Monday, May 25, 2015

O cohors milicie

Psalm antiphon for the Apostles (D 160v-161r, R 469rb-va, Scivias III.13.4a) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
O cohors milicie
floris virge
non spinate,
tu sonus
orbis terre
circuiens regiones
insanorum sensuum
epulantium cum porcis,
quos[1] expugnasti
per infusum adiutorem
ponentis[2] radices
in tabernacula
pleni operis Verbi Patris.

Tu etiam nobilis es gens Salvatoris,
intrans viam
aque per Agnum,
qui te misit in gladio
inter sevissimos canes,
qui suam
gloriam destruxerunt
in operibus digitorum suorum,
statuentes non manufactum
in subiectionem manuum suarum,
in qua non invenerunt eum.
O cohort of the guard
of the thornless
branch’s flower:
You are the sound
of all the world,
surrounding all the places where
the senseless sensuous
are feasting with the swine
that you subdue
by the Comforter, the Aide poured out
of the Father’s Word that plants the roots
that grow into the tabernacles of
his fulfilled work.

You are the Savior’s noble race,
entering upon the way
of birth anew
of water through the Lamb,
who’s sent you with the sword
among the wildest dogs—
their glory they
themselves destroy
within the works of their own fingers,
as the One Not Made by hand they rate
as subject to the works of their own hands,
in which they cannot find him.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.
[1] quos: This is the reading of R (in both Scivias [fol. 133ra] and Symphonia [fol. 469r]); D reads quas (as can be seen in the transcription below). Newman prefers quas, with reference to regiones; however, we have gone with quos, with reference to porcis; for the symbolic reference of the swine, see “Commentary: Themes and Theology” below. 
[2] ponentis: Newman (Symphonia, p. 162) emends to ponens, parallel to circuiens, with tu as the subject; Barth and Ritscher, in their edition of Hildegard’s Lieder (Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1969; p. 67), emend to ponentem, modifying adiutorem. Both emendations make better sense of the text, but the reading of the manuscripts (and the editors of Scivias in CCCM 43) as ponentis is unanimous, if difficult, as the only genitive nouns that ponentis could modify come at the end of the phrase (Verbi Patris). Such separation, however, encases the objects and action of the participle between it and its subject, making the entire phrase, then, a modifier of adiutorem: “the Aide of the Father’s Word that plants…” In addition, the setting of the third syllable to neumes (see transcription below) makes its retention necessary. 

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this first of two pieces devoted to the choir of apostles in the celestial symphony of Scivias III.13, Hildegard begins the next phase of salvation history—the evangelistic campaigns of the apostolic Church to overcome the sinful indulgences of flesh and idolatry, to restore the world to the new, real life of the Savior. The imagery is dense with Hildegard’s symbolic vocabulary, drawing on both a range of scriptural allusions (catalogued in Newman, ed., Symphonia, pp. 285-6) and, as with the other pieces of this song cycle, images already deployed throughout Scivias to tell the story of salvation. The apostolic band’s world-wide sound, for example, hearkens to Psalm 18:1-5, as the sound of the heavens that “tell of the glory of the Lord…goes out into all the earth.” The opening allusion, meanwhile, to Christ as the flower of the Virgin’s thornless branch points immediately back to O tu suavissima virga, the responsory that is the second piece in the Scivias symphony (III.13.1b).

The overarching image for the apostolic mission in this antiphon, however, is military—but their cohort is a spiritual army, not a worldly one; as soldiers in Christ’s militia (see 1 Timothy 1:18 and 2 Timothy 2:3), led by their Captain (see the refrain and versicle of O vos felices radices), they fight in the armor of God and with the sword of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 6:11-17), who is their adjutant general, poured out upon them at Pentecost (infusum adiutorem).[1] Fundamentally, the enemy against which this guard of Christ wages war is the ignorance of sin, by which fallen humanity mistakes the selfish appearances of pride for true reality. In the first half of the antiphon, their Gospel-laden shout around the world offers the real rootedness “of the full work” of God, in contrast to the mindless (literally, insane) self-indulgence of the epicure—as Barbara Newman notes, a possible allusion to the Prodigal Son, who in his darkest hour would gladly have eaten the pigs’ fodder (Luke 15:15-16; Symphonia, p. 286). In the second half of the antiphon, the enemy is more insidious—the false reality worshiped by the idolater.

The military image is governed, moreover, by this contrast of what the world falsely takes to be reality—the works of its own hands—with the truth preached by the apostles—a God unmade, uncontainable, undiscoverable by the works of human hands; as Newman notes, this is the “unknown god” of St. Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17; Symphonia, p. 286). This is not an army that trusts itself to the material sword—for it is upon the physical blade that they will fall, martyrs dying in the example of Christ. There is an intentional ambiguity in the phrase, qui te misit in gladio, “he sent you with the sword,” as the army of Christ wins its battle for eternal life with a spiritual sword precisely when it undergoes death to the world. One might alternatively translate in gladio as “to the sword,” i.e. to martyrdom at the hands of the idolaters of the last part of the antiphon. However, the preposition in is often used in the Vulgate’s idiom to show ablative of means; moreover, Newman notes this as a possible reference to Christ’s command to the disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36; Symphonia, pp. 163 and 286), which comports with other references in Scivias (discussed below) to the apostles exacting divine judgment upon the unbelievers. Ultimately, Hildegard intends both meanings simultaneously—the contrast of the material sword (like the manufactured idols) upon which apostles would die with the spiritual sword that they wield in delivering the ultimate judgment of eternal life or death.[2]

The scriptural sources for Hildegard’s language in the polemic against idolatry are often, like the context of this antiphon, directed against the gentiles, e.g. Wisdom 13-15 (especially 13:10, 14:8, and 15:11-17) and Psalm 134(135):15-18. The author of Wisdom is especially concerned about idolatry as a root sin, for its fundamental failure to recognize the true reality of God leads to all of the other failures of sin. Worshipping something man-made, inanimate, without life, dead, can only bring with it death, not the new life of “the Savior’s noble race” and its apostolic vanguard. As Hildegard puts it in Scivias I.4.11: “Let all who are still foul with this infidelity forsake their stupidity and be converted in faith to Him Who broke the Devil’s snares, laying aside old ignorance and embracing new life.”[3] The connection between recognizing the truth and the life that comes with it is made explicit in the companion responsory to this antiphon, O lucidissima apostolorum turba.

The condemnation of idols also draws upon other internal references in Scivias, specifically in articulating the execution of judgment by God’s Jealousy or Zeal (zelus) in III.5. Thus, Hildegard describes the Israelites’ own disastrous turn to an idol, the golden calf in Exodus 32, and its consequences for their glory:
Another [evil deed] arose among that people of Mine; though they knew Me and saw My miraculous deeds, they adored the idol in Horeb, and therefore the crown fell from their head. And the law of God on the two stone tablets was corrupted by them, and therefore they fell from their glory and happiness, and my vengeance fell on them.
     —Scivias III.5.18
Just two chapters later (in ch. 20), that zealous vengeance falls upon those who harm the Church:
Therefore, in My Jealousy, I remove and cast out the iniquity of anyone who, like a dog, despises the Church, which flowers in Me, and of anyone who in insane wickedness destroys a place consecrated to Me or any rights which properly belong to My temple.
We begin to see here how images scattered throughout Scivias—in this case, the idolaters’ loss of glory, the flowering of the Church in Christ, and the dogs—have coalesced in the antiphon for the apostles.

The most important resonances that this antiphon recapitulates come in two parables that Hildegard used in Part III of Scivias to tell the story of the Incarnation and the apostolic Church. We have already looked at the beginning of one of these parables (III.9.17) in relation to the responsory for the patriarchs and prophets, O vos felices radices, which directly precedes this antiphon in the Scivias symphony. This parable is used to illustrate Hildegard’s exegesis of Song of Songs 4:4 in relation to the Tower of the Church, the dominant image of the ninth vision:
The strong tower is the strength of Christ Jesus the Son of God, and in it the conquering hosts of the faithful are tested without defeat. No adversary can boast of prevailing over them, for they hold fast to Christ, true God and Man, through Whom in the Second Coming all your children will gloriously attain adulthood in salvation. To this end the pure Incarnation was foretold by the prophets and adorned by precious gems of virtue. And it was manifested through the world for the salvation of believers through those bulwarks of apostolic doctrine who planted the justice of the True Light, as the following parable shows:

A certain lord had a marble city (…). And he spoke a single word to the waters of the sea, commanding them to rise above the mountaintops. And, this being done, he told the flames of the fire to burn on the altars of small tabernacles; and when they did, the tabernacles grew so high that they rapidly overtopped the city. Which is to say:
But after the Word of God became incarnate, the Heavenly Father gave a sign to his apostles, who, though human, were set apart from the common people, like pure streams diverted from the other waters that flow in a plain. He told them to flow forth into the world in a flood of true faith, overturning and wearing away [deprimentes et conterentes] the great divisions of pride and idol-worship [exaltatione culturae idolorum], that all by their preaching might know the true God and forsake their infidelity. And when this faith was strengthened in the people, the Provider [procurator] for all gently spoke to His elect, whose minds glowed with the flame kindled by the glowing hearts of those touched by the fiery tongues of the Holy Spirit. And he told them to despise the world and contemplate celestial life, and not to refuse to be humble and poor in spirit, but to dwell in humility so as to prepare themselves for treasure in Heaven. And those martyrs and virgins and other self-rejecters who did despise transitory things and worked in humility, meditating in lofty zeal on God’s wise precepts, ascended in that self-denial to the love of heavenly things. (…)

And so a thousand bucklers [Song of Songs 4:4], perfect defenses of faith perfected in new grace, hang from the Son of God. And the first shepherds of the Church follow His example and despise themselves for the hope of Heaven; they pour out their blood to protect the Catholic faith from the fiery darts of the Devil, which wound human souls. And the many virtues of the armor of the heavenly militia [caelestis militiae], which follow in the other elect, help them to love God in this world.
     —Scivias III.9.16-17
The Pillar of
the Trinity,
Scivias III.7
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 172r
This parable provides the connection between the image of the growing tabernacles and the apostolic mission as the heavenly militia. Other images in this antiphon, meanwhile, are found united in another parable from Part III that Hildegard uses to tell the story of Christ and the early Church in relationship to the Pillar of the Trinity in Vision Seven. This pillar’s three steel-colored edges, sharp as swords, cut into the hearts of unbelievers and heretics, slaying their wickedness (III.7.3-6); their sharpness is then transformed, in the parable that follows in ch. 7, into a fire-producing flint-stone (igneus lapis), which connects Christ the Whetstone of the responsory for prophets, O vos felices radices, into the fire of the Holy Spirit setting alight the apostolic Church. Here is the text of the parable:
And then the lord used his flint to produce a violent fire, which ran through his messengers with such heat that all their veins were inflamed and all timid indolence was stricken from them, as quickly as something poured over a dry skin runs off it. And so at last they remembered all the things they had learned and heard from their lord; and they went forth to the people who did not have a core connection [qui umbilcos non habet] and whose cities had been destroyed, and announced to them their lord’s command. For some of these they reestablished their cores and rebuilt their cities; but others they did not so treat, but slew them like pigs and divided them. And therefore that flint is respected by the whole world, and terrifies and slays all the sins of human flesh.
And here are selections from the parable’s explication that illuminate this antiphon’s images of the apostolic mission (other portions are discussed in relation to its companion responsory, O lucidissima):
And, because the apostles had been taught by the Son, the Holy Spirit bathed [perfudit] them in Its fire, so that with their souls and bodies they spoke in many tongues; and, because their souls ruled their bodies, they cried out so that the whole world [totus orbis terrarum] was shaken by their voices [in vocibus eorum].

And the Holy Spirit took their human fear from them, so that no dread was in them, and they would never fear human savagery [saevitiam hominum] when they spoke the word of God; all such timidity was taken from them so ardently and so quickly that they became firm and not soft, and dead to all adversity that could befall them. (…)

But there were some who did not believe, and did not choose to receive the faith of baptism and the protection of God’s command; and these, reading the signs, the apostles passed by and condemned to death for their hardness and unbelief. For in their crimes and the filth of their carnal pollutions, wallowing in fornication and adultery as a pig wallows in the mud, they were not willing to be converted to the true faith, and therefore they were divided and separated from life.

And thus the Son of God was shown throughout the whole world by many and wondrous signs, ineffably begotten of the Father in His Divinity and then miraculously born of the Virgin in time. (…) For the true Word of God bears testimony to the Holy Trinity and to life-giving salvation through the water of regeneration [per aquam regenerationis] (…).
Finally, in the following chapter (III.7.8), Hildegard summarizes the purpose of the apostolic Gospel:
They cried aloud that God the Father had completed the work whereby He created Man for heavenly happiness, of which he was then robbed. Man was made from the mud of the earth to stand upright, but by his own will had bent down toward the earth again; but now by grace he is able to stand upright a second time through the incarnate Son of God. And, enlightened and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, so as not to perish in perdition but be saved in redemption, he has been restored to eternal glory.
The last pieces of the puzzle now fall into place: to feast with the pigs is to wallow in the muddy indulgences of the flesh, cut off and disconnected from God, turned away from the true glory of worshipping him and into the idolatrous self-absorption of sin. To be reconnected to that umbilical cord of true life is to enter the path of rebirth, the regeneration of the waters of baptism; and the good news of that truth rings out throughout the world in the fiery sound of the apostles’ voices. To ignore that message, however—to remain with the dogs and pigs, bent over and infatuated with earthly and man-made things and ignoring the heavenly works of God—comes with judgment, as the spiritual sword of the Lord’s messengers makes the disconnection from God permanent.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

G mode
Range: C below the final to C, an octave and a fourth above the final
Setting: melismatic (melismas are relatively short) and neumatic

In this piece, G remains primary, but the tonal focus makes several shifts.

The antiphon begins with an extended salutation, broken up into three melodic subunits: O cohors milicie floris virge non spinate. The first phrase, O cohors milicie, is outlined by G, the final of the mode. The second phrase begins a third higher on B, and the third starts with D, the fifth above the final and the second most important tone in this mode.

The next line (page 1, line 4: tu sonus), which initiates the narrative, commences and concludes on that secondary tone of the fifth, D. This strategy tends to highlight the notion of the voice of the apostles, as sound and voice are significant themes in Hildegard’s theology. The segment continues with orbis terre circuiens regiones, beginning on G and ending on D. A tick barline has been inserted in the transcription after regiones, in accordance with musical grammatical propriety. However, the text continues with insanorum sensuum. That phrase begins with G, and the melody is the same fragment that opens the song on O, used also on orbis and again on the first part of insanorum. This suggests that melodically, the lines should be grouped as transcribed, with the tick barlines observed; the text edited by Nathaniel Campbell has followed the punctuation of the song’s appearance in Scivias III.13.4 in R (fol. 133ra) in breaking between terre and circuiens. The last word of the group, sensuum, receives a somewhat heightened treatment with the outline by A.

On the next line, G again becomes the fulcrum for epulantium cum porcis, but the following phrase, quas/quos expugnasti, departs to either C or D, depending on the manuscript. Given that C is not a particularly key tone in the G mode, I would suggest the Riesenkodex version for quos expugnasti, which is found on the ossia staff above the line. Note also a text difference between the manuscripts, explained in note 1 above. The text continues with per infusum adiutorem, which ends on E; this tone is related to A, and Hildegard performs a neat transition to the next section, in which A becomes a temporary focal point.

With the conclusion of verbi patris, the pitch center returns to G. Note that a tick barline has been inserted after salvatoris to indicate that it should be grouped with the previous line. Again, the manuscript discrepancy suggests that R is more likely. The barline appears only on the main staff, as the music notation program would not permit one on the ossia—the reason remains mysterious.

On page 3 of the transcription, we encounter a long musical segment on qui te misit in gladio inter sevissimos canes. Syntactically, this is one idea, but it is quite long. A tick barline is placed after canes, but it would also be appropriate to breathe after gladio. Julia Smucker confirms this observation, stating that the entire phrase is too long too sing on one breath. Interestingly, the melody reaches to the piece’s highest note, C an octave and a fourth above the final, to add force to the word, gladio.

The melody shifts again briefly to A as the outlining tone and then moves to incorporate E as a key pitch. E never achieves full prominence, as it is only used to begin rather than end phrases. The last line begins with E but the final ending is on the final G.

Further Resources for O cohors milicie

Footnotes to Commentaries

[1] Although Hildegard’s first contact with St. Bernard of Clairvaux came by letter in 1147 while he was in the Rhineland preaching the Second Crusade, is unlikely that she knew of his exhortative treatise for the fledgling Knights Templer, In Praise of the New Knighthood (De laude novae militiae), in which he expropriated the traditional language of spiritual battle used to describe the monastic life in order to justify the physical warfare of the Crusaders. The brief epistolary relationship between the Visionary and Mellifluous Doctors ended curtly, with little evidence of any meaningful or personal contact—see John Van Engen, “Letters and the Public Persona of Hildegard,” in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld, ed. Alfred Haverkamp (Mainz: Trierer Historische Forschungen, 2000), pp. 375-418, esp. 381-2; for a more sympathetic comparison of the two figures, see Beverly Mayne Kienzle’s “Introduction,” pp. 14-22, in Hildegard of Bingen, Homilies on the Gospels (Cistercian Publications / Liturgical Press, 2011). 
[2] The two swords that the disciples bring to Jesus in Luke 22:38 were commonly understood in medieval political theory to refer to a material sword (the authority of secular government) and a spiritual sword (the authority of the Church); whether the Pope, as the supreme ruler of Christendom, could wield both was a central point of dispute. 
[3] All quotes from Scivias adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 and 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

O vos felices radices

Responsory for Patriarchs and Prophets (D 160r-v, R 469r, Scivias III.13.3b)Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
R. O vos felices
radices cum quibus
opus miraculorum
et non opus
per torrens iter
perspicue umbre
plantatum est, et
o tu ruminans ignea vox,
precurrens limantem
lapidem subvertentem abyssum:

R. Gaudete in capite vestro.

V. Gaudete
in illo quem non viderunt
in terris multi
qui ipsum ardenter vocaverunt.

R. Gaudete in capite vestro.
R. O merry roots
with whom
the work of miracles—
but not the work
of crimes—
was planted by a journey
rushing, tearing forth,
a path of shade perlucid;
and you, O voice of ruminating fire,
forerunner of the whetstone,
the Rock that overthrows th’ abyss:

R. Rejoice in him, your captain!

V. Rejoice
in him whom most on earth
have never seen—
yet ardently they’ve called on him.

R. Rejoice in him, your captain!
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 responsory follows closely in imagery and theme its companion antiphon, O spectabiles viri, in the choir of patriarchs and prophets in the heavenly symphony of Scivias III.13. In particular, it advances on the antiphon’s use of the Stem of Jesse’s prefiguration and root of the Virgin’s blossoming, living branch to address the prophets as their own roots upon the tree of life. This image again draws on Hildegard’s vision of the Pillar of the Word of God in Scivias III.4, from whose root sprung Abraham and the successive branches of the prophets (text in italics is from the initial description of the vision):
Scivias III.4: The Pillar
of the Word of God.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 145v.
And from the edge which faces East, branches grow out from the root to the summit. This is to say that when God first became known through the just Law, branches appeared on that eastern edge, which was the time of the patriarchs and prophets. For this sharp-edged pillar of Divinity carries on the work from its root [ab initio radicis], which is the good beginning in the minds of the elect, to its summit [ad cacumen eius], which is the manifestation of the Son of Man, Who is all justice.

And therefore, at the root you see Abraham sitting on the first branch; for the time of inspiration by God began with Abraham, when he obeyed God and with a tranquil mind departed from his country. Then Moses on the second; for after this God inspired Moses to plant the Law, and so foreshadow the Son of the Most High. Then Joshua on the third; for he afterward had the spirit of the Lord in him in order to strengthen the custom of the Law as God commanded.

And then you see the rest of the patriarchs and prophets, one above the other on each branch, sitting in the order in which they succeeded each other in time; for God inspired each patriarch and prophet in his own time to nurture his particular shoot toward the height of his commands, and all in their day reposed on the disposition and order of the justice He showed them, faithful and obedient to the divine majesty as it showed itself in their times.

They are all looking toward the edge of the pillar that faces the North, marveling at the things to come that they can see upon it in the spirit [in spiritu]. For they were all alerted in their souls by the Holy Spirit, and so turned and saw how the Gospel doctrine repulsed the Devil by the strength of the Son of God. They spoke of His Incarnation, and marveled at how He came from the heart of the Father and the womb of a virgin and showed Himself with great wonders both by Himself and by His followers, who wonderfully imitated Him in new grace and trod the transitory underfoot, greatly thirsting for the joys of the eternal.
     —Scivias III.4.7-8[1]
Yet, in classic Hildegardian style, the operative force coursing through those roots in this responsory is synaesthetically and paradoxically aligned with the light of their foreshadowing prophecy. The path taken by the light as it travels along those roots—almost as if they were fiber-optic cables—is also Israel’s journey (iter), their pilgrimage from bondage in Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land, the classic figuration and foreshadowing of the spiritual journey of humankind. The growth of those roots into “the fulfilled work of the Father’s Word” is taken up in the next chorus of the Scivias symphony, the antiphon for the Apostles, O cohors milicie, where the contrast between good works and bad is also found in a polemic against idolatry.

Scivias III.13: Symphonia in
Heaven: Choir of Patriarchs
and Prophets (detail).
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 229r
Before the apostles, however, there is one final prophetic voice whose fire illuminates the last steps of that shadowed path. As it enters Palestine at the time of the Emperor Augustus, the voice crying in the wilderness is that of John the Baptist, singled out in this responsory (as in the roundel of the choir of patriarchs and prophets in illustration of the heavenly symphony in the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript) for his particular role at the cusp of the Incarnation’s dawning light. His is a voice that ruminates upon all of his predecessors—that fertile, organic image embraced by early Christians of “chewing the cud” (like the clean animals of Jewish dietary law, notes Barbara Newman: Symphonia, p. 285) of the Hebrew scriptures in order to plumb the depths of their revelation of the Word of God. Here, John’s is also the “voice of fire” (ignea vox), perhaps struck alight by the sparks scattered by Hildegard’s unique reinterpretation (inspired, perhaps, by the sharp edges of the Pillar of the Word) of the foretold Christ as a rock or stone (lapis) in Psalm 117(118):22, Isaiah 22:16-17, and St. Peter’s sermon in Acts 4:11—for rather than simply the corner-stone of the temple, this Rock is a whetstone used for grinding and polishing (limans). Christ the grinding whetstone wears away the imperfections of sin in the materials of the new temple as he overthrows the rough, rocky ramparts of the abyss.

Moreover, the image of the stone—as likewise the image of the mountain from this responsory’s antiphonal companion, O spectabiles viri—connects the choir of patriarchs and prophets in Scivias III.13 into the story of salvation history told in the preceding twelve visions, as Christ the cornerstone is one of the key images the feeds into the third part’s depiction of that story as a grand edifice. As with the other pieces of the Scivias symphony cycle, these recapitulate in musical verse the themes of the rest of the work. In particular, we find here resonances with an additional parable that Hildegard used within the exegesis of her vision of the Tower of the Church (III.9.17), to tell the story of the Incarnation. Although the bulk of the parable addresses the apostolic Church (its remainder can be found discussed in connection with O cohors milicie), because the patriarchs and prophets foreshadow the Church, this one is rooted within their prophecy. Here, the lord’s city is their company:
A certain lord had a marble city; he cried out loudly upon it and inscribed its inner walls with many carvings, from which it produced the sharpest filing of the unpolished stones [acutissimam limationem impolitorum lapidum]. (…) Which is to say:

This lord is the One Whom no other ever excelled in dominion. He alone is over all things and in all things, for nothing is before Him or after Him; and so He is Lord of all. He had in His power this noble city, the company of the prophets, who were strong and constant against the raging tempests of the world. And when the Lord cried out upon them, He filled them with the Holy Spirit, and stirred them up to bring forth His mysteries in obscure words, as a distant sound is heard when the words cannot yet be made out. But the true Word, the incarnate Son of God, followed on the sound of their prophecy. And when the Lord infused their understanding with the spirit of wisdom, He inscribed many things in their hearts; and thus they prophesied by their sense of the Spirit the mysteries of God in the present and future, and uttered in the Spirit harsh words against wicked human behavior. And so they moved the hard hearts of the Jews to mildness and compassion and good works.
     —Scivias III.9.17
Finally, this stone is also, in the refrain and versicle, the prophets’ head and captain (caput), and the thrice-repeated vocative dispels any gloom their shadowed lives might have suffered—Rejoice! The versicle is thus infused with the hope of unseen salvation for the many on earth who never saw the Incarnate Word, yet with the burning desire of their hearts had ever called upon him (an allusion to Thomas’ doubt and Christ’s reassurance in John 20:29). Implicitly, the vocative of the second respond expands, as often in Hildegard’s responsories, to include not just the audience of patriarchs and prophets, but of all humankind and especially her own community of religious women, in whose Captain she urges: Rejoice!

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: A below the final to G an octave and a third above the final
Setting: neumatic and melismatic, with some extensive melismas

This responsory begins with the salutation, O vos felices radices, which is broken into two phrases. The second begins similarly to the first, as is typical of Hildegard’s style, but then ascends higher, to E an octave above the final. Textually, cum quibus makes more sense grouped with what follows, opus miraculorum. However, the melodic structure suggests that it be placed with radices. As our singer consultant, Julia Smucker, points out, grouping cum quibus with opus miraculorum creates a somewhat jarring downward octave leap mid-phrase. Hildegard not infrequently inserts ambiguity between text and melody. The solution we have adopted reflects this uncertainty by placing cum quibus on its own line, so that it can go either way according to individual preference. The salutation is followed by a series of clauses that are elaborately set, with long melismas on key words. The verb, plantatum est, is placed at the end of the verse section.

The melody ascends to C above the final in the first phrase, to E above the final in the second phrase; and it reaches its highest point, G an octave and a third above the final, on criminum. It attains the G from a leap and descends in one of the scalar passages that is idiomatic in this work. The melodic rise, coupled with the long melisma on criminum, places the rhetorical emphasis here.

The music begins to descend on per torrens, which contains two downward scale passages—a bit of word painting. The idiomatic treatment continues to perspicue umbre (“shade perlucid”), whose line extends down to the B below the final. The section ends with a 35-note melisma on plantatum est (“was planted”), which is also set low in the range. It is cleverly connected to O vos felices and radices by the repeated melodic motif that opens the work.

The conjunction et (page 2, line 1) that connects the larger statements that comprise the first verse is set to the final, E. While it might make sense to move this pitch to the next line, we have chosen to end the phrase plantatum est with it—but with a caveat of sorts. Et is enclosed in a bracket, which is intended to signify that it can go with either phrase, or be separated out. We prefer to place the conjunction at the end of the previous phrase because the leaps that initiate the second theme are so dramatic that they would be diluted by an opening on et. This separation of the conjunction from the phrase that follows is another example of the ways in which Hildegard often introduces ambiguous disjuncture between text and music. However, because that disjuncture runs counter to syntactical norms, one might prefer to follow textual over musical syntax in this and other songs where this type of ambiguity occurs. Julia Smucker, for example, prefers this latter option.

In the second part of the first verse, O tu ruminans ignea vox begins with a series of three leaps from the final to the highest G and is elaborately set with a dramatic scalar descent on ruminans. As Nathaniel indicates above, the idea of the fiery voice is another key element of the message. Similarly, limantem (a reference to Christ as the Rock/polishing whetstone), is given a lenthy, 45-note melisma that traverses most of the range of the song and also includes a leap upward to the high G and a scalar descent—again, rhetorical emphasis is the intent.

The use of lengthy melismas, leaps, and other embellishments in the first section of a piece is typical of Hildegard and is both in accord with and elaborates upon the rhetorical principle that the most important ideas are iterated first. In Hildegard’s hand, the key words are also the most ornate.

Most of the versicle following the respond is less elaborately set. Though leaps are used, the dramatic jumps to the highest pitch G are absent. The opening motif does not appear, and there are only two scalar descents, within the 37-note melisma on ardenter (“ardently”). Thus the primary rhetorical emphasis falls, unsurprisingly, on this adverb. Finally, the respond contains a 62-note melisma on vestro. This melisma includes some of the rhetorical devices already identified, but it does not reiterate the key melodic motives as a type of musical peroratio, or summing up, that is found in many of Hildegard’s works.

Technical Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E and B are the primary grammatical punctuating tones, as would be consistent for this mode. Most phrases are clearly outlined by one of these pitches. Some phrases are quite long, and some phrase breaks occur in the middle of a single word. Interestingly, this responsory contains quite a number of downward scale passages that span the octave, many of which do not involve key modal tones.

Regarding long text phrases, on page 1 of the transcription, lines 7 and 8 comprise one phrase (per torrens iter), and lines 9 and 10 also make one phrase (perspicue umbre). Tick barlines have been inserted on lines 8 and 10 to make this clear.

On page 2 of the transcription, the word limantem (lines 4 and 5) occupies two lines. The phrase break is made here after the pitch B at the end of line 4, and line 5 begins with E and ends on B, as is standard phrasing. It is, however, odd to find such clearly punctuated segments within a single word or phrase. According to Julia Smucker, the full two-line phrase can be sung on one breath with proper support. A similar situation is found on vestro in the respond (page 2, lines 9 and 10), though lengthy melismas in the responds are more common. The phrase break is made on at the octave leap on the final, E.

On page 3 of the transcription, the phrase, qui ipsum ardenter vocaverunt, although musically a single unit, is broken into two lines because of length. The line break occurs in the middle of the word ardenter, as there was no other good option.

In addition to phrasing, there are several other points to note about this piece. On page 2 of the transcription, the reader will note that there is a significant difference between the two manuscripts. As a singer, Julia prefers the Riesenkodex version; there are also textual reasons to prefer R's reading of page 2, line 6 (lapidem subvertentem abyssum) to D's (vertentem lapidem abyssum). The noun, lapidem, is modified by two participles—limantem in the previous line (“wearing away”) and [sub]vertentem (“[over]turning”). The first participle, limantem, idiomatically combines with lapidem to mean, “whetstone” or “filing stone.” The second participle, then, describes what the stone is doing, and takes abyssum as its object—overthrowing the abyss. Thus, it makes much more sense in terms of word order for [sub]vertentem to come between lapidem and abyssum. Nevertheless, following the principles of this project, we have printed the reading of D in the primary stave, with R in the secondary stave above it.

The respond has been fully written out here. While our usual practice is to indicate the beginning only, because the verse that follows the first respond begins with the same word, gaudete, it is clearer to give the entire respond both times.

Further Resources for O vos felices radices


[1]All quotations from Scivias adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 and 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

NEC sees virtue of eclecticism in Hildegard adaptation

A recent article on Eden MacAdam-Somer, at the New England Conservatory.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Renowned soprano and scholar Janet Youngdahl presents a “Celebration of Hildegard”

Visiting scholar and renowned soprano Janet Youngdahl will present a “Celebration of Hildegard” on Friday, Feb. 13 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota) Skinner Memorial Chapel. An early vocal music specialist, Youngdahl will present the music, writings and artwork of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the visionary abbess and healer whose spiritual compositions are among the most astonishing and unique creations from the dynamic milieu of 12th century Benedictine monasticism.
Full Story here:

Monday, February 9, 2015

O spectabiles viri

Votive antiphon for Patriarchs and ProphetsBack to Table of Contents
(D 159v-160r, R 468vb-R 469ra, Scivias III.13.3a)
by Hildegard of Bingen

O spectabiles viri qui pertransistis,
occulta aspicientes,
per oculos spiritus
et annuntiantes
in lucida umbra acutam
et viventem lucem
in virga germinantem,
que sola floruit
de introitu
radicantis luminis:

Vos antiqui sancti,
predixistis salvationem
exulum animarum
que inmerse fuerant morti,
qui circuisti
ut rote mirabiliter
loquentes mistica montis
qui celum tangit,
pertransiens ungendo multas aquas,
cum etiam inter vos
surrexit lucida lucerna,
que ipsum montem precurrens ostendit.
O men of sight—what a sight! You’ve passed,
as mysteries perceiving,
through spirit’s eyes
to announce
in shining shadow
a living, piercing light
that buds upon that single branch
that flourished at
the entrance of
deep-rooted light:

You saints of old!
You have foretold salvation
of souls in exile plunged,
in death immersed.
You circled
wondrously like wheels,
proclaimed the mountain’s mysteries
whose top the heavens touched
and passed through many waters with anointing—
yet still among you
rose a shining lamp
that raced ahead, that mountain to reveal.
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

Barbara Newman compares this antiphon’s “cryptic intensity” and use of symbolism to the poetry of Blake, Mallarmé, or Coleridge—the use of “semi-private symbols” that nevertheless can be “decoded” if only the reader-singer is sufficiently steeped in both the scriptural and liturgical traditions that formed the bedrock of Hildegard’s religious life and her own experiences of the divine (Symphonia, p. 284). It wraps up many of her most characteristic images—the living light (viventem lucem), Mary’s branch blooming with the Incarnation, and the circling wheel (as in her antiphon to Wisdom, O virtus Sapientie)—with several scriptural images drawn from the Old Testament prophets and the story of Moses and the Exodus. Yet, the bewildering force with which Hildegard sets this panoply of ideas into swirling motion, cascading even faster than usual along her symbolist network of images (not to mention up and down the musical scale), is rooted, like the divine light that both causes to grow and is grown from the Virgin’s branch, in Hildegard’s particular vocation as a prophet. The intensity of her own visionary experiences, which were the driver of her entire religious life, made her uniquely sympathetic with the prophets of old to whom this antiphon, which opens the choir of patriarchs and prophets in the heavenly symphony of Scivias III.13, is addressed.

It is with that visionary experience that we must begin, for it is the imagery of light that makes this antiphon’s invocation of the Virgin’s branch and the Stem of Jesse different from that image’s appearance in some of the Marian pieces (e.g. Alleluia! O virga mediatrix, O viridissima virga, or O tu suavissima virga). Hildegard’s description of her visions, of the Living Light and its shadow, in the letter she wrote to Guibert of Gembloux near the end of her life is justly famous precisely because of the tantalizing glimpse it gives us into that prophetic, visionary vocation:
The brightness [lumen] that I see is not spatial, yet is far, far more lucent than a cloud that envelops the sun. I cannot contemplate height or length or breadth in it; and I call it “the shadow of the Living Light” [umbra viventis lucis]. And as sun, moon and stars appear [mirrored] in water, so Scriptures, discourses, virtues, and some works of men take form for me and are reflected, radiant in this brightness.

(…) And the words I see and hear through the vision are not like words that come from human lips, but like a sparkling flame and a cloud moved in pure air. Moreover, I cannot know the form of this brightness [lumen] in any way, just as I cannot gaze completely at the sphere of the sun. And in that same brightness [lumen] I sometimes, not often, see another light, which I call “the Living Light” [lux vivens]; when and how I see it, I cannot express; and for the time I do see it, all sadness and anguish is taken from me, so that then I have the air of an innocent young girl and not of a little old woman.[1]
This is the same light that Hildegard describes in the Protestificatio (“Declaration”) at the opening of Scivias:
It happened [Factum est] that, in the eleven hundred and forty-first year of the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, when I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened [aperto caelo] and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.[2]
We see here Hildegard’s self-conscious construction of this Protestificatio in parallel to the opening of the book of the prophet Ezekiel, whose image of himself as prophet and visionary became one of the most significant models for Hildegard’s own self-construction:[3]
And it happened [Et factum est] in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened [aperti sunt caeli], and I saw [et vidi] visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze.
     —Ezekiel 1:1-4
Et vidi…And I saw… This refrain (the so-called “prophetic Et”), echoed often by both Ezekiel and Hildegard, uses the immediacy of its opening conjunction to jar the normal frame of narrative progression out of kilter, to set it running in medias res, in mid-story, from the start. These are experiences that defy the bounds of language into which their seers struggle to set them, and the unnerving vibrancy of their images corresponds to the slightly breathless force with which they are called to be God’s prophets.

Part of what makes the prophetic call so unnerving is, moreover, its nature as a double-edged sword: as the light of God’s message pierces through their eyes and sears into their hearts, they become aware of both its sharpness (as an instrument of castigation for a wayward people) and its sweet fertility (as an instrument of comfort and consolation to the oppressed). Hildegard combines these two images in the acuity of the light (acutam…lucem) that takes root to cause the tree to blossom. While the blooming branch is primarily an image of the Virgin as the Stem of Jesse, it operates here also in conjunction with Hildegard’s vision of the Pillar of the Word of God in Scivias III.4, which appears near the northern corner of the Edifice of Salvation. This “pillar the color of steel” has “three sides, with edges sharp as a sword.” As Hildegard continues (the description of the vision itself is in italics):
Scivias III.4: The Pillar
of the Word of God.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 145v.
And from the edge which faces East, branches grow out from the root to the summit. This is to say that when God first became known through the just Law, branches appeared on that eastern edge, which was the time of the patriarchs and prophets. For this sharp-edged pillar of Divinity carries on the work from its root [ab initio radicis], which is the good beginning in the minds of the elect, to its summit [ad cacumen eius], which is the manifestation of the Son of Man, Who is all justice.

And therefore, at the root you see Abraham sitting on the first branch; for the time of inspiration by God began with Abraham, when he obeyed God and with a tranquil mind departed from his country. Then Moses on the second; for after this God inspired Moses to plant the Law, and so foreshadow the Son of the Most High. Then Joshua on the third; for he afterward had the spirit of the Lord in him in order to strengthen the custom of the Law as God commanded.

And then you see the rest of the patriarchs and prophets, one above the other on each branch, sitting in the order in which they succeeded each other in time; for God inspired each patriarch and prophet in his own time to nurture his particular shoot toward the height of his commands, and all in their day reposed on the disposition and order of the justice He showed them, faithful and obedient to the divine majesty as it showed itself in their times.

They are all looking toward the edge of the pillar that faces the North, marveling at the things to come that they can see upon it in the spirit [in spiritu]. For they were all alerted in their souls by the Holy Spirit, and so turned and saw how the Gospel doctrine repulsed the Devil by the strength of the Son of God. They spoke of His Incarnation, and marveled at how He came from the heart of the Father and the womb of a virgin and showed Himself with great wonders both by Himself and by His followers, who wonderfully imitated Him in new grace and trod the transitory underfoot, greatly thirsting for the joys of the eternal.
     —Scivias III.4.7-8
Filled by the same Holy Spirit, Hildegard too was commissioned, in the first vision of Scivias, to bring the message of those joys eternal to God’s people in her own day, to overflow with the waters that would quench that thirst:
O human, who are fragile dust of the earth and ashes of ashes! Cry out and speak of the origin of pure salvation until those people are instructed, who, though they see the inmost contents of the Scriptures, do not wish to tell them or preach them, because they are lukewarm and sluggish in serving God’s justice. Unlock for them the enclosure of mysteries that they, timid as they are, conceal in a hidden and fruitless field. Burst forth into a fountain of abundance and overflow with mystical knowledge, until they who now think you contemptible because of Eve’s transgression are stirred up by the flood of your irrigation. For you have received your profound insight not from humans, but from the lofty and tremendous Judge on high, where this calmness will shine strongly with glorious light among the shining ones.

Arise therefore, cry out and tell what is shown to you by the strong power of God’s help, for He Who rules every creature in might and kindness floods those who fear Him and serve Him in sweet love and humility with the glory of heavenly enlightenment and leads those who persevere in the way of justice to the joys of the Eternal Vision.
Scivias I.1: The One
enthroned upon the mountain.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 2r.
This commission of Scivias I.1 accompanies a vision of God enthroned upon “a great mountain the color of iron.” Hildegard continues:
On each side of him there extended a soft shadow [lenis umbra], like a wing of wondrous breadth and length. Before him, at the foot of the mountain, stood an image full of eyes on all sides, in which, because of those eyes, I could discern no human form. In front of this image stood another, a child wearing a tunic of subdued color but white shoes, upon whose head such glory descended from the One enthroned upon that mountain that I could not look at her face. But from the One who sat enthroned upon that mountain many living sparks sprang forth, which flew very sweetly around the images.
The explanation of this vision indicates that the figure full of eyes represents fear of the Lord, while the child-like figure—an analog for Hildegard herself—represents poverty of spirit. It is clear enough that this mountain and the One enthroned upon it, with his shadow-like wings and swirl of living sparks, is at least one of the images that Hildegard must have had in mind as she composed this antiphon. Yet it, like O spectabiles viri, reaches also back into the myriad of images rooted in Ezekiel’s visions. Perhaps the most notable are the wheels to which Hildegard compares the prophets, which recall the wheels that joined the Four Living Creatures in the surreal first chapter of Ezekiel:
Now as I beheld the living creatures, there appeared upon the earth by the living creatures one wheel with four faces. And the appearance of the wheels and their work was like the appearance of the sea: and the four had all one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the midst of a wheel. When they went, they went by their four parts: and they turned not when they went. The wheels had also a size, and a height, and a dreadful appearance: and the whole body was full of eyes round about all the four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels also went together by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels also were lifted up with them. Whithersoever the spirit went, thither as the spirit went the wheels also were lifted up together, and followed it: for the spirit of life was in the wheels. When those went these went, and when those stood these stood, and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels also were lifted up together, and followed them: for the spirit of life was in the wheels.
     —Ezekiel 1:15-21
Scivias III.1: The One upon the throne.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 122v.
Hildegard’s mountain “the color of iron” returns, together with the Shining One enthroned upon it and a great wheeling circle, in the opening vision of Part III of Scivias, which recapitulates Hildegard’s commission:
And from this Shining one seated upon the throne extended a great circle colored gold like the dawn, whose width I could not take in; it circled about from the East to the North to the West and to the South, and back toward the East and the shining One, and had no end. And that circle was so high above the earth that I could not comprehend it; and it shone with a terrifying radiance the color of stone, steel, and fire, which extended everywhere, from the heights of Heaven to the depth of the abyss, so that I could see no end to it.
And I heard the One Who sat on the throne saying to me, “Write what you see and hear.” And from the inner knowledge of that vision, I replied, “I beseech you, my Lord, give me understanding, that by my account I may be able to make known these mystical things; forsake me not, but strengthen me by the daylight of Your justice, in which Your Son was manifested. Grant me to make known the divine counsel which was ordained in the ancient counsel, insofar as I can and should: how You willed Your Son to become incarnate and become a human being within Time; which you willed before all creation in Your rectitude and the fire of the Dove, the Holy Spirit, so that Your Son might rise from a Virgin in the splendid beauty of the sun and be clothed with true humanity, a human form assumed for the sake of humankind.”

And I heard Him say to me, “Oh, how beautiful are your eyes, which tell of divinity when the divine counsel dawns in them!” And again I answered from the inner knowledge of the vision, “To my own inner soul I seem as filthy as ashes and transitory dust, trembling like a feather in the dark. But do not blot me out from the land of the living, for I labor at this vision with great toil. (…)”

And again I heard the same One saying to me, “Now speak, as you have been taught! Though you are ashes, I will that you speak.”
     —Scivias III.1, Vision
Scivias III.2: The Edifice of Salvation.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 130v.
The following vision continues:
Then I saw, within the circumference of the circle, which extended from the One seated on the throne, a great mountain, joined at its root to that immense block of stone above which were the cloud and the throne with its Occupant; so that the stone was continued on to a great height and the mountain was extended down to a wide base. And on that mountain stood a four-sided building, formed in the likeness of a four-walled city.
     —Scivias III.2, Vision
This city is the Edifice of Salvation whose allegorical representation of salvation history dominates the third part of Scivias. This mountain and city are also, however, rooted in Ezekiel’s vision of the same, which also returns to the beginning, as it were, to declare the time of the revelation:
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was conquered, on that very day, the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me in the visions of God into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city opposite me.
     —Ezekiel 40:1-2
The holy mountain as the privileged place of revelation was one of the most important tropes in the stories the Hebrew people told of their encounters with the God who had chosen them. It was to the holy mountain that Abraham went with Isaac for the sacrifice (Genesis 22); it was the holy mountain that served as root of the garden of Eden in Ezekiel 28:12-16 (a passage that likely also influenced Hildegard’s description of prelapsarian bodies as like jewels—cf. O splendidissima gemma); and it was, of course, upon the holy mountain that God descended to be with his people and to give Moses the Law in the Sinai (Exodus 19ff). The holy mountain, too, holds its place in the Gospels: it is upon the mountain that Jesus proclaims his message about the Law (Matthew 5-7); it was on Mt. Tabor that he was transfigured with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17); it was on a mountain both sacred and accursed, the hill of Golgotha, that he was crucified; and it was from the Mount of Olives that he ascended into heaven.

Perhaps the most extraordinary of Hildegard’s symbolic transfigurations in today’s antiphon is to identify the holy mountain with the person of Christ himself, “who touches heaven” (qui celum tangit). As the end of the antiphon suggests, the greatest of the prophets to arise as “a shining lamp” was Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist. Hildegard had used the image of the prophets as stars in Scivias II.1, and he shone as the largest of the stars in the darkness of the time of sin:
And then a gigantic star appears, radiant with wonderful brightness, which shoots it rays toward the flame. This is the greatest prophet, John the Baptist, who glittered with miracles in his faithful and serene deeds, and pointed out by their means the true Word, the true Son of God; for he did not yield to wickedness, but vigorously and forcefully cast it out by works of justice.
     —Scivias II.1.10
Yet more striking is Hildegard’s conflation of the holy mountain upon which Moses received the Law with the patriarch himself, who prefigured Christ in the crossing of the Red Sea. In the fluid language of this antiphon, Christ the Mountain “passed through many waters” (pertransiens…multas aquas) in an echo of the patriarchs and prophets who “passed…through spirit’s eyes” (pertransistis…per oculos spiritus). Yet simultaneously, these are also the implied waters of death in which “are immersed the exiled souls” (exulum animarum / qui inmerse fuerant morti), to whom Christ the Mountain brought salvation by touching the waters with his healing ointment (ungendo).

The language of prophecy before the advent of Christ was the language of the obscure, the hidden, the ambiguous, and the unknown. Immersed in those dark waters of sin, the beacons of the patriarchs and prophets shone to guide the people to a mountain they didn’t even know was there. Christ, too, had to swim those stormy waters in order to lead his people out of the bondage of exile and into the freedom of the promised land, “the joys of the Eternal Vision” (Scivias I.1, Vision). The voices of the ancient prophets foretold not only the coming of Christ but also the suffering he would endure. Yet in the arduous ascent of that mountain, though cloaked in smoke and mist, the thunder and lightning of its cloud striking terror in their hearts, the faithful are guided by those lanterns as they point them to the summit.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: B below the final to A octave and a fourth above
Setting: Syllabic and neumatic, with some short melismas

The opening salutation, O spectabiles viri, is extended by the melody to encompass also qui pertransistis. It is somewhat discordant with the poetic sense of the text as Newman sets it, but the use of the final, E, to demarcate the musical phrases is quite clear. However, as Nathaniel Campbell points out, pertransistis can be understood as an intransitive verb that goes with per oculos spiritus; while occulta serves as the object of the participle aspicientes. This interpretation of the text, while diverging from Newman’s edition, accords more closely with the tonal punctuation.

While most phrases begin and end with E or B, there are some exceptions. The first one occurs on page 1, line 5 of the transcription with in lucida umbra acutam, and again on line 6 with et viventem lucem. The use of D as the opening note precedes a skip of a fifth from the final to B. A similar situation occurs also on page 3, line 1, of the transcription (ut rote mirabiliter), where the tonal demarcation shifts the placement of the adverb in relation to Newman’s edition. In each of these cases, D functions as a turning pitch, a strategy that Hildegard sometimes uses.

Two other phrases, surrexit (page 3, line 8) and que ipsum montem precurrens (page 4, line 1), also begin with D, but it has no connective function in these instances and appears as a somewhat random choice. It makes more musical sense to combine these lines that open with D with the lines that follow to create longer phrases ending on E. To perform this way, of course, requires good breath support and a quicker tempo. The delineation in the transcription leaves them separate, however, in part to highlight the melodic parallels that run between the last few lines of the piece.

Interestingly, and rather oddly, the phrase radicantis luminis (page 2, line 3) ends with D in both sources. There is no reasonable way to combine this line with any other, and so the ending on D must have been intended.

On page 3, a downward octave leap occurs between the end of line 2 and the beginning of line 3 (mistica / montis). Although montis belongs with the previous line according to textual sense, it runs counter to Hildegard’s normal melodic development to place such a leap in the middle of a phrase. Thus, in the transcription, montis receives its own line, but a tick barline has been placed after it to indicate that it can go with the previous line. This gives the singer the opportunity to pause while continuing the phrase. On the other hand, montis (line 3) and pertransiens (line 5) begin with the same melody, which suggests that montis could be grouped musically with qui celum tangit multas aquas (line 4). That would make for a very long phrase, however, and do violence to the textual syntax (although montis is the antecedent of the relative qui). Thus, we decided to go against the melodic repetition here. Alternatively, multas aquas (line 6) can be taken as its own phrase, as it begins with a similar D melody as that which appears on surrexit (line 8) and que ipsum montem (p. 4, line 1). Singers should feel free to experiment.

Further Resources for O spectabiles viri
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 158 and 284-5.
  • Newman, Barbara. “Poet: ‘Where the Living Majesty Utters Mysteries’,” in Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World, ed. B. Newman (University of California Press, 1998), pp. 176-92, esp. 183-5.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Hildegard to Guibert, Letter 103r, ed. L. Van Acker in Epistolarium II, CCCM 91a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), pp. 261-2; translation adapted from Peter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), p. 168. 
[2] All quotes from Scivias adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 and 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978).  
[3] See Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Travis A. Stevens, “Intertextuality in Hildegard’s Works: Ezekiel and the Claim to Prophetic Authority,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 137-62. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

O ignee Spiritus

Hymn to the Holy Spirit (D 157v-158r, R 473rb-vb)Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1. O ignee Spiritus, laus tibi sit,
qui in timpanis et citharis

2. Mentes hominum de te flagrant
et tabernacula animarum eorum
vires ipsarum continent.

3. Inde voluntas ascendit
et gustum anime tribuit,
et eius lucerna est desiderium.

4. Intellectus te in dulcissimo sono
advocat ac edificia tibi
cum racionalitate parat, que in aureis operibus sudat.

5. Tu autem semper gladium
habes illud abscidere
quod noxiale pomum
per nigerrimum homicidium profert,

6. Quando nebula voluntatem
et desideria tegit,
in quibus anima volat et undique circuit.

7. Sed mens est ligatura voluntatis et desiderii.

8. Cum vero animus se ita erigit,
quod requirit pupillam mali videre et maxillam nequicie,
tu eum citius in igne comburis cum volueris.

9. Sed et cum racionalitas se per mala opera
ad prona declinat,
tu eam, cum vis, stringis et constringis et reducis
per infusionem experimentorum.

10. Quando autem malum ad te gladium suum
educit, tu illud in cor illius refringis
sicut in primo perdito angelo
fecisti, ubi turrim superbie
illius in infernum deiecisti.

11. Et ibi aliam turrim
in publicanis et peccatoribus elevasti,
qui tibi peccata sua cum operibus suis confitentur.

12. Unde omnes creature
que de te vivunt, te laudant,
quia tu preciosissimum
ungentum es fractis et fetidis vulneribus,
ubi illa in preciosissimas
gemmas convertis.

13. Nunc dignare nos omnes ad te colligere
et ad recta itinera dirigere.
1. O fiery Spirit, praise to you,
who on the tympana and lyre
work and play!

2. By you the human mind is set ablaze,
the tabernacle of its soul
contains its strength.

3. So mounts the will
and grants the soul to taste—
desire is its lamp.

4. In sweetest sound the intellect upon you calls,
a dwelling-place prepares for you,
with reason sweating in the golden labor.

5. Yet in your hand you always hold the sword
to cut away
the deadly apple offering
its blackened heart—a homicide,

6. when once that cloud reached out
to overshade the will and its desires,
in which the soul takes flight and circles round about.

7. But of the will and of desire the mind serves as the bond.

8. For when the spirit rears itself
to seek to see the evil eye, the gaping maw of wickedness,
then swiftly in your fire do you consume it, when you will.

9. But when the reason strays and, working evil things,
falls flat and low,
then as you will, you draw, constrain, and bring it back
through floods of trials and ordeals.

10. When evil yet its sword against you
draws, you break its blade into its heart—
the thrust against the fallen angel first
you made when into Hell you cast
his tower of pride.

11. Another tower you raised up in its place,
amongst the taxmen and the sinners—
to you their sins they do confess by their own works and deeds.

12. So ev’ry creature, as it takes
its life from you, returns to you its praise,
for you are that most precious balm
for broken, fetid wounds,
transforming them into
most precious gems.

13. Now deign to gather us, to draw us all to you,
and to direct us on the upright course.
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

The taut themes and often sparse music make this hymn to the Holy Spirit one of Hildegard’s less characteristic, though no less poetic, compositions. Besides the first and last two stanzas, whose dynamic images of fire, music, balm, and gemstones are matched with the music’s only extensive melismas, it is a sparing and often abstract meditation on the Holy Spirit’s role in animating and then rescuing the human psyche.

The opening images of fire and music are drawn from the two key Scriptural images used to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost:
And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
     —Acts 2:2-4
Hildegard’s unique contribution in this hymn is to interpret the “sound…like the rush of a mighty wind” as music, the heavenly symphony whose harmony expresses the perfection of God’s creativity. For Hildegard, the Word of God doesn’t just speak—he sings; and thus, Hildegard’s hymn shares almost sacramentally in the symphonic divine grace, whose musician here is the Holy Spirit.

As Hildegard described to the prelates at Mainz in a letter from the last year of her life, Adam sang with the voice of angels in paradise, but lost the “sweetness of all musical harmony” in the Fall.[1] That fallenness, and the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing us back from it, forms the subject matter of this hymn’s central verses. As Peter Dronke has noted (Poetic Individuality, p. 155), however, this meditation “on the nature and motivation of human evil” contains “certain overtones of the dominant opening images, fire and music”: both the lamplight of the will (verse 3) and the scorching refiner’s fire burning away the dross of evil (verse 8); and both the sweet music of the intellect’s call upon the Spirit (verse 4) and the Spirit’s swift movements to constrain the wandering soul, as drawing across the lyre’s strings and beating upon the tympanum’s drum (verse 9).

The images of verses two, three, and four interrelate the three classical parts of the soul (will, desire, and mind or intellect) with the five senses: touch in the mind’s vires (v. 2), taste (v. 3), sight in the soul’s lamp (v. 3), hearing in the intellect’s sweet, musical sound (v. 4), and smell in the sweet perfume of reason’s golden labor (v. 4). All of these are bound together in the underlying image of the inspired soul as an edifice, taking its fiery foundations from the Spirit’s touch and mounting up as each sense and operation of the soul works to construct a hallowed dwelling-place for the Spirit.

The next seven verses follow the ups and downs of this once-inspired soul, tempted and pulled to wander away. The building-up of the Spirit within the soul is contrasted in verse 8 with the soul’s selfish desire to build itself up—and because such a puffed-up pride is hollow and without foundation, it ultimately falls flat (v. 9).

Scivias I.2: The Fall.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 4r.
The imagery of the building itself returns with force in verses 11 and 12, as Hildegard contrasts the prideful tower of the Devil, torn down by the Holy Spirit and cast into Hell, with the tower of contrition and virtue that the Spirit raises in its place among those who repent. The tower of pride is not the only image, however, that Hildegard uses here to illustrate the source of prideful temptation. In verses 5 and 6, she draws on the imagery of her vision of the Fall in the first part of the Scivias (Vision 2): the nebula is the shadowy, misty cloud, the loathsome form the Devil took when he reached out from the smoky pit of Hell to enwrap and infect the candida nubes (“bright white cloud”) of Eve, the mother of the human race.

The mind that the Spirit set ablaze in the human soul in the second verse is supposed to restrain the will and desire from wandering off into this evil land of shadows and dust, as Hildegard tells us in verse 7. But the allure of sin proves too much, and so the Holy Spirit must provide the constraint, drawing the soul back to goodness through the ordeals of the human experience.

Scivias II.4: Tower
of the Holy Spirit.
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 60r.
The penultimate verse introduces three new images in its final attempt to describe the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within fallen humanity: wounds, gems, and the ointment (ungentum) that transforms the first into the second. Dronke indicates that the liminality of gem and wound has its roots in the Greek term sphragis, which can have both meanings, thus giving rise to common early Christian descriptions of Christ’s wounds as jewels (Poetic Individuality, pp. 155-6). For Hildegard, the gemstone was a lucent and fertile image for the uncorrupted body, as exemplified in the antiphon for the Virgin, O splendidissima gemma. In this hymn to the Holy Spirit, her contribution to this tradition of bejeweled wounds is to connect the ungentum of the chrism, the anointing oil used in Confirmation, with the ungentum of a medicinal balm used to heal wounds. As she writes in the fourth vision of the second part of Scivias, concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit received in Confirmation:[2]
But whatever is weakened and confounded by the wounds of the Devil’s advice must be strengthened and adorned by the anointing of oil, that the gaping bloody wound of fleshly desire may be wiped clean.
     —Scivias II.4.7
Then, in explaining a portion of the vision text, Hildegard connects the anointing with oil to the adornment of gold with precious stones:
Some of them are adorned with gold color from their foreheads to their feet: for from their beginning in good works to their end in sanctity, they are adorned with the shining gifts of the Holy Spirit by their anointing with chrism in the true faith at the hand of the bishop. How? Just as gold is adorned by having precious stones set into it, so baptism is adorned with the chrism given to those baptized in faith by the hand of the bishop.
     —Scivias II.4.6
What starts as simile in the prose text of Scivias gives way to the unmediated mixture of metaphor in the poetry of this hymn. When the Holy Spirit transforms the faithful into the shining gems that adorn the City of God, it also directs them into the paths of righteousness. There, they journey together, built up in the tower of the Holy Spirit which serves to strengthen the Church—the tower that appears in both this hymn and in the aforementioned vision in Scivias above. As with Hildegard’s first antiphon to the Holy Spirit, Spiritus sanctus vivificans, this hymn unites a paradoxical set of images: the firm stability of the tower with the purposed movement of a journey towards righteousness. Fundamentally, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Christian is to grow strong, not relying on the empty foundations of pride, but strengthened and confirmed in the faith.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: A below the final to D an octave above the final
Setting: primarily syllabic with some neumatic segments

It is typical for Hildegard to build up to the highest pitch and to align the attainment of the registral peak with the sense of the text. In this piece, D an octave above the final is first reached on the word lucerna (“lamp,” metonymous for light in general, in verse 3 / p. 1, line 9,), and then again on intellectus (“intellect,” verse 4 / p. 1, line 10) and racionalitate (“reason,” verse 4, p. 2, line 2). These are important themes for Hildegard. The high D is also found on malum (“evil,” verse 10, p. 3, last line). Here it is approached by an upward leap of a fifth and concluded with a downward leap of a fifth. This strategy sets the word apart for emphasis and thus provides a musical contrast between the notion of evil and the light of reason.

The salutation, O ignee Spiritus laus tibi sit, is outlined by the modal final, D, but it is composed of two short segments, O ignee Spiritus, which ends on A; and laus tibi sit, which begins and ends on D.

In verse 2, the first phrase is outlined by D, while the next two phrase segments begin on F and end on D. This is a little unusual, but the close similarities between the two phrase units supports this configuration.

In verse 3, we encounter again the issue regarding the placement of the conjunction et, which is set to D and is repeated on that pitch each time it appears. The third phrase, eius lucerna est desiderium, begins with the upward leap of a fifth, which is used throughout the song as an opening gesture. However, this phrase segment is grammatically parallel to the second one, which begins with et, and so that is the rationale for placing the second iteration of et before the leap on p. 1, line 9 of the transcription.

Verse 5 on p. 2 of the transcription presents an interesting variation in the use of modal grammar. In Dendermonde, the first phrase, Tu autem semper gladium, is outlined by D, the final. In Riesenkodex, this phrase ends on A, the fifth. The second phrase segment, habes illud abscidere, begins on the A below the final, while the phrase that follows it, quod noxiale pomum, begins on the fifth above the final.

On p. 4 of the transcription, lines 5 and 6 (the first two lines of verse 11) comprise a single phrase. It is broken up in both the transcription and translation for the sake of clarity, and a tick barline has been inserted at the end of line 6.

Further Resources for O ignee Spiritus
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 142-6 and 280-1.
  • Dronke, Peter. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages: New Departures in Poetry, 1000-1150 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 154-6.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Letter 23, Hildegard to the prelates at Mainz. In The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume I, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 76-80.  
[2] From Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 192-3; Latin text in the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 164-5.