Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ave generosa

Hymn to the Virgin (D 155v [incomplete], R 474v) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1. Ave generosa gloriosa et intacta
puella, tu pupilla castitatis,
tu materia sanctitatis,
que Deo placuit.

2. Nam hec superna infusio in te fuit,
quod supernum Verbum in te carnem induit.

3. Tu candidum lilium quod Deus ante omnem creaturam

4. O pulcherrima et dulcissima,
quam valde Deus in te delectabatur,
cum amplexionem caloris sui in te posuit,
ita quod Filius eius de te lactatus est.

5. Venter enim tuus gaudium habuit
cum omnis celestis symphonia de te sonuit,
quia virgo Filium Dei portasti,
ubi castitas tua in Deo claruit.

6. Viscera tua gaudium habuerunt
sicut gramen super quod ros cadit
cum ei viriditatem infundit, ut et in te factum est,
O mater omnis gaudii.

7. Nunc omnis ecclesia in gaudio rutilet
ac in symphonia sonet
propter dulcissimam Virginem
et laudabilem Mariam,
Dei Genitricem. Amen.
1. Hail, nobly born, hail, honored and inviolate,
you Maiden are the piercing gaze of chastity,
you the material of holiness—
the one who pleasèd God.

2. For heaven’s flood poured into you
as heaven’s Word was clothed in flesh in you.

3. You are the lily, gleaming white, upon which God
has fixed his gaze before all else created.

4. O beautiful, O sweet!
How deep is that delight that God received in you,
when ‘round you he enwrapped his warm embrace,
so that his Son was suckled at your breast.

5. Your womb rejoiced
as from you sounded forth the whole celestial symphony.
For as a virgin you have borne the Son of God—
in God your chastity shone bright.

6. Your flesh rejoiced
just as a blade of grass on which the dew has fall’n,
viridity within it to infuse—just so it happened unto you,
O mother of all joy!

7. So now in joy gleams all the Church like dawn,
resounds in symphony
because of you, the Virgin sweet
and worthy of all praise, Maria,
God’s mother. Amen.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this glorious hymn, Hildegard skillfully weaves together several of her most characteristic images and symbols to celebrate the complementary themes of the Virgin Mary’s chaste union with God and her giving birth to God’s Son in the flesh. The perspective of the hymn moves back and forth between the realm of heaven and its eternal symphony, on the one hand; and the Virgin’s womb and its classic symbol, the lily, on the other. The point of contact between the two, then, is when the Heavenly Bridegroom brings the eternal symphony into the Virgin’s joyous bedchamber and the Incarnate Word enters the world in song.

The opening verse sets the tone by marrying the language of the court—to be generosa was to be born of noble stock, and thus to be bred to be “generous”—with the praise of Mary’s untouched chastity. Both elements combine to make her the “material”—matter, mother, and matrix—whose perfect holiness befits the garment that will be crafted from that material (cf. O splendidissima gemma). The second verse then recalls an image from the responsory, O vis eternitatis, of human nature as a garment, soiled by the Fall but “washed and cleansed” of its suffering by the suffering of the Incarnate Christ. Here, Hildegard describes the Word “clothed in flesh” in Mary’s maternal material of holiness, infused (infusio—“flood”) from above (superna).

Verse 3 complements this by offering another image for Mary’s chastity, the gleaming white lily—but the perspective shifts back from the moment of the Incarnation to its eternal predestination. Just as God foresaw before all eternity that his Son would become a human being, so he also looked upon the Virgin’s fertile flower within that same “eternal counsel”, knowing that she would be the vessel for the Incarnation.

The next verse then combines these elements to describe the espousal of God and this predestined Virgin; as Barbara Newman notes, “The chaste eroticism of such lyrics is a characteristic medieval mood, no less fervent for being virginal, nor less delicate for being ardent” (Symphonia, p. 275). The conceptual movement of the first four verses is reinforced by the use of repeated musical motive that first appears with tu materia in the first verse—reaching from the final to the high A an octave above (which occurs in the first four verses only in the context of this motive or its variations), it then descends a note at a time to D before recovering to E. This motive appears also on superna (Verse 2), lilium (Verse 3), in a modified form on dulcissima (Verse 4), and again on caloris sui and quod Filius eius (Verse 4); for further use of this motive, see Beverly Lomer’s commentary below. Mary as matrix and pure, sweet white flower receives from above the heat of a spousal embrace and the sunlight, which issues in the Incarnation.

Verses 5 and 6 shift into a joyous celebration of this union, focused on what have emerged as the two key images: the realm of heaven and its symphony; and the movement from heaven to earth, represented in the flower and the viriditas flooded and infused into it (infundit, echoing the superna infusio of Verse 1). The music in Verse 5 works especially to connect the celestial symphony with the gleam of Mary’s chastity, as it reaches several times to the highest note in the piece, the C an octave and a fourth above the final. Verse 6 then invokes one of Hildegard’s favorite images, of the viridity that sparkles in the early morning light as it reflects off of the beads of dew that have settled on each tender blade of grass.

Finally, in Verse 7, ecclesia receives a modified version of the repeated motive traversing the final and its high A octave, leading the transfer of the office of Virginal Mother from Mary to the Church. The early-morning light is alluded to in the verb rutilet, which literally means “to gleam red” (cf. Cum processit factura), and becomes the setting for the heavenly symphony, which sounded in the Virgin’s womb with the entrance of Christ as “the New Song”, to echo in the Church (Symphonia, p. 275). Here, Hildegard’s particularly sacramental view of music comes to the fore, as she and her nuns would literally fill the Church with music in the course of singing the praises of their Virgin Mother, bringing into being the musical grace of her Son. In singing for the Lord, they became themselves actors in the divine drama, feminine agents of divine power. Indeed, they literally acted out those roles when they performed as the various Virtutes—not just virtues, but emanations of divine power working within the world—in the sung morality play, Ordo Virtutum, that Hildegard composed for them. Moreover, the special veils and crowns with which Hildegard clothed her nuns on high feast days would combine with their liturgical service of song to create a sacramental matrix in which was channeled the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to Ecclesia’s choirs of virgins, where they reflected the symphony in the blessed joy of song.[1]

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: E below the final to C an octave and a third above the final
Setting: syllabic and neumatic
Manuscript: unfinished in D, complete in R

As in many of the A mode pieces, here Hildegard extends the range to the C an octave and a fourth above the final. A is the primary tonal marker, and E is also used. There are several textual phrases in the last two verses, however, that cannot be made to fit these parameters. The first two lines of verse 6 (last line of page 2 and first line of page 3 of the transcription) can be understood as a single phrase; the second begins on F, but F should not be understood here as a grammatical marker. On lines 6 and 7 of the final page (verse 7), the lack of clear phrase separation does indeed cause the break to be made after the E on virginem in line 6, thus beginning the next segment with F, a non-common grammatical tone in this mode. Singers might be able to perform these two lines as all one phrase, but if not, then the break makes sense both musically and linguistically at the end of line 6. The last phrase of the piece, Dei genitricem, Amen, begins on G. Though this is also unusual in the A mode, there really is no other way to make the phrase breaks that makes sense.

This hymn begins with a salutation to Mary, which can be interpreted several ways. Textually, the salutation could properly read, Ave generosa, gloriosa et intacta puella. This choice, however, would begin the next segment on C, an unusual grammatical indicator in the A mode. Thus, the transcription renders the salutation across the first two lines. Line 3 of the first verse (tu materia) begins a new musical idea and reaches the A an octave above the final. This signature motive is also placed on several other key words: superna (verse 2, line 5, page 1), candidum lilium (verse 3, line 7, page 1), caloris (verse 4, line 2, page 2), Filius (verse 4,line 3, page 2), viriditatem (verse 6, line 3, page 3), and omnis ecclesia (verse 7, line 5, page 3). Thus Hildegard links the supernal flood from God into Mary’s womb with Mary as the shining lily, greenness (viridity), Ecclesia, heat, and the Son, through the strategic deployment of one musical idea. Not surprisingly, given the significance of music to Hildegard, the melody ascends to the highest pitch, the C an octave and a third above the final, on the phrase, celestis symphonia de te sonuit.

Further Resources for Ave generosa
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 122 and 275.
  • 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] See Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 57-61; accessible online here

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. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

O quam magnum miraculum

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 155r-v, R 467rb-va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O quam magnum miraculum est
quod in subditam femineam
formam rex
Hoc Deus fecit quia humilitas
super omnia ascendit.
Et o quam magna felicitas
est in ista forma,
quia malicia,
que de femina fluxit hanc
femina postea detersit
et omnem suavissimum
odorem virtutum edificavit
ac celum ornavit
plus quam terram prius
How great the wonder is!
Into the female form subdued
the King
has come.
This God has done, for meekness
mounts o’er all.
And O how great the happiness
is in that form,
for malice,
which from a woman flowed—
a woman then this malice wiped away,
and ev’ry sweet
perfume of virtues she has raised—
the heavens graced
far more than e’er the earth
in chaos cast.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This antiphon exemplifies St. Hildegard’s theology of the feminine, as the central character is not just the Virgin Mary or Eve, but womanhood itself—“the female form” that encompasses both mothers, one fallen into chaos, the other raised in meekness to grace the heavens with her sweet perfume of virtue (cf. Quia ergo femina). While the parallel of Eve and Mary was a common trope, Hildegard’s poetic density here collapses the two into one, in order to articulate the peculiar role that Woman plays in salvation history as the revelatory face of the divine: it is through “the female form subdued” that the mighty King enters into the world, into time, into history. Hildegard intentionally combines the two paradigmatic women of Mary and Eve because of the paradoxes that suffuse that entrance of eternity into time: the agency of submission, the exaltation of humility (cf. Luke 1:52), the fortunate Fall (magna felicitas), and heavenly adornment (ornavit) excelling earthly disorder (turbavit).

As she explains in Liber Divinorum Operum I.1.17:
God chose from his stock that sleeping earth that was completely unblemished by the taste of that [fruit] by which the ancient serpent deceived the first woman. This earth was prefigured by the staff of Aaron (Num. 17:8) to be the Virgin Mary, who in her great humility was the enclosed bedchamber of the King. For when she received from the throne the message that the Highest King wished to live in her enclosure, she perceived that earth from which she was created and replied that she was the handmaid of God (Luke 1:38). The woman who was first deceived did not do this, since she desired to have that which she ought not to have had.[1]
This antiphon’s two exclamatory “how greats” establish the waypoints of salvation history—the great miracle of the Incarnation and the great “happiness” (felicitas) of the “fortunate” Fall. Yet, this felicitas is not merely the paradoxical fruit of the Fall in the coming of the Redeemer—“humankind, having community in God, has in Heaven more radiant brightness than they had before ... for after humanity’s ruin many virtues arose to raise it up again,” as Hildegard put it in Scivias I.2.30-1 (see further the Commentary on Cum erubuerint)—but also the felicity that the Virgin restores to womanhood in wiping away the wickedness of the flesh (malicia) that had marred Woman’s sacred fecundity. Thus, the second o quam magna looks both back to the Fall and forward to its resolution and the restoration of womanhood through the Virgin Mary and the Virgin Church.

Hildegard alludes to this manifestation of restored, virginal womanhood through Mary and into the Church in describing how the Virgin washed away Eve’s malice: by constructing (edificavit) a salvific structure redolent of the sweet perfume of virtues (the architectural imagery recalls the responsories, Ave Maria, O auctrix vite and O clarissima). This perfume of the gracious power by which the Church and her ministers enact the work of salvation is the sweet smell of “the blossom of celestial Zion, the mother and flower of roses and lilies of the valley,” as is sung in the great responsory for the Feast of the Assumption. These fragrant, virtuous ministries belonged particularly, in Hildegard’s mind, to the musical opus Dei that she and her order of virgins enacted every day—and thus that responsorial verse for the Virgin’s Assumption also resounded in the words of the visionary voice from heaven that declared the central place of Virginitas among the orders of the Church in Scivias II.5 (cf. O nobilissima viriditas).[2] This antiphon celebrates that assumed and enthroned Queen of Heaven with the music to which Hildegard and her nuns gave voice within the Church’s halls, a participation in the eternal, celestial symphony that resounds in the Virgin’s court. Her greater grace in heaven subsumes their ministry on earth, and the long, final melisma of today’s antiphon brings harmony to the chaos of turbavit.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: B below the final to G an octave and a third above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic, with several short melismas and one long melisma on the final word

This antipon presents some tricky phrasing issues. Key modal tones are E and B, and while Hildegard uses E regularly here, the way she deploys B is less straightforward as a grammatical marker.

There are two places where we meet the ambiguous use of the final on a conjuction that could come either at the end of one phrase or the beginning of the next. This happens with quod in Lines 2 and 3 and et in lines 7 and 8 of the first page of the transcription. One of Hildegard’s signature gestures is to open a phrase with a leap from the final to the fifth above. To place quod or et respectively at the beginning of the subsequent phrase would somewhat diminish the rhetorical emphasis of the upward leap of a fifth. On the other hand, placing the conjunction at the end of the line interferes with the cadence on the previous phrase. Here, the single note E on quod in line 3 and et in line 8 of the transcription, has been placed at the beginning of the phrase. The primary reason is that the words assigned to the leap in each case are not significant images that would carry high rhetorical force. Thus, it was decided to preserve the finality of the ending on the previous lines. As Hildegard employs both strategies, either option represents a reasonable choice; it is likely that the final on each conjunction should be slurred with the following syllable’s repetition of that note, to preserve the opening emphasis of the leap.

The form of this antiphon is narrative. The contrast between Mary and Eve is present, but the emphasis is on feminine humility, which Mary personifies. Indirectly, Mary’s actions recover the pre-lapsarian purity of the feminine: Woman is redeemed through her.

The opening statement encompasses the first five lines, ending with introivit. O quam magnum miraculum is set apart for emphasis by the musical grammar, beginning and ending on E. Est (line 2, page 1) is set to a similar melody as O quam. Musical intensity increases on line 3 with the rise to C above the final on the phrase, in subditam [femineam]. Textually, formam on line 4 belongs with in subditam femineam. However, to begin the next phrase, rex introivit, on A would be muscially awkward, as A is not otherwise used as a punctuating pitch here. The melody reaches another high point, D above the final on the word rex, and the same melodic motive that appears on subditam is also found on introivit, thus linking these ideas.

E an octave above the final appears in line 6 on humilitas, and not surprisingly, the word receives additional emphasis from the leap of a fifth. The phrase concludes on the next line, and a tick barline has been inserted for clarity.

On page 2 of the transcription, the text states that woman/Mary erased the harm done by Eve. The phrase, femina postea detersit (“a woman later wiped away”), referring to the malice wrought by Eve, is outlined by B. Previously, E functioned as the demarcating pitch. Moving to B sets this idea apart. The musical grammar also helps resolve the anacolouthon (broken syntax) of shifting from malicia / que (nominative) to hanc as the accusative object of detersit, as the latter demonstrative pronoun completes the cadence of the relative clause.

The ending amplifies the contrast by placing the musical emphasis on the harm previously done by Eve. The highest pitch, G an octave and a third above the final, is reached on prius (“before,” in reference to Eve], and turbavit (“disturbed”) receives the only lengthy melisma in the song.

Further Resources for O quam magnum miraculum
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 120 and 274-5.
  • 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] Trans. by Nathaniel M. Campbell, from the Latin text of the Liber Divinorum Operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, in CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), p. 58. 
[2] See further Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 57-61; accessible online here

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cum erubuerint

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 155r, R 467rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Cum erubuerint infelices
in progenie sua,
procedentes in peregrinatione casus,
tunc tu clamas clara voce,
hoc modo homines elevans
de isto malicioso
While downcast parents blushed,
ashamed to see their offspring
wand’ring off into the fallen exile’s pilgrimage,
you cried aloud with crystal voice,
to lift up humankind
from that malicious
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Cum erubuerint by Sequentia on Grooveshark

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This haunting yet hopeful antiphon, a companion to Cum processit factura, traces an arc from our first parents and their unhappy fall, through our fallen exile, to the Virgin’s clarion call to lift us up with her Son. For Hildegard, as for most patristic and medieval theologians and exegetes, the shameful blush that opens this antiphon reflects the reactions that Adam and Eve had to their nakedness before and after the Fall. Before, it is written, “They were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25: Erat autem uterque nudus, et non erubescebant); but after they became aware of what they had done, of the paradise that they would lose because of their disobedience, they did take shame in that nakedness and moved to cover it up (Gen. 3:7). Sexuality, which was in Paradise God’s gift of procreation to the humans he made in his image and likeness, became tainted with that disobedience, with the pains of uncontrollable lust and the pangs of childbirth. In both this antiphon and in Cum processit factura, that vitiation of the sexuality’s original creative order is representative of the disorder wrought upon all of creation by the Fall.

This overturning of the natural order is what set humankind on their exile in this world—a pilgrimage in a world in which they do not rightly belong and which they cannot truly call their home; for the home for which they were made—Paradise—has been lost, and they wander now in the wilderness, trying to find their way back home through the darkness. The pilgrimage of sin seeks a home within this world; the pilgrimage of grace remains in exile in this world, for that pilgrim sets her sight upon the city and the home that is to come.

In the darkened, fallen world in which irrational sin seems to make sense and holiness demands homelessness, as it were, it is the paradoxical weakness of the Virgin’s meek and quiet voice that allows it to carry over the din. In this antiphon, Hildegard reserves the longest melismas and the highest notes for just two words: clara (“crystal-clear,” line 4) and casu (“fall,” final line). The Fall receives double the number of notes—a long, final, perhaps even wearying meditation. But the Virgin’s crystal-clear voice receives the highest note—G, an octave and a thid above the lowest note of the piece, the B that begins the final phrase on casu. That voice pierces through the confusion, and delivers the startling news that lifts us up out of it—the felix culpa:
He Who created you in the first human foresaw all things; and that same most gentle Father sent His Only-Begotten to die for the people, to deliver humanity from the power of the Devil. And thus humankind, having been delivered, shines in God, and God in humankind; humankind, having community in God, has in Heaven more radiant brightness than they had before. This would not have been so if the Son of God had not put on flesh, for if humankind had remained in Paradise, the Son of God would not have suffered on the cross. But when humankind was deceived by the wily serpent, God was touched by true mercy and ordained that His Only-Begotten would become incarnate in the most pure Virgin. And thus, after the ruin of humankind, many shining virtues were lifted up in Heaven, like humility, the queen of the virtues, which flowered in the virgin birth, and other virtues, which lead God’s elect to the heavenly places. For when a field with great labor is cultivated, it brings forth much fruit; and the same is shown in the human race, for after humanity’s ruin many virtues arose to raise it up again. But you, O humans, oppressed by the heaviness of the flesh, do not see that great glory God’s full justice has prepared for you, without stain or unworthiness, so that no one can throw it down. For before the structure of the world was made, God in true justice had foreseen all these things.
     —Scivias I.2.30-31[1]
Mediating the center of that “eternal counsel” and its predestined Incarnation is this paradox of the Virgin Mother, offering in her simplicity, humility, and purity the balm to heal the wounds of sin. Moreover, as Barabara Newman notes (Symphonia, p. 274), the syntax of this antiphon shifts (in a rhetorical move used similarly in Cum processit factura) startlingly from the perfect subjunctive of erubuerint—our parents’ blushes temporally consigned to the past—to the present tense of Mary’s clamas—for the Virgin’s voice calls out to us still, lifted out of the darkened constraints of mortal life and into the glories of eternity now streaming into time.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: B below the final to G an octave and a third above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic, with strategically placed melismas on clara voce and casu

This short antiphon addresses Mary’s action, “then you cried aloud with crystal voice to lift up humankind from that malicious fall.” The image of the clara vox (“clear voice”) is interesting choice, as voice/word is generally associated with primary divinity. There is no mention of motherhood or other more conventional Marian imagery. Again, the light motif occurs with the use of the phrase clara voce.

E is the primary tonal demarcator in this piece, with B being used alternatively and strategically. B outlines the phrase, tunc tu clamas clara voce, and the extensive melisma on the final word, casu, begins on B below the final. This deployment of the secondary modal tone thus serves to emphasize and link the two ideas: Mary’s saving action (crying out with a clear voice) to save mankind from the Fall. The importance of Mary’s agency receives further emphasis in that the highest pitch, G, in Dendermonde is reached on the phrase, tunc tu clamas clara voce, and this only happens once. In the Riesenkodex, the G high point is transcribed down to the E an octave above the final, and while it remains the highest pitch, it does not produce quite the same effect as the version in D.

The opening phrase is outlined by E. The second line of the transcription begins on B but ends on E. This segment can be considered two ways: either as one long phrase or as two phrases. Similarly, the use of B to end hoc modo homines elevans can be considered as an “imperfect” ending and not a full stop.

The final word, casu (“fall”) interestingly begins on the lowest pitch, B below the final, and this is the only occurrence of that low note. Previous melodic material is then reiterated and thus recalled within its lengthy, concluding melisma.

Further Resources for Cum erubuerint
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 118 and 274.
  • 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] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 87-8; Latin text from the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 33-4. 

Cum processit factura

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 154v, R 467rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Cum processit factura
digiti Dei,
ad imaginem Dei
in ortu mixti sanguinis
per peregrinationem
casus Ade,
elementa susceperunt gaudia in te,
o laudabilis Maria,
celo rutilante
et in laudibus sonante.
Although the craft
of God’s extended finger,
created in
God’s image,
came forth in birth of blood commingled,
in pilgrimage exiled
by Adam’s fall;
the elements received their joys in you,
O Mary, worthy of our praise,
as heaven gleams with rubied light
and echoes gladsome shouts of praise.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This antiphon is a companion piece to Cum erubuerint, as both draw the contrast between the “pilgrimage exiled” (peregrinatio) of fallen humanity and the grace of the Virgin as she restores that fallenness and leads it back to its paradisical, celestial home. The breadth of that restorative and re-creative agency is celebrated in the last four lines, which Barbara Newman has described as a “sonnet-like volta” (Symphonia, p. 274), as the elemental fibers of the universe regain the harmonious joy that they had lost when, after the Fall and the expulsion from paradise, they had been cast into noisome confusion:
And so all the elements of the world, which before had existed in great calm, were turned to the greatest agitation and displayed horrible terrors, because when humankind chose disobedience, rebelling against God and forsaking tranquility for disquiet, that Creation, which had been created for the service of humanity, turned against humans in great and various ways so that humankind, having lowered themselves, might be held in check by it. What does this mean? That humankind showed themselves rebels against God in the place of delights, and therefore that Creation, which had been subjected to them in service, now opposed itself to them.
     —Scivias I.2.27[1]
The hallmark of this harmony is the very music with which Hildegard has set this praise of the Virgin, which echoes the praises that ring presently and eternally in the heavens where she reigns as Queen—as Newman notes, the ablative absolute with present participles of the last two lines shifts the piece out of the past tenses of its finite verbs into the heavenly state of the eternal present (Symphonia, p. 274). Music exemplifies the intended order of the opus Dei, the “work of God,” which is both the liturgical life of the Benedictine monastery and the entire expanse of creation upon which Hildegard constantly reflects, held in eternal order in the heart of God (cf. O quam mirabilis est). The celestial symphony that closes today’s antiphon with a lengthy melisma on sonante is also intimately bound up with the celestial light, in this case the ruby-red glow (rutilante) that in Hildegard’s symbolic lexicon refers to the dawn light, her favorite image for the Virgin’s womb as it mediates the irruption of divine light into the world. This synaesthetic complex of light and sound was the hallmark of her visionary experiences, in which light resounds and music sparkles.

Two particular images in the first part of the antiphon elaborate the contrast between God’s craft and handiwork—humankind as factura digiti Dei—and its fallen exile, whose originally ordered procreation was corrupted into “birth of blood commingled” (in ortu mixti sanguinis). The first image, of humankind “crafted” (factura) and “formed” (formata) by God, is grammatically striking: the terms are gendered female. This is also not the only verse in which Hildegard uses this feminine factura for humankind; although its musical notation does not survive, the verse O factura Dei explicitly celebrates this grammatically feminine handiwork as it is transformed by the Incarnation itself. While the term factura is almost certainly an allusion to Ephesians 2:10 (Ipsius enim sumus factura, creati in Christo Jesu in operibus bonis, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus in good works”), Hildegard’s choice to keep the feminine gender with formata rather than follow St. Paul’s masculine plural creati is a conscious decision to cast the humankind whose chaotic exile is reordered by the Virgin with a feminine face. The same word is used in the verse in praise of the Incarnation because, as Hildegard famously put it, “Man signifies the divinity of the Son of God, but woman signifies his humanity” (Liber Divinorum Operum I.4.100). The feminine is the place where God meets humankind, stooping down to us as we open ourselves to receive him through the virginal fecundity of Mary and her continuation, the Church. As a result, for Hildegard, “humankind in its totality—women and men in history, community, in relation with God—had a feminine face.”[2]

By casting unfallen humankind as God’s feminine handiwork, this antiphon is one of the few places in Hildegard’s Marian corpus where she makes Adam the representative of fallen sexual intercourse—the “birth of blood commingled.”[3] (Hildegard understood sexual procreation to be a mingling of the man’s blood—in the form of cool, foamy semen—with the woman’s blood—the warmer environment of the uterus.[4]) This leaves the unnamed Eve free to represent the original factura digiti Dei, to be renewed and restored by the Virgin. Edenic procreation, according to one of Hildegard’s descriptions of it, would not have been by vaginal intercourse, though it would have been sweetly sensual. As Adam and Eve, husband and wife, lay side-by-side in their paradise:
They would gently perspire as if sleeping. Then the woman would become pregnant from the man’s perspiration (sudor), and, while they lay thus sweetly asleep, she would give birth to a child painlessly from her side … in the same way that God brought Eve forth from Adam, and that the Church was born from the side of Christ.[5]
This painless birth was commonly understood to have been part of the grace of the Virgin Birth of Christ, as Mary would bear the Christ child absent the birthing pangs that were given in punishment of the Fall. Moreover, as with the third wing in O virtus Sapientie and verse 4b of Hildegard’s hymn to the Holy Spirit, O ignis Spiritus paracliti, the concept of sudor (and its verb, sudare) represented for Hildegard’s the Holy Spirit’s active, life-giving (vivificans) presence in the world as the sweet, aromatic distillation of fecundity. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin at the Annunciation, it was this procreative sudor by which she would have conceived the Christ child. Thus, as Newman points out, “To this way of thinking, only the Virgin’s conception and childbearing reveal true ‘nature’ as God ordained it from the beginning; it is the motherhood of fallen Eve and her daughters that is ‘unnatural.’”[6]

The connection between the macrocosmic elements and the microcosmic human body was central to Hildegard’s understanding of human biology, including sexual intercourse and postlapsarian procreation. Thus, the chaos and disorder of sexual intercourse—the uncontrollable urges of lust seething in the loins—are the human experience of the discord of all of creation and its elements after the Fall. As Hildegard described it in Scivias I.2.15:
But after Adam and Eve were driven out of the place of delight, they knew in themselves the work of conceiving and bearing children. And falling thus from disobedience into death, when they knew they could sin, they discovered sin’s sweetness. And in this way, turning My rightful institution into sinful lust, although they should have known that the commotion in their veins was not for the sweetness of sin but for the love of children, by the Devil’s suggestion they changed it to lechery; and, losing the innocence of the act of begetting, they yielded it to sin.
In this antiphon, the elements themselves rejoice to be put back into balance with the restoration of the virginal nature to the factura Dei, the sinless God-made-human in the sinless Virgin’s womb. The lecherous, shame-faced blush with which its companion piece, Cum erubuerint, begins, is transformed into the glowing red light of the dawn that burst forth in heaven as the Son of God entered upon earth—or, as Hildegard put it in the antiphon, O quam magnum miraculum, when the Virgin did “the heavens grace / far more than e’er the earth in chaos cast.”

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: C below the final to D an octave and a second above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic, with one long melisma on the final word and several short melismas

The piece offers an example of some interesting phrasing. It begins with the phrase, Cum processit factura, outlined by the modal final, E. The three short phrases that follow the opening, digiti Dei, formata, and ad imaginem Dei, are extensions of the first. Together they create the opening statement. Each of these sub-phrases begins with the pitch, D, a less usual choice for this mode, and contain similar opening melodic motives. The melodic structure lends force to each image individually.

B is also used as a tonal demarcating tone, and this is more conventional, as it is the secondary focal tone of the mode. Lines 8 and 9 of the first page of the transcription comprise one phrase that is outlined by B; they are separated in the transcription for ease of reading. Similarly, the last line of page 1 is connected to line 1 of page 2. Tick barlines have been inserted as guides to performers.

The text begins as a narrative describing the fall, but transitions to address Mary at the end. The salutatory phrase, o laudabilis Maria, begins with B, ascends to C, and incorporates the melodic motive found on Dei in line 2 (page 1). The final word, sonante, is set to a lengthy melisma that also contains melodic motives from throughout the antiphon, thus serving as a musical peroratio.

Further Resources for Cum processit factura
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 118 and 273-4.
  • 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.
  • Newman, Barbara. Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987 / 1997), p. 179.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 86; Latin text from the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), p. 32. 
[2] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987 / 1997), p. 249. 
[3] Adam also appears in verses 1b-2a of the sequence O virga ac diadema, but his appearance there is mirrored by Eve’s in verses 5a-6a. 
[4] For Hildegard’s biology of sexual procreation, see Book II, chs. 129 and 137 of Cause et Cure [Causae et Curae], ed. Laurence Moulinier and Rainer Berndt (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. and 94-97 and 103. 
[5] Hildegard of Bingen, Fragment IV.29, as quoted in Newman, Sister of Wisdom, p. 111. 
[6] Newman, Sister of Wisdom, pp. 111-2. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Quia ergo femina

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 154v, R 467r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit,
clara virgo illam interemit,
et ideo est summa benedictio
in feminea forma
pre omni creatura,
quia Deus factus est homo
in dulcissima et beata virgine.
For since a woman drew up death,
a virgin gleaming dashed it down,
and therefore is the highest blessing found
in woman’s form
before all other creatures.
For God was made a human
in the blessed Virgin sweet.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Quia ergo femina by Ensemble Mediatrix on Grooveshark

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This antiphon continues the narrative description of the Virgin’s place within salvation history begun in Hodie aperuit nobis; in this way, the pair are set apart from the responsories that precede them and the antiphons that follow, which directly address the Virgin in praise and intercession. With its opening, Hildegard provides a striking complement to 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, in which the two women (Eve and Mary) act in place of the two men (Adam and Christ): “For since by a human came death, by a human came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The choice of verbs to describe the contrastive actions of the two women—instruxit and interemit—continues the imagery that Hildegard used in the responsories, Ave Maria, O auctrix vite and O clarissima, in which Eve “constructs” the hollow walls of death and the Virgin tears them down, “rebuilding up” life, health, and salvation in their place.

That shift in perspective from the Adam/Christ pair to the Eve/Mary one allows Hildegard to move into one of her more elegant expressions of the “highest blessing found / in woman’s form,” precisely because of the Virgin’s victory over death in the purity of her sweet, life-giving womb. Barbara Newman notes that this piece joins the antiphon, O quam magnum miraculum, and the sequence, O virga ac diadema, in expanding this exaltation in the person of the Virgin to “woman per se,” whose form “denotes both the Platonic idea and the physical beauty of woman” (Symphonia, p. 273). Because of Hildegard’s Platonic metaphysics, in which humanity stands astride the ladder of being, stretching from the heart of divinity itself down to the vilest, mortal materiality, God’s choice to become a human through a feminea forma raises her weakness into a blessing that surpasses all other creatures. Moreover, although the text itself contrasts the femina (Eve) of the first line with the virgo (Mary) of the second, the benedictio of the third is shared by the Virgin with her fallen ancestor, as Hildegard repeats the musical phrase of line 1’s femina on benedictio (line 3 in the text, line 5 in the transcription). This emphasizes the fact that the blessing of Mary’s virginal restoration of human nature is shared with all womankind.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: B below the final to E an octave above the final
Setting: neumatic

E is the primary tonal marker in this antiphon. B is deployed as a secondary demarcating tone.

The first phrase is contained in the first two lines of the transcription, and a tick barline has been added at the end of line 2. While this can be performed as one phrase, it is too long for a readable transcription, and so it has been broken into two lines. The same is true for the lines 3 and 4 of the transcription.

At the end of line 4, B becomes the tone that outlines the phrases. This change lasts for two lines, and then E returns as the grammatical marker. Once again, the themes/images of the sacred feminine, which are characteristic of the Marian songs, are highlighted/emphasized by the change from E to B as the tonal marker.

The differences between the manuscripts in Quia ergo femina are primarily in the use of neumes.These have been noted in the transcription, with the neumes that are different in the Riesenkodex illustrated above the line.

Like Hodie aperuit, this antiphon is in narrative form and does not address Mary directly. Rather, it describes the contrast between her saving motherhood and Eve’s destruction. The phrases are well marked by the final and fifth. The melody rises to the highest pitch (E an octave above the final) on the word virgo (in reference to Mary), and further emphasis is obtained by the approach to the registral pitch, which is accomplished by two consecutive leaps. The important and central phrase, et ideo est summa benedictio, is outlined by B, and the following phrase, in feminea forma, begins on B but concludes on E. The change from punctuation by the final sets this theme apart and highlights its importance.

Further Resources for Quia ergo femina
  • 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.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hodie aperuit

[Nunc aperuit]Back to Table of Contents
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.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
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

C mode
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

O splendidissima gemma

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 154r-v, R 466vb, Scivias III.13.1a) by Hildegard of Bingen
O splendidissima gemma
et serenum decus solis
qui tibi infusus est,
fons saliens
de corde Patris,
quod est unicum Verbum suum,
per quod creavit mundi
primam materiam,
quam Eva turbavit.

Hoc Verbum effabricavit
tibi Pater hominem,
et ob hoc es tu illa lucida materia
per quam hoc ipsum Verbum exspiravit
omnes virtutes, ut eduxit
in prima materia omnes creaturas.
O jewel resplendent
and bright and joyous beauty of the sun
that’s flooded into you—
the fountain leaping
from the Father’s heart.
This is his single Word
by which he did create the world’s
primordial matter,
a motherhood into confusion cast by Eve.

This Word the Father made
for you into a man—
and this is why you are that bright and shining matter,
through which that Word has breathed
forth every virtue, just as he brought forth
all creatures in a primal motherhood.
Back to Table of Contents
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This antiphon is the first piece of the heavenly symphony that Hildegard heard in the final vision of Scivias (III.13), addressed to the Virgin Queen of the celestial choirs. Its opening image, of the sunlight refracting through and reflecting off a gemstone, becomes quite literally a lens through which Hildegard glimpses the entire sway of salvation history, stretching from the prima materia, the primordial material at the beginning of creation, through the disturbance of that matter in the Fall, and finally to the Virgin’s integral role in renewing that material as she bore the Son of God. Two central images emerge: the interaction of sunlight with gemstone, and the polyvalency of materia as both matter and motherhood.

The image of the gemstone situates the Virgin within the complex web of salvation history by calling upon the twelve precious stones that adorned first the breastplate of the high priest of Israel (Exodus 28) and then the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem in John’s vision thereof (Apoc. 21). The manifestation of God’s presence among his people as his City is a classically patristic image (e.g. St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei), but Hildegard expands its symbolic limits by connecting the Heavenly Jerusalem to the Virgin’s own body as a tabernacle—from the architectural metaphors of the responsory, Ave Maria, O auctrix vite, to the Temple of God with its closed and re-opened door in the antiphon Hodie aperuit, invoking Ezekiel 44.

Scivias I.4: Emobdiment of Soul and Earthly Life.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 22r
The place of this antiphon within the opening of the symphony that closes Scivias also connects its image of the gemstone with the anthropological vision near the start of the work (Scivias I.4), in which Hildegard explored the relationship between soul and body struggling against the temptations of the material world. The vision itself, as well as the allegorical explication of it and the extensive narrative told by the representative “human form”, all identify it as the story of the life and ordeals of an “Everyperson.” It begins with the Everyperson’s conception, as their soul is quickened in the womb of their mother by the flow of divine energy from a golden quadrilateral allegorically identified as “the Knowledge of God.” The iconography of this image in the illustration Hildegard designed for it in the Rupertsberg manuscript draws from common tropes for illustrating the nativity of Christ, with the recumbent mother in the same pose commonly used for the Virgin Mary in childbirth. The use of gold overlaid with red-lacquer to illustrate the divine ensoulment further highlights the particular iconographical valences of the Rupertsberg image, for the manuscript intentionally used such red-gold to illustrate both the Father as one person of the Trinity and to mark the irruptions of his divine activity into creation in the form of one Hildegard’s favorite images, the dawn light.[1]

Hildegard’s design of the image helps the viewer-reader to make a typological connection between the Everyperson’s lament for the weight of their ordeals in life (illustrated to the right of their conception) in Scivias I.4 and their resolution in the opening lyric to the Virgin at the end of the work:
For I should have had a tabernacle adorned with five square gems more brilliant than the sun and stars, for the sun and stars that set would not have shone in it, but the glory of the angels; the topaz would have been its foundation and all the gems its structure, its staircases made of crystal and its courtyards paved with gold. For I should have been a companion of the angels, for I am a living breath, which God placed in dry mud; thus I should have known and felt God. But alas! When my tabernacle saw that it could turn its eyes into all the ways, it turned its attention toward the North; ach, ach! And there I was captured and robbed of my sight and the joy of knowledge, and my garment was torn.
Oh, who will console me, since even my mother has abandoned me when I strayed from the path of salvation? Who will help me but God? But when I remember you, O mother Zion, in whom I should have dwelt, I see the bitter slavery to which I am subjected. And when I have called to memory the music of all sorts that dwells in you, I feel my wounds. And when I remember the joy and gladness of your glory, I am horrified by the poisons that pollute them.
     —Scivias I.4.1[2]
Mother Zion and her bejewled tabernacle full of light and joyous music (which appears at the top of the right-hand column of images in the Rupertsberg illustration) is clearly a type or figure of the Virgin Mother Church, whose halls Hildegard herself filled with music. But as the collective Mother Zion transformed into the collective Mother Church, so the individual and archetypal—but fallen—Mother Eve transformed into the Virgin Mother Mary as temporal instantiations of the divine tabernacle. The first words addressed to Mary in Scivias III.14 praise her as precisely the “resplendent jewel” that was supposed to be the material of the human body, reflecting and refracting the divine light of which the sun and stars are but dim shadows. Her body—transparent and unpolluted—was the perfect chamber for God’s presence that all other human bodies, following the inheritance of Eve, had scorned and vitiated with the darkness and shadow of sin.

The zeal of the poetry highly exalts the Virgin Mary. Although the sun itself is the divine fountain, the source of all, Mary is the sun’s serenum decus, the “bright and joyous beauty” of the sunlight that her lucid body refracts and reflects. Furthermore, in the second half of the antiphon, it is for Mary herself (tibi) that the Father made his Word into a human being—she is the first and singular benefactor of this extraordinary gift, as only the purity of her body and soul were sufficient to receive it. This is the virtue of her gem-like lucidity, the lucida materia that sparkles with the divine presence and allows it to shine forth.

The music, however, mediates this exaltation by establishing different registers for Mary’s creaturliness and God’s divinity. The lower range up to the C above the final (E) is used through most of the piece for the earthly creatures of Mary and Eve, while reserving the range above that C for references to the divine—the Sun itself leaping from the Father’s heart, with saliens the first to leap from the final to the highest note of the piece an octave above, with that high E repeated again always in reference to Father and Word—on quod, the latter two appearances of Verbum, and both Pater and hominem.

The last line of the piece, however, unites the two ranges as materia soars to that top note of E: at last the primordial material of creation returns to its divine source along the same path by which the divine virtutes—the virtues and powers of divine activity—came forth, creating and sustaining, into the world, refracted through the gem-like transparency of Mary’s pure material body. This brings us to the second crucial image with which Hildegard plays in this piece—the polyvalency of materia as not only material but also motherhood. The vitiation of the “primordial matter” came through the chaos provoked by Eve’s fall, punished by the pangs of childbirth and human mortality. The music reinforces this connection, for Eva is set to the same musical phrase but two tones lower as the first half of primam materiam, while turbavit then echoes directly the final phrase of materiam. But the motherhood that Eve’s fallenness cast into confusion, shadow, and darkness was rescued and restored by the Virgin's miraculous bearing of the Son of God.

For Hildegard, the fecundity and fertility of motherhood is a fundamental property of material creation. At one level, this is a consequence of her neoplatonic metaphysics—because all being exists out of the overflow of fecund being from its divine source, all being thus shares in that fundamental property of wanting to overflow, to be creative and recreative and procreative. But in Hildegard’s poetic symbolisms, it is often the more concrete images drawn from the natural world around her that relate this material fecundity with startling and refreshing vitality. In the explicatory chapters of the aforementioned Scivias I.4, she often draws upon such verdant metaphors to explain the relationship between body and soul, thus literally rooting the human person in the creative vitality of the material world. The infant is quickened in the mother’s womb, for example, “just as the earth opens and brings forth the flowers of its use when the dew falls on it” (Scivias I.4.16)[3]—the imagery, of course, parallels Hildegard’s descriptions of Mary’s fecund virginity in, e.g., Ave generosa. Thereafter, the soul and its powers (vires) “give vitality and viridity to the marrow and veins and members of the whole body, as the tree from its root gives sap and viridity to all the branches” (Scivias I.4.16).[4]

It might seem odd, then, that in this antiphon, Hildegard represents this fecund materiality with the image, not of a living organism, but of a gemstone—a piece of rock that would seem to most of us the antithesis of life. In part, this reflects the fact that in Latin, the root meaning of the term gemma is a flower bud—the “gem” of a plant; and Hildegard plays on this polyvalency in other places, e.g. in strophe 1b of her sequence for St. Maximin, Columba aspexit. But the connection goes deeper than that, because for Hildegard, all materiality has a vitality to it, precisely because all materiality participates in its vital creator and source. Thus, she even goes so far as to use a stone as an analogy for the Trinity—in Scivias II.2.5, a stone’s damp viridity (umida viriditas), solidity to the touch (palpabilis comprehensio), and red-sparking fire (rutilans ignis) represent Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively. In that same vision, Hildegard had already seen the Son represented as “a human being the color of sapphire”, and the sapphire returns in the vision of the Eucharist in Scivias II.6 as Hildegard describes the union of Christ’s divinity with the sacramental wine as the physical action of dropping a sapphire into the cup (ch. 13—see the commentary for O clarissima)—thus invoking the use of gemstones as medicinal cures found in the fourth book of her work on natural medicine, Physica. As she notes in the Preface of that fourth book, all stones are born of fire and water, and all are despised by the Devil because they both remind him of his former glory (adorned as he was by their lucid splendor) and, “because it is the nature of certain precious stones to seek those things that are honorable and useful and to reject those that are depraved and evil for humankind, just as the virtues reject the vices and the vices cannot cooperate with the virtues.”[5] Precious stones have their own powers (vires) to choose between good and evil—and it is in their nature to choose the good, for the good is the source of their beauty and light.

The resplendent lucidity of Mary’s jewel-like body is thus a property of her glorious virginal motherhood, which allows the Word to be made flesh in her womb without ever being overtaken by the darkness.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: A below final to E an octave above the final.
Setting: neumatic with short melismas

In the E mode, E and B are the typical grammatical demarcators, but in this work, Hildegard also uses D. The musical strategy is subtle and highlights the key theme, Mary’s radiance and partnership with the Father in salvation.

The salutation, O splendidissima gemma, is outlined by the modal final, E. The next phrase, et serenum decus solis, which elaborates on the first, is broken into two musical parts. The conjunction et, which serves to connect the imagery of the resplendent gem and the bright beauty of the sun, is set to D. Serenum and decus share an opening melodic motive, and solis rises to the C above the final, one of the two signature high points in the piece. Reading the lyrics alone, Mary is described as the resplendent gem, the serene beauty of the sun that was poured into her, referring to the Word, by which the Father created all things and which he gave flesh in the Incarnation. The musical phrasing, however, breaks up this imagery a bit. O splendidissima gemma et serenum decus solis is outlined by the modal final, and the E on which solis concludes offers a definitive cadence. While the use of the final to punctuate a phrase or idea is typical, what Hildegard does next is less usual. She begins the second part of the statement on D with a conjoined neumatic leap to A that identifies it as an opening gesture. The pitch D used in this way is atypical in this mode. Here it serves to create the sense of a new theme, as the second part of the narrative begins. Thus, the musical subtlety presents Mary, radiant with the light of primary divinity, for a fleeting moment as a stand-alone image. The antiphon further emphasizes this singular place of the Virgin when it says that the Father created his Word as man for Mary herself (tibi). A similar image also appears in the repetendum of O tu suavissima virga: “when the father observed the brightness of the virgin, as he wished his word to be incarnated in her.”

After the leap from D to A to begin statement, qui tibi infusus est (“which was poured into you”), the following phrases, fons saliens (“a fountain leaping”) and de corde Patris (“from the Father’s heart”) are conventionally outlined by the modal final, E. The next phrase, quod est unicum Verbum suum (“which is his only Word”), which serves as a textual conclusion of the initial imagery of Mary as the gem and beauty of the sun, also begins on D. Again, we see the image of independent radiance extended musically until this final statement.

Although quod est unicum Verbum suum concludes the first thought, it can also be considered as the beginning of a new segment or idea. It ends on B, and the next phrase, per quod creavit mundi, begins on B. The theme changes to the creation of the world and the images of matter/mother (materia) are introduced. The melody ascends to the E an octave above the final on quod. The high E melody also appears in the unusual phrases, hoc Verbum effabricavit and tibi Pater hominem (“this Word the Father made for you into a man”); the former hoc begins on B, and the latter is outlined by B. This treatment sets the themes apart, thus adding additional musical emphasis.

For Hildegard, Mary not only overturns the damage done by Eve, she recovers the original glory of Woman. The text of the sequence, O virga ac diadema, describes the “form of Woman,” which God made “the mirror of all his beauty and the embrace of his whole creation.” Thus, Mary serves as the model of the original sacrality and beauty of the feminine for the female community. And that model encompasses the notion that Woman/Mary is not a mere passive vessel but rather an active participant in the salvation scheme.

Further Resources for O splendidissima gemma
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 114 and 272.
  • 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] See Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. p. 55; accessible online here
[2] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), pp. 109-110; Latin text from the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 62-3. 
[3] Trans. Hart and Bishop, p. 119; ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, p. 78: “velut terra se aperit et flores fructus sui profert cum ros super eam ceciderit.” 
[4] Adapted from Hart and Bishop, p. 120; ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, p. 78: “quonium viriditatem medullarum ac venarum et omnium membrorurm toti corpori tribuit, velut arbor ex sua radice sucum et viriditatem omnibus ramis dat.” 
[5] Hildegard von Bingen, Physica: Liber subtilitatum diversarum naturarum creaturarum, ed. Reiner Hildebrandt and Thomas Gloning (Walter de Gruyter, 2010), p. 229 (Liber IV, Prefatio): “Et sic pretiosi lapides ab igne et ab aqua gignuntur; unde etiam ignem et humiditatem in se habent, et etiam multas vires et multos effectus operum tenent, ita quod plurime operationes cum eis fieri possunt, ea tamen opera que bona et honesta ac utilia homini sunt (...), quoniam natura eorundem pretiosorum lapidum queque honesta et utilia querit, et prava et mala homini respuit, quemadmodum virtutes vitia abiciunt, et ut vitia cum virtutibus operari non possunt.”