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). 

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