Sunday, October 22, 2017

O Pater omnium

Symphonia viduarum / Symphony of Widows (D 166r-v, R 478va) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1. O Pater omnium et o rex et imperator gentium,
qui constituisti nos in costa prime matris,
que construxit nobis magnum casum erumpne,
et nos secute sumus illam
in propria causa in exilio sociantes nos
illius dolori.

2. O tu nobilissime genitor,
per summum studium currimus ad te,
et per dilectissimam
atque per dulcissimam penitentiam
que nobis per te venit, anhelamus ad te
et post dolorem nostrum
devotissime amplectimur te.

3. O gloriosissime
et o pulcherrime Christe, qui es resurrectio vite,
nos reliquimus propter te
fertilem amatorem coniunctionis,
et comprehendimus te in superna caritate
et in virginea virga nativitatis tue,
ac in altera vice copulate sumus tibi
quam prius essemus secundum carnem.

4. Adiuva nos perseverare et tecum gaudere
et a te numquam separari.
1. O Father of all and King and Emperor of the nations,
you founded us in our first mother’s rib,
who drew up for us our hardship’s grandest fall.
So we have followed her,
in our own right in exile sharing
commonly her pain.

2. O noblest Sire,
our course with keenest zeal we run to you,
and in penitence
so sweet and savored,
which comes to us from you, to you we heave our sighs,
and when our pain is past,
devotedly do you embrace.

3. O Christ, most glorious and fair,
you are life’s resurrection!
For you we have relinquished
the fertile lover of a marriage,
and you we have embraced in heaven’s charity
and in the virgin branch of your nativity—
to you we’re joined with different turn
than once we were as to the flesh.

4. Help us to persevere and with you to rejoice
and from you never to be cleaved.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer

O pater omnium is a song for widows who have entered the religious life—women whom Hildegard placed lower than virgins but higher than married women in her hierarchy of sanctity. Despite her praise of women, her generally positive feminine theology, and her arguments against women as overly sexual in the Causae et curae, Hildegard nevertheless participated in the negative theological stance toward sexuality that was characteristic of the Church in her era. The punishment of mankind for the fall, human sexuality was associated with carnality and thus to be made subject to control by the rational will. The “pain” of the married (of birthing, first and foremost, but Hildegard may also be thinking of the pain of physical submission to husbands and their demands) is the pain they share with Eve. In having to engage in sexual relations, therefore, married women were less saintly than the virgins who had “conquered” their erotic desires through the efforts of the rational mind. Widows fell between these categories—they now have a second chance, if you will, to rise higher on the ladder of sanctity. As with Hildegard’s “Symphony for Virgins,” O dulcissime amator, this “Symphony for Widows” was likely sung upon their entrance to Hildegard’s abbey, when they undertook that second chance.

It is not surprising, then, that the ode for widows is pitched in a lower register than some of Hildegard’s exuberant songs to Mary, the virgin model and ideal (though as Newman notes [Symphonia, p. 307], its text echoes images from several of those, including Mary’s virginal branch in O viridissima virga, and her alteration of human sexuality in O virga ac diadema, verses 1a-2b). It is also not surprising that melismas are absent, another marker of exaltation. The lyrics describe how, since women followed Eve into the Fall, the widow now can replace her earlier sexual self with an asexual one conjoined with Christ. As elaborated in the third verse, this exchange of one type of lover (the “fertile” one with whom these women were once joined in marriage) for another (the more distant and regal Emperor, though still extolled as fairest and most glorious) is also an exchange of views on the body (in altera vice—“in another mode”). The power of the Virgin’s womb to give birth to Christ sublimates conjugal fertility into a higher plane of creative love, “the heaven’s charity” (superna caritate). In the second verse, the conversion from physical to spiritual love follows the conventionally logic-defying path away from the pain of sexual pleasure, through “sweet and savored” penitence, and towards the embrace of God.

Transcription and Music Notes

Mode: E
Range: G below the final to C above final
Setting: Primarily syllabic with some neumatic elements

In this piece, Hildegard makes liberal use of the pitch G as a secondary tone. Typically, B would function as a secondary grammatical marker in this mode, but it is never used that way here. After the initial salutation, O pater omnium et o rex et imperator gentium, which is outlined by the modal final, Hildegard shifts the opening of the next phrase to G, ending it on E. This is a regular gesture throughout the piece. Notice that the opening segments that begin on G are all similar, starting with G, moving to A, and then descending (e.g. page 1, lines 4, 6, 7, and 9). Some are also elaborated, moving first to C and then descending (e.g. page 1, line 3).

Readers will note that Lines 4 and 5 on page 1 should be considered as one phrase. Interestingly, the Riesenkodex ends the word erumpne on E, creating a pause before singing et on F. Dendermonde (our base manuscript) ends erumpne on F and begins et on F. We have chosen to keep erumpne with casum for textual reasons, as it is the final word of the subordinate clause that begins with que; et begins a new main clause with a different subject (nos). Similarly, though erumpne begins with G, the motivic pattern is not the same as those that Hildegard uses as rhetorically significant repetitive opening motifs, as described above. The non-modal F that begins the new textual phrase with et may rhetorically signify the line’s emphasis on the Fall.

On page 2 of the transcription, the opening G motives shift a bit, with the G being repeated before moving on. Some of the phrases are quite short, and thus singers might consider combining lines into longer units. On page 3, tick barlines have been inserted in three places (lines, 2, 4 and 8), to avoid crowding the staves. The phrases in question were too long to fit on a single line. Also on page 3, the Riesenkodex gives the opening pitch of line 6 as E, which is likely more accurate. However, singers can make their own choice as to whether this phrase can be sung as an extension of the previous one. While Hildegard generally outlines her phrases clearly with the final and other key modal tones, as per the rhetorical intent of the text/music relationship, there are also anomalous segments that require some thoughtful interpretations.

Further Resources for O Pater omnium

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