Thursday, July 7, 2016

Vos flores rosarum

Responsory for Martyrs (D 163v, R 470r, Scivias III.13.5b) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
R. Vos flores rosarum,
qui in effusione sanguinis vestri
beati estis
in maximis gaudiis redolentibus
et sudantibus in emptione
que fluxit
de interiori mente
consilii manentis ante evum

R. in illo,
in quo non erat constitutio
a capite.

V. Sit honor in consortio vestro,
qui estis instrumentum ecclesie
et qui in vulneribus vestri
sanguinis undatis:

R. In illo,
in quo non erat constitutio
a capite.
R. You buds of roses,
within your blood outpoured
you’re blessed
in joys supreme and fragrant,
distilled of that redemption
that flowed
from th’ inmost heart
of counsel kept before all time

R. in him
who was unfounded
at the source.

V. An honor in your fellowship!
The Church’s instrument you are
as in your wounds, your waves
of blood, you surge:

R. in him
who was unfounded
at the source.
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 sweet perfume of the red rose pours forth like blood, and so the martyrs’ wounds and waves of blood exude that same joyous fragrance as they flow across the world and “water” the Church’s mission—and in all of this, their suffering participates in Christ’s, whose blood was eternally predestined to redeem that world. The poetic images in this responsory twist and strain against the boundaries of language and even concept, their synaesthetic transformations tying color and aroma with powerful movements of flow and surge, yet all rooted in the timeless counsel of him who has no foundation, for he is himself the foundation.

Barbara Newman has judged this piece, “Hildegard’s poetry at its simultaneous best and worst: it is brimming with intensity and strangeness, but the startling images are sabotaged by unwieldy syntax.” (Symphonia, p. 288) Two features contribute to this syntactic muddiness: first, the oblique case of the participles redolentibus (“fragrant”) and sudantibus (“distilled”) in the opening respond; and second, Hildegard’s penchant for setting much of the piece’s content within a series of nested relative clauses. From the perspective of meaning, the participles should logically refer to the flowers that represent the martyrs; however, Hildegard has syntactically transferred them to the maximis gaudiis (“joys supreme”) in which the martyr-blooms are blessed. The transferred epithets, however, assist in moving the focus of the piece from the martyrs themselves to their participation in Christ’s eternal exemplar of sweet and joyous suffering.

Similarly, although the elaborately nested relative clauses do make it more difficult sometimes to follow the train of thought, they also serve to unify the imagery’s synaesthetic transfigurations. Moreover, Hildegard uses the music to clarify what Newman has criticized as a “strained image [submerged] in a further metaphysical conceit.” (Symphonia, p. 299) She echoes melodic lines that span the responsory’s full octave range on the phrases in maximis gaudiis and de interiori mente, thus providing the crucial link between the concrete image of the martyrs’ rose-scented blood and Hildegard’s invocation of the Incarnation as predestined “before all time” in the divine “eternal counsel.” The martyrs’ “joys supreme” are the beatific vision, their union with and reward for imitating the bloodied but Risen Christ, in whose central redemptive act God “chose us [and them] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4: elegit nos in ipso ante mundi constitutionem). It is by that participation in the eternal that their rose-like wounds can exude the aromatic fragrance of Christ’s presence both within and outside of time.

Hildegard’s attempt to describe that timeless and “eternal counsel” (Ps. 32[33]:11) also fumbles through an awkward set of expressions in the respondendum, which literally reads, “in him in whom there was no foundation from the head.” The phrasing was likely triggered by that verse in Ephesians—yet Hildegard strives to go beyond it to express that fact that, though the world has an establishment and framework (constitutio) with a beginning or source (a capite), the one in whom the world has that establishment and beginning is himself without beginning or establishment. Christ is the foundation and the head not only of the Church but, by analogy, of all creation—or rather, as Hildegard describes in her exegesis of of Genesis 1 in Liber Divinorum Operum II.1.17-42, the Church is the final and fulfilled reflection of that primal constitution.

The seeming inelegance of the refrain’s phrasing reflects the same roughshod difficulties that Hildegard faced in the antiphon, Laus Trinitati, where her attempts to express the practically inexpressible in her unpolished Latin often leave her anxiously fumbling through several metaphors and half-formed images. In this responsory, we see one way in which her poetry can vault that hurdle, by employing images that elastically connect the universal and particular. This symbolist mode of thinking allows the concrete images of rose, blood, perfume, and gushing wave to coexist in this responsory with the abstract notion of an unfounded and eternal source from which those concrete images flow.

Such a powerful yet fluid linkage between outer and inner world, concrete image and spiritual reality also allowed Hildegard—in a tradition stretching back to the late antique foundations of monasticism—to see the virgin monastic as the true heir to the martyr’s imitation of Christ. As with so many of the pieces of the celestial symphony in the final vision of Scivias, this responsory connects its particular addressee—the martyrs—to the order of virgins to which Hildegard belonged. Its language is redolent of her description in Scivias II.5.13 of the brightest burning light encircling the figure of the Church:
This symbolizes the perfection of those who imitate the Passion of My Son in the ardor of their love and strongly adorn the Church with their self-restraint. How? Because they are the high building of the growing treasury of the divine counsel [in divino consilio]. For when the Church was invigorated and grew stronger, to increase her beauty there came forth a living fragrance [vivens odor], vowing the way of secret regeneration. What does this mean? That there then arose the wonderful order, which attained to My Son in the beauty of His example; for as My Son came into the world separated from the common people, so this army lives in the world separated from the rest of the people. This people first arose individually in the desert and in hiding, as balsam sweetly oozes from the tree, and then grew into a great multitude, as the tree extends its branches. And I blessed and sanctified this people, for they are to Me the lovely flowers of roses and lilies [amantissimi flores rosarum et lilioroum], which grow in the fields without human labor.[1]
The same cryptic lyricism that characterizes the responsory above is also found in this passage, as Hildegard employs unique images to describe the monastic life—so much so that the translators of this passage added bracketed glosses, to explain that “a living fragrance” means the monks, and “vowing the way of secret regeneration” their religious profession.

Finally, the blooming, bloodied rose of Christ’s passion and those who imitate it recalls the woman who, above all others in the Middle Ages, was associated with the rose, its thorns pricking her heart as she gazed upon her crucified Son: the Virgin Mother Mary. The flower was, unsurprisingly, one of Hildegard’s favorite images for the Virgin (in e.g. Ave generosa or O virga ac diadema); but her more unusual connection to this responsory for martyrs is in the role she shares with them as an instrumentum, as seen in the responsory, O clarissima. As they roll forth as perfumed waves in the wounds of their blood (in vulneribus vestri sanguinis undatis) to water the Church, they echo the Virgin’s role as an “instrument of life” spreading the sweet perfume of the medicinal balm that she poured forth out of her womb—the very same redemption “that flowed from th’ inmost heart of counsel kept before all time,” redolent with the sweet aroma of the blood of Christ and his passionate imitators.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: C
Range: G below the final to G an octave and a fifth above
Setting: neumatic with some melismas, one lengthy melisma

Tonal markers in this piece include C and G, the fifth above the final. Vos flores rosarum differs from many of Hildegard’s C-mode pieces, however, in that there are no signed flats on B in either manuscript source. The actual “modal” intent of Hildegard’s C pieces is not always clear, as the presence of the Bb might be an indication of transposition. Here, the absence of the Bb might indicate a true use of C as the final in its own right, with the G as secondary tone.

The first statement is an extended salutation, as indicated by the use of G as a secondary stopping point, finally ending completely on C after beati estis. The transcription includes a tick barline after vestri on p. 1, line 3, as a possible breathing/phrasing point which accords with the text.

Because C and G function as such obvious grammatical markers in this responsory, the phrasing in general is fairly straightforward. Some lines that begin with C and end on G (as transcribed) can be considered to continue until the next cadence on C, though this can make for phrases that stretch across several lines and may be too long to be sung on a single breath. In some cases, as for example at the end of line 6 on p. 1 (gaudiis), a tick barline has been inserted to indicate the appropriate phrasal ending. In others, the decision is left to the singer or reader.

The long melisma at the end of the respondenum (p. 3, on a capite) has been divided after the pitch G, and the second line begins on C. This break seems to fit best with Hildegard’s musical grammar.

The large number of differences between the manuscripts has necessitated the frequent use of multiple annotations and ossia staves.

Further Resources for Vos flores rosarum
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. pp. 172-3 and 288-9.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 209; Latin text from the edition of Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 186-7. 

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