Chants for the Celestial Hierarchy. Bryn Mawr, Pa., Hildegard Publishing Company, pp. 2-4. 

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