Monday, December 12, 2022

Kyrie eleison

[Kyrie eleyson / leyson] Back to Table of Contents
(R 472vb) by Hildegard of Bingen

by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer

Mode: F
Range: C below the final to G an octave and a second above
Setting: Melismatic

This composition is preserved in two manuscripts:
  • Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek RheinMain, Hs. 2, Riesencodex, fol. 472vb
  • Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1016, fol. 118v
This is Hildegard’s only musical composition for the Ordinary of the Mass (i.e. the texts that are traditionally sung as part of each celebration of the Mass: the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus and Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei). As such, it is her only musical composition for which she did not also write the words. The text is the only part of the Ordinary of the Latin Mass which is preserved in Greek, with each of the three lines sung three times before moving to the next line:
Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison
Lord, have mercy (x3)
Christ, have mercy (x3)
Lord, have mercy (x3)
As Honey Meconi has explained,[1] Hildegard has followed a common practice of her time in composing variations for the final three repetitions of the Kyrie eleison. In the transcription, the first version of Kyrie eleison was to be used for the first three repetitions of that text, followed by three repetitions of the setting of Christe eleison. The second appearance of Kyrie eleison, which introduces a new melody for Kyrie and a revised melody for eleison (lines 3-4 in the transcription), was to be used for the next two repetitions of the Kyrie eleison. Finally, the third appearance of the Kyrie eleison (lines 5-6 in the transcription), which provides a modified ending, would close out the recitation.

This composition is in the unusual F mode, and it is also quite interesting that this mode generally requires a Bb to avoid the tritone with F. There is one notated flat, on line 4 of the transcription on the progression that begins on G and resolves to F. While the singers would know to add Bb when the interval B to F appears, the addition of the accidental is unusual. Speculatively, it was perhaps to avoid confusion, as the figure begins on G, rises to B and then descends to F. All other instances where the B to F occur are ‘stand alone’ configurations. (For Dom Joseph Pothier’s views on the tritone, see further below.)

It is also possible that the notation is intended to remind or mirror the opening figure in the responsory, O lucidissima apostolorum turba, whose first few melodic lines are shared by the Kyrie (i.e. the two compositions are contrafacts): lines 1-4 of our transcription of the Kyrie (the first Kyrie, the Christe, and the second Kyrie) correspond to lines 1-5 of our transcription of O lucidissima (O lucidissima…agnitione), while the next line in the responsory (aperiens) corresponds to elements in the final elaboration of eleison. O lucidissima ends in G mode, and it includes quite a few Bb’s, including a flat on the opening gesture that is similar to the Kyrie (the only difference is that the responsory opens on G rather than F).

Scholarship is divided over which composition came first. The responsory must certainly be one of Hildegard’s earlier works, because it belongs to the song cycle included in the last vision of Scivias. Because the Kyrie does not appear in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript but only in the later Riesencodex collection, some have suggested that it was a later composition (and that the Vienna manuscript must also postdate Dendermonde).[2] Under this hypothesis, it may even have been designed specifically as a bridge between the two sections into which the Riesencodex divides Hildegard’s music—the first section contains all of the pieces that would have been used during the Liturgy of the Hours (i.e. antiphons and responsories), while the second section contains the longer pieces (hymns, sequences, and symphoniae), most of which would or could have been used in the Mass. The Kyrie is used in both the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass.

Alternatively, Honey Meconi has proposed that the Kyrie may in fact have been Hildegard’s first attempt at public musical composition. Under this hypothesis, the traditional parameters imposed by the genre would have been an appropriate scaffold for the first-time composer, “testing the waters before embarking on complexities such as those of the early Scivias songs” (Meconi, p. 106). Meconi also notes that this is the only piece that Hildegard composed with F as a final.
Pothier (1898),
“Kyrie de Sainte Hildegarde”
(From Bain, Fig. 5.4)

Finally, Hildegard’s Kyrie played an important role in the revival of her work at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, as documented by Jennifer Bain.[3] In 1878, two monks, Dom Joseph Pothier and his brother Dom Alphonse, travelled from the Abbey of Solesmes to the Wiesbaden state library, in order to transcribe and study Hildegard’s works. Dom Joseph Pothier was one of the influential fathers of the chant revival movement centered at Solesmes, and his publications of Hildegard’s music two decades later helped to propel her music to wider acclaim in church music circles. One of the most influential of Pothier’s 1898 publications was an edition and discussion of the Kyrie, whose liturgical versatility, Bain notes, “seems to be part of its subsequent appeal” (Bain, p. 183). As can be seen from the image of this edition (at right), Dom Pothier added editorial Bb’s to avoid the tritone. Nevertheless, as Bain notes, Pothier also “argues against a regular fixing of B naturals” (Bain, p. 186):
It is not that it is necessary, in general, to have to regard the tritone with fear … In many circumstances where our editions of plainchant mark the flat to avoid that which somebody thoughtlessly named the diabolus in musica [“devil in music”], the B must remain natural, as it was many times in the notation and in usage.
     (Pothier, “Kyrie de Sainte Hildegarde” [1898], as cited and trans. in Bain, p. 187)
It is also worth noting that the manuscript text appears to entirely drop the initial syllable “e-” from “e-leyson.” Some recordings and editions of this piece even adopt the text as a single line: “Kyrieleyson.” It is possible that in Hildegard’s usage, “eleison” was sung simply as two syllables, “ley-son” (our transcription follows this as the least invasive editorial interpretation of the manuscript). It should be noted that other editions add the initial “e-” back in, as in Dom Pothier’s edition included above.

Editorial note by Beverly Lomer: In this transcription, I made some changes to the way two neumes are transcribed. I have added a dotted slur to the climacus and a full slur (over the three notes) of the pressus with punctum. This is part of a review process aimed at ultimately creating selected performance scores.

Further Resources for O eterne Deus
  • Bain, Jennifer. Hildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception. The Modern Revival of a Medieval Composer. Cambridge University Press, 2015, at pp. 179-187.
  • Meconi, Honey. Hildegard of Bingen. Women Composer Series. University of Illinois Press, 2018, at pp. 105-107.
  • Pothier, Dom Joseph. “Kyrie de Sainte Hildegarde.” Revue du chant grégorien 7/3 (1898): 65-68.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Honey Meconi, Hildegard of Bingen (University of Illinois Press, 2018), p. 105. 
[2] So Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hearing the Heavenly Symphony: An Overview of Hildegard's Muscial Oeuvre with Case Studies,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Debra L. Stoudt, & George Ferzoco (Brill, 2014), pp. 163-192, at p. 173. 
[3] Jennifer Bain, Hildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception. The Modern Revival of a Medieval Composer (Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 179-187. 

BOOK REVIEW: Sara Salvadori, Hildegard von Bingen: In the Heart of God (Skira, 2021)

Sara Salvadori. Hildegard von Bingen: In the Heart of God. Trans. Oona Smith and Susan Ann White. Milan: Skira, 2021. 144pp, 120 color illustrations. Available from the publisher and Amazon.

Following the publication of her impressive and immersive study of the illustrations of Hildegard of Bingen’s first work, Scivias, (Hildegard von Bingen: A Journey into the Images [2019]—see my review here), Sara Salvadori was invited to apply her creative insights to the illustrations of the Lucca manuscript of Hildegard’s last great work, the Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works; henceforth LDO). The result is this new book, which delivers the cosmological analysis that Salvadori had previewed at the end of her first volume, while also bringing the later manuscript into dialogue with the Scivias images. Once again, Salvadori’s capacious imagination has combined with the enthusiastic support of her collaborators (including Michaela Pereira and José C. Santos Paz, whose scholarly essays frame both ends of the study) and the lavish editorial direction of arthouse publisher Skira to produce another remarkable volume.

The book has two goals. First, it seeks to describe what the Lucca illustrations communicate individually (Ch. 3: Grammar) and how they articulate larger, interconnected themes of the work (Ch. 4: Rhetoric). Salvadori used this same structural approach of first cataloguing the visual grammar of the images and then analyzing their visual rhetoric in her earlier study of the illustrations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of Scivias. The visual catalogue in particular is, like its predecessor, a valuable tool for any person trying to understand the complex and often enigmatic illustrations (although some of the numbered references to the plates are confusing). Moreover, Salvadori has made several digital reconstructions of Hildegard’s visions to clarify points where the Lucca illustrations are misleading or silent.

Second, it puts the Lucca illustrations in dialogue with illustrations of the Scivias, designed under Hildegard’s guidance in the last decade of her life, when she also completed writing the LDO. Salvadori gives an overview of these connections in Ch. 1 (Prologue), and then uses the Scivias images throughout the “Rhetoric” chapter, to allow illustrations directly designed by Hildegard (from Scivias) to interpret illustrations she did not directly design (from the Lucca LDO). The contemporaneous execution of both the LDO’s text and the Scivias images rightly justifies Salvadori’s approach, because it “resulted in [the two works] being closely linked at a structural level” (pp 17-18).[1]

Salvadori’s central thesis is that the ten visions of the LDO are, in fact, “one great vision,” which moves cinematically, as it were, through different cosmological levels, to tell a single story (summarized schematically on pp. 26-27, with more elaborate reconstructions summarizing her rhetorical analysis on pp. 125-133). Beginning and ending with the figure of Divine Love (Caritas), the work “pivots on the relationship between God and man and on the contemplative dialogue of love” (p. 22). The cosmic Wheel of Part 1 sets humankind within their proper relationship to all of creation, as the work of God, made in his image and likeness. Part 2 then zooms in on the earth at the universe’s center and becomes the cross-roads for the entire volume, where we find “the ways through which man can purify himself” on the reintegrative journey back to his source in Divine Love, along the pathway of virginitas. Finally, the Building (the City of God) toward which that pathway leads takes center stage in Part 3, to showcase that journey’s destination. The “extreme synthesis” of this thematic journey is that, “Man is made according to the image and likeness of God and is kept in his heart” (p. 129).

Salvadori’s rhetorical analysis bears two essential fruits. The first is a complex reconstruction of the cosmological visions presented in Part 1 of the LDO. A frequent criticism of my published translation of the LDO has been that it did not include diagrams or schematics to help clarify Hildegard’s intricate descriptions of the cosmos.[2] Salvadori’s reconstructions fill that lacuna, with Hildegard’s own words providing the key to her interpretive approach. The visionary’s description of her experiences in a letter to Guibert of Gembloux demonstrates that Hildegard seeks “to reconcile multiple viewpoints and perspectives in a single great vision” (p. 61). Hildegard’s visions constantly shift their point of view, ranging from “an immense, unfathomable firmament seen from a distant perspective,” to movements within the cosmic space, to close-up, intimate examinations of the human body in its environment. Because of this, Salvadori recognizes that we must manipulate the illustrations and our perspectives on them if we are to fit them all together like puzzle pieces into a coherent whole.

Of particular value to readers of the LDO will be Salvadori’s schematics of the network of winds and celestial bodies (planets, sun, and moon) and their allegorical interpretations from LDO 1.2 (pp. 75-83); the cosmic movements of the winds and their relationship to the human body from LDO 1.3 (pp. 84-91); and the cosmic proportions of the human body and their allegorical interpretations from LDO 1.4 (pp. 92-104). Santos Paz’s essay at the end of the volume (pp. 134-140) also offers some tantalizing connections between otherwise inexplicable details of the LDO 1.2 illustration and the texts in the so-called “Berlin Fragment,” which open up a space for more research to be done on that strange collection.

Among Salvadori’s analyses, I was particularly struck by her ingenious solution to one of the more difficult stumbling blocks presented by the illustrations. As I have noted elsewhere, the illustration for LDO 1.2 appears to reverse the placement of north and south in relation to east and west.[3] If east is above the human figure and west as at his feet, then north must be to the viewer’s left and south to the viewer’s right. However, the Lucca illustration reverses this, with north to the viewer’s right (and thus the figure’s left hand) and south to the viewer’s left (and thus the figure’s right hand). Salvadori’s solution draws on the secondary description of the human figure in LDO 1.4.48, where the figure faces east, with west to his back, north to his left, and south to his right. In order to present the human figure frontally on the two-dimensional page, however, the east-west axis must be tilted up around the north-south axis, to place east above and west below (pp. 58-61). Salvadori’s hypothesis is elegant and compelling, as it allows us to preserve Hildegard’s allegorical connection between the north and the figure’s left side.
Reconstruction of the winged figures.
(Salvadori, p. 67)

The second fruit of Salvadori’s analysis is to connect the images of the LDO to the illuminated Scivias. These reconstructions work best when they are based on textual connections between the two works; but they also draw on visual connections between the two sets of illustrations. The resulting collages are certainly imaginative, but also perhaps a bit grotesque—as Salvadori herself admits, the reconstruction, “though accurate, is certainly far from poetic” (p. 61). As an example, Salvadori’s analysis of the opening figure of Divine Love in LDO 1.1 connects to no fewer than six different visions in Scivias (pp. 64-67—see the resulting composite at right). Some of these are textually obvious, but other connections are more subtle and rely especially on the interplay between text and illustration in Scivias.

Man in the middle of the wheel.
(Salvadori, p. 72)
Another ingenious comparison comes when Salvadori sets the illustration of the cosmic wheel in LDO 1.2 alongside the illustration for the Trinity in Scivias 2.2 (pp. 72-74—see at left). Salvadori uses the visual connection to correlate the creation of humankind with the Incarnation of Christ and thus to confirm her larger thesis of the intimate connection between the triune God and creation. For me as a historian, however, the precise correspondence of proportions between frame, circles, and human figure indicates close connections between the production of the two manuscripts. Perhaps Hildegard used the cosmic proportions of LDO 1.2 to design the Scivias Trinity image in the 1170’s. Likewise, we can propose that the Lucca illustrator (who was likely working in the Rupertsberg scriptorium) modeled the LDO 1.2 schematic on those Trinitarian circles. Salvadori demonstrates similar connections in compositional geometry between the purgatorial dissection of the Earth in LDO 2.1 and the Last Judgment illustrations for Scivias 3.12 (pp. 103-107); as well as between the Building conceits shared by the third parts of both works (pp. 113-123). As with her previous work on Scivias, she includes physical models created to compile the different vision elements into a single structure.

There are, however, limits to the rationalizations Salvadori attempts. For example, she assumes that the bright red line that runs horizontally across the illustration for LDO 1.2 must correspond to “the line of the sun” described in the vision text (p. 73). But no amount of reorienting or rotating the figure can magically take that line, which in the illustration must correspond to the North-South axis, and make it match with the East-West path of the sun. Here is a point where one must simply acknowledge that the illustrations are not always precision instruments. This also exemplifies the biggest drawback to this volume. For the sake of comprehensiveness, Salvadori sometimes forces an interpretation of smaller pieces of the illustrations that do not ultimately fit with the overall themes at the core of the study. As a result, there are several digressions and asides in the “Rhetoric” section that distract from the larger rhetorical movement and make it harder to discern the ductus, the path or journey, of the argument. Finally, one must note the occasional infelicity in the English translation of Salvadori’s Italian original (“extreme synthesis” from p. 129 would more idiomatically be rendered as, “final synthesis”), as well as places where cross-references do not match.

Nevertheless, Sara Salvadori has an expansive imagination for interpreting the images in Hildegard’s Book of Divine Works, and though some of her insights run beyond the bounds of scholarly inquiry, they certainly cannot outrun God’s eternity. Ultimately, Salvadori’s volume will be a welcome resource for anyone who wants to enter into Hildegard’s cosmological imagination, and its grace is that it tries to keep our attention focused throughout on the reason for those flights of vision: God’s love. It will also make a good companion piece to Margot Fassler’s recent volume, Cosmos, Liturgy, and the Arts in the Twelfth Century: Hildegard's Illuminated Scivias (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022), which builds on Fassler’s own work into the cosmology of the Scivias illustrations, their connections to Hildegard’s musical compositions, and the theological results in the lives of Hildegard’s community.

About the Author: Nathaniel M. Campbell is an adjunct instructor in the humanities at Union College (Kentucky, USA). His translation of Hildegard's The Book of Divine Works appeared from the Catholic University of America Press in 2018. He also co-edits this Society's online edition of Hildegard's Symphonia.


[1] I have used this same point of contact to use the text of the LDO to support analysis of the Scivias illustrations: see Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Picturing Hildegard of Bingen’s Sight: Illuminating Her Visions,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Jennifer Bain (Cambridge University Press, 2021), pp. 257-279, at 270. 
[2] St. Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018). 
[3] Under my hypothesis, this is because the illustrator worked directly from the vision text itself, which uses only spatial relationships and not cardinal directions without reference to the later commentary that specifies cardinal directions. See Campbell, “Picturing Hildegard of Bingen’s Sight: Illuminating Her Visions,” pp. 275-276. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

O beata infantia

Psalm antiphon for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(R 470vb-471ra) by Hildegard of Bingen
O beata infantia
electi Disibodi,
que a Deo ita inspirata est
quod postea sanctissima opera
in mirabilibus Dei
ut suavissimum odorem balsami
O blessed childhood
of Disibod, the chosen—
an age inspired so by God
that then such holy works
within God’s wonders
you distilled,
like balsam’s freshest scent.
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

Hildegard likely composed this antiphon around 1170, while writing The Life of St. Disibod, to round out the liturgical office started with her three earlier pieces (O mirum admirandum, O viriditas digiti Dei, and O presul vere civitatis). It follows a standard hagiographical conceit that notes the presence of miraculous holiness already in the childhood of a great saint. As Hildegard explains in The Life of St. Disibod:[1]
Then, awake in body and mind, through the loving-kindness of wisdom, I heard a voice from heaven, which said: “Disibod, the chosen of God [electus Dei], inspired from his infancy [ab infantia sua…inspiratus] by the Holy Spirit, as were blessed Nicholas and blessed Benedict and others like them, longed with a thirsting heart for every good that he saw or heard.” For this reason it can be said of him: You have perfected praise from the mouth of infants and nurslings because of your enemies, so you may destroy the enemy and the avenger [Ps 8:2 (8:3)].

This is to be understood in the following way. In the good feelings of infants, who do not yet have the power of speech, and of those who ought to be sucking milk rather than doing miracles, you, who are the Lord of all, have brought the praises of your name to perfection. You have often worked your miracles in them, when you so inspired those not yet fully developed to bring forth many things unknowingly speaking and acting in the Holy Spirit, and when you have strengthened others against the claims of the flesh with such fortitude that they strive toward heavenly things with all desire and do not do the works of the flesh by sinning. Let no one have any doubt whether in these blessed people the serpent’s cunning will impede the doing of these good and holy things. For, you perfected these things on account of your enemies [Ps 8:2 (8:3)], namely, the doomed angels, so that to their confusion they saw your power in childish ignorance. Thus you destroy that enemy, who rejects you in all good things, and the avenger [Ps 8:2 (8:30)], the one who throws the rocks and spears of his impiety [cf. Eph 6:16] against your words and miracles by criticizing and corrupting them.

These evils had no success in such blessed men, because they spoke what was right. Through his gifts, God was at work in blessed Disibod from his infancy to his old age, so that in his boyhood his play did not involve wickedness, and in his youth he did not burn with wantonness, and in his mature old age his gaze did not stray to the left. In his heart and body he abandoned all the pomp of this world. Because of this some claimed he was stupid, others that he was vain, others that he was mistaken, but others said that he was wonderful in his works [cf. Ps 139 (138):14]. They asked, “What is is it that he [is] doing?”
     —Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, cc. 1-3
Barbara Newman notes that Hildegard’s own childhood was marked by visionary “precocity” (Symphonia, p. 292), and Hildegard here seems to project her own experience, with all of the complications that came with it, onto the blank canvas of Disibod and the generic trope of a saintly prodigy. Moreover, the antiphon displays two particularly Hildegardian characteristics. The first is the slightly strange way in which Hildegard often abstracts the subject. In the prose of her Life of St. Disibod, she introduces the saint straightforwardly: “Disibod, the chosen of God, inspired from his infancy by the Holy Spirit [Electus Dei Dysibodus, ab infantia sua Spiritu Sancto … inspiratus].” But in the poetic register of the antiphon, Hildegard shifts the inspiration to the childhood itself (infantia … que a Deo ita inspirata est).

The second element that puts Hildegard’s stamp on this piece is the image of “balsam’s freshest scent” (suavissimum odorem balsami). Balsam is one of the ingredients in chrism, the holy oil used in Christian churches for sacramental anointing and crafted and blessed at the hands of bishops. As a result, Hildegard’s characteristic term for a bishop is pigmentarius, “spice maker,” a term she also applies to Disibod in The Life of St. Disibod. Moreover, she dynamically deployed the image of this aromatic sap dripping from its tree to express the miraculous appearance of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary (cf. verse 2 of O tu suavissima virga; Scivias 2.3.13). For Hildegard, the natural extension of that image is to see the monastic life of virginity as exuding in the same way—she uses the simile in Scivias 2.5.13 for the origins of the monastic way of life, and it appears in the opening of Columba aspexit to express the glistening sanctity of St. Maximin. Balsam thus provides Hildegard a way to imagine to the aromatic expression of sanctity and virtue.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: A
Range: G below the final to G above the final
Setting: syllabic, neumatic and one long melisma

This is a short work in the A modality. The phrasing is not as regularly punctuated by the final or fifth of the mode as is typical of Hildegard. number of lines begin with G below the final, and the performer might consider the use of G as a connector in some cases. For example, the first two lines of the transcription could be connected as one thought - an expanded salutation: “O blessed childhood of Disibod, the chosen.” Lines 4, 5 and 6 appear to use non standard pitches as opening notes intentionally. Staves 6 and 7 comprise one phrase and can probably be performed without a pause.

On the fourth staff the reader will note that there is a missing pitch. I added E as a suggestion. Also the B that appears in parentheses is faint in the manuscript - the ink could have chipped or perhaps it was a stray mark. It makes sense if one wishes to avoid the leap of a fourth.

Further Resources for O beata infantia


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, Two Hagiographies: Vita sancti Ruppert confessoris; Vita sancti Dysibodi episcope, ed. Christopher P. Evans, trans. Hugh Feiss (Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations, 11; Paris, Leuven, Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2010), pp. 86-89. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

O viriditas digiti Dei

Responsory for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(D 162r-b, R 470v) by Hildegard of Bingen
R. O viriditas digiti Dei,
in qua Deus constituit plantationem
que in excelso resplendent ut statuta columna:

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.

V. Et o altitudo montis
que numquam dissipaberis
in differentia Dei,
tu tamen stas a longe ut exul,
sed non est in potestate armati
qui te rapiat.

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.

Gloria Patri
et Filio et Spiritui sancto.

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.
R. O fresh viridity of God’s creative finger,
in which God planted his green vineyard
that glistens in the heights, a lofty pillar:

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!

V. And O, the mountain’s height!
O never shall you be laid low
when God marks the difference—
no, you stand yet afar, an exile,
but not ensnared by that brigand’s power
who snatches after you.

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!

Glory be to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.
Note: Newman’s edition follows a textual variant from Letter 74r to Abbot Kuno, which reads “discretione” instead of “differentia” in the versicle (Riesenkodex, fol. 347rb); we have followed the text as found in the musical settings of the responsory.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This responsory was the second of the pieces that Hildegard “revealed” for the community of Disibodenberg, and it continues seamlessly the themes first established by the antiphon O mirum admirandum. St. Disibod’s presence “glistens” upon the monastery’s mountaintop, shimmering like sunlight filtered and dappled through the green leaves of its garden and vineyard—the plantatio, a classic metaphor for the monastic house that for Hildegard was also literal, given her experience keeping the monastery’s gardens. Yet the saint is also purposely kept separate from the monastery as “an exile” from the scandal that Hildegard chastises in the house. As one study of this responsory points out, its visionary text in Hildegard’s letter (no. 74r) to Kuno, the Disibodenberg’s abbot, is not formatted for liturgical use as a responsory; rather, the above arrangement comes from its later appearances in the two manuscripts that preserve its musical notation.[1] However, as noted in the commentary to O mirum admirandum, Hildegard’s letter specifically situates the problems of the monastery within the failures of its liturgical service to God. It is likely that, when she dispatched the textual letter to the Disibodenberg, she had the messenger also commit the melodies she composed for the three pieces within it to memory, to be recited for and learned by the men’s community. That messenger may even have been her beloved secretary and confidant, Volmar, who remained his entire life a brother of the Disibodenberg, on permanent loan to Hildegard’s community at the Rupertsberg as provost and spiritual advisor.

While imagery of the garden and its viridity is classically Hildegardian, she provides a unique emphasis in this responsory through the musical setting of the refrain. As Tova Leigh-Choate, William Flynn, and Margot Fassler have recently argued:[2]
It is the saint’s preparatory work that is celebrated in the repetendum: Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei. Hildegard set the repetendum as a joyous melody with an extensive melisma of over 50 notes on the penultimate syllable “o” of preparatione. Three times as long as the chant’s opening melisma, the preparatione melisma emphasizes the chant’s highest note (g) through repetition of the note itself and the melisma’s entire opening arc (the rise to g and subsequent descent to G […]). This internal repetition not only highlights the word preparatione but also echoes the earlier word plantationem, whose penultimate syllable “o” descended in like manner from e to G, after peaking on g […]. As the repetendum would have been chanted at least twice, its repetitive preparatione melisma would have been the most memorable part of the performance. Hildegard clearly wanted to emphasize the preparatory work of St. Disibod.

Like every good confessor, Disibod would have prepared for the Lord’s coming with “loins girt and lamps burning” (Lk. 12:35-6). These verses from Luke may have opened the Gospel reading for Disibod’s feast at the Disibodenberg and Rupertsberg […]. But Hildegard’s line also brings to mind the preparatory themes in Isaiah 40:3 (“prepare ye the way of the Lord”) and in Ephesians 6:15 (“and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”).[3] Like the wilderness prophet and precursor of Christ, John the Baptist, and like the Christian who has “put on the armor of God,” Disibod strengthened himself and his followers to stand firm—like the mountaintop that will not be leveled—against the wiles of the devil. […]

The melodic parallels between the settings of plantationem and preparatione suggest that Hildegard viewed Disibod’s founding of a monastic community, represented by the image of the vineyard, as integral to his preparatory work.
By constructing the image of St. Disibod’s “lofty pillar” upon the City of God’s mountaintop as one that “cannot be laid low” by the divine forces that “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3-4), Hildegard implicitly contrasts his eternal, spiritual stability with the problems at the earthly Disibodenberg that her letter takes to task. “At God’s discretion” (Hildegard wrote in discretione Dei in the letter to Abbot Kuno, which was later changed to in differentia Dei for the liturgical version of the text), she seems to suggest, that monastic house might very well topple to the ground if its brothers and abbot do not set their affairs in order and stop trying to interfere with the holy work of Hildegard’s new community at the Rupertsberg. Indeed, in her later years, Hildegard would often prophesy in dark and loathsome visions the radical disendowment of the Church in punishment for the sins of her ministers. Drawing on the Augustinian image of being pilgrims and exiles in this world that she used, for example, in Cum erubuerint, Hildegard implies here that the monks have ceased to be, like their founder and patron, “exiles” from the Earthly City and true citizens of the Heavenly City (an image to which she will return at the opening of the sequence for St. Disibod, O presul vere civitatis).

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

B mode (plagal version of E mode)
Range: G above the final B to C below the final
Setting: primarily syllabic and neumatic with several longer melismas

The use of the plagal version of the E mode, with B as the final, is unusual for Hildegard. Punctuation in this work is primarily achieved by using the final and/or E. Readers will note that the transcription includes a number of lines that begin with D, either below or above the final. In those cases where the text indicates that the phrase beginning on D belongs to what went before (in the previous line of the transcription), I have added tick barlines to indicate the full idea. If the long section cannot be performed in one breath, it would be possible to breath at the end of the first line in those instances where a barline has been included.

There are minor differences between the sources, with one exception. Dendermonde does not include the Gloria patri.

Further Resources for O viriditas digiti Dei
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 182 and 291.
  • Leigh-Choate, Tova; Flynn, William T.; and Fassler, Margot E. “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220, esp. p. 203. 
[2] Ibid., pp. 205-6. 
[3] As Newman notes, the parallel with the famous verses in Isaiah that prefigure the Baptist is extended in the second versicle with the reference to the “hills made low” (Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 291). 

Monday, July 4, 2022

O mirum admirandum

Psalm antiphon for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(D 162r, R 470va) by Hildegard of Bingen
O mirum admirandum,
quod absconsa forma
precellit ardua
in honesta statura,
ubi vivens altitudo
profert mistica.
Unde, o Disibode,
surges in fine, succurrente
flore omnium
ramorum mundi,
ut primum surrexisti.
O wonder, so wondrous!
A hidden form,
so hard, so steep, surpasses
in its lofty honor—
where Living Height itself
reveals the mysteries.
And so, O Disibod,
you shall arise at the end of time
as first you rose—
the flow’r of all the branches of the world
comes to your aid.
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 is one of several pieces that Hildegard composed in honor of St. Disibod, the patron of the Disibodenberg, the monastery where she was first enclosed and grew up. She first provided this antiphon, together with the responsory, O viriditas digiti Dei, and the sequence, O presul vere civitatis, as part of a visionary letter in answer to a request in the early 1150’s from the Disibodenberg’s abbot, Kuno, for any information revealed to her concerning the patron.[1] These three pieces appear in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript (fols. 162r-163r); they are joined by two other, rather more generic antiphons (perhaps to fill out the office), in the Riesencodex (fols. 470v-471r and 475v). Kuno’s letter (no. 74) may have been an attempt to patch things up between his community and the nascent Rupertsberg, to which Hildegard had recently relocated her growing community of nuns from the Disibodenberg. The move had been contentious—Kuno had initially refused Hildegard’s request for it, and even after he relented under the pressure of “the Living Light,” the two communities continued to argue bitterly for several years over the rights to the lands dowered to the Disibodenberg upon the entry of the women into the community before the move.

Though including the texts that would be used liturgically, Hildegard’s response (Letter 74r) was not, at first, warm:
O how foolish is the man who does not amend his own life, and yet delves into other people’s private affairs and, with a torrent of words like rushing waters, noises abroad all the vices that he finds hidden there. Let the man who does this hear the words of the Lord: “O man, once having tasted of good works, why are you deaf to their music, for they resound before God like a symphony? Why do you not examine your own heart and reject your unabashed lasciviousness? I am the One who brings the lost sheep back to the fold, the One to whom you should always turn, but you fail to do so, and thereby slap me in the face, rejecting my wounded hands and feet. And so you will answer to me concerning the house of your own heart and concerning the city I made and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Why are you not afraid to break the man that you did not create? You fail to anoint him and, therefore, neither cover nor protect him, but rather, you afflict him grievously with the heavy rod of correction. Now the period of your decline is at hand, but God, who created you, does not wish to lose you. Therefore, take these things to heart.”
These words of rebuke likely begin in censure of Kuno’s efforts to interfere with the financial administration of Hildegard’s community, but soon indicate that those “lascivious” efforts interfere in the spiritual life of the Disibodenberg, too. Hildegard showcases here her Benedictine spirituality, in that “the taste of good works” (gustus bonorum operum) are intuitively linked to the Opus Dei, the sung liturgies of the “Work of God,” enjoined by the Rule. The foolish, worldly concerns of Abbot Kuno have thus rendered those good deeds of liturgical service mute, and the consequences come in several Hildegardian images—ecclesiastical corruption “wounding” Christ anew, and alienation from the Heavenly City of Jerusalem that serves as the exemplar for the monastic community here on earth. Fundamentally, however, what Kuno and his brethren have done is to betray their patron and founder, blessed Disibod—their “heavy rod of correction” that has errantly fallen on Hildegard and her community turned back onto the bones at the most concrete center of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Her choice to respond to Kuno’s request for “any revelation of God” concerning Disibod with liturgical compositions, rather than the full-fledged hagiographical vita of the saint that she would compose two decades later (see here for more on her Life of St. Disibod), thus reflects the way in which the liturgical life of the community forms its heart. The symphony of God’s work connects the monastics who chant it with its source in the heavenly symphony that resounds ubi vivens altitudo profert mistica—“where Living Height itself reveals the mysteries.” This first antiphon in the three hagiographical pieces that follow Hildegard’s admonition sets the stage for the themes that will dominate, “the pervasive dichotomies of hiddenness, humility, and exile, and height, honor, and liturgical community.”[2] These abstract pairs of ideas, however, are rooted in the concrete placement of the Disibodenberg high atop a mountain, and yet St. Disibod’s choice even after founding the community to remain but a lowly hermit clinging to the steep hillside.

The antiphon is situated both within and outside of time, as St. Disibod’s “form” governed the monastery, first while “hidden” within that hermitage, and now while “hidden” within the celestial glory of the heavenly city. Moreover, Hildegard plays on the concept of “rising up” (surges and surrexit) to mirror Disibod’s initial climbing of the mountaintop with his resurrection at the end of time. Thus, she intentionally seeks to connect the current community to their founder through this communion of sanctity, both looking back to its founding and forward to its eschatological consummation. Finally, crossing all of these temporalities at once, Hildegard uses the present participle succurente (“aiding”) to invoke the help of Christ, “the flow’r of all the branches of the world,” in the divine work of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: G below the final to C above (Dendermonde Version); G below the final to E an octave above (Riesencodex Version)
Setting: primarily syllabic, some neumatic

Because there were extensive divergences in some lines between the sources, it was decided to create separate versions for Dendermonde and Riesencodex. The big differences begin on Line 7 of both transcriptions, though smaller ones are found earlier. Essentially, the R version is set in a higher range than that of D. One can speculate that the original (D) was too low for a particular singer.

There is one peculiar interval in the Riesencodex—line 6 of the transcription on the words profert mistica. There is an unusual leap of a sixth, from C (the last note of profert) to A (the first of mistica). This is rendered as a fifth in D (B to F), but a Bb must be added there to avoid a tritone. There is no signed flat in the source.

While most of the musical punctuation is fairly typical—use of the final and the fifth to outline phrases—there are some deviations. The first four lines of the transcriptions presented some vexing issues as far as alignment of the melodic phrasing and text. While word order in Latin is not so definitive as word order in English and other languages, Hildegard’s text phrases are generally congruent with musical ones. You will recall from other commentary on this site, that melody generally prevails, especially when standard text punctuation is consistently applied. In this case I chose to begin Line 2 of the transcription with D and kept it as the opening pitch of Line 4. It creates a somewhat awkward text phrasing. An alternative for those who prefer the final as phrase marker might be:
O mirum (E to E)
admirandum quod absconsa (E to E)
forma precellit ardua (E to E)
When the sources diverge, D remains more conventional, with the change to A as the punctuating pitch. In R, we see a more unusual use of C and G to open phrases, with G and B as closures respectively on those lines.

Further Resources for O mirum admirandum
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 180 and 290-91.
  • Leigh-Choate, Tova; Flynn, William T.; and Fassler, Margot E. “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Kuno’s request is Letter 74, and Hildegard’s response Letter 74r, in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), pp. 160-2; The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 158-62. 
[2] Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220, esp. p. 202. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

An Introduction to Hildegard’s Life of St. Disibod

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

“The Ruins of the Disibodenberg Monastery".
Lithograph, 1833. From Gemeinfrei IGL-Bildarchiv.
The Disibodenberg was the monastery where Hildegard began her religious life in 1112; became the leader of the women’s community in 1136; and composed her first work, Scivias (1141-1151). It had been founded by St. Disibod, a seventh-century Irish bishop who traveled to Germany and eventually founded the monastery on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Glan and Nahe rivers. It later fell into disrepair and had only been revivified from a house of canons to one of reform-minded monks just a few years before Hildegard took up residence there. Around 1170, Hildegard composed The Life of St. Disibod, Bishop (Vita sancti Dysibodi episcopi) at the request of Helengar, the abbot of Hildegard’s one-time abbey, the Disibodenberg, Drawing on her “mystic visions”—but likely also the material contained in the Disibodenberg’s Chronicle—Hildegard wrote eloquently about the exiled bishop turned monastic father and hermit. The themes she develops mirror her own views and experiences of the religious life and illuminate the pieces of liturgical music she had composed for St. Disibod in the 1150’s.

Born of wealthy stock in Ireland in the early seventh century, Disibod—as was common for such saints—lived an exemplary childhood before entering holy orders and receiving ordination as a priest at the age of thirty. Other sources indicate that Disibod lived 619-700, but Hildegard chose never to include specific dates in her hagiography of the bishop, perhaps to achieve the same ambiguous sense of atemporality that pervades her liturgical compositions for the saint. Upon his ordination, Hildegard writes:
He then did as would a good pigmentarius [spice, dye, or ointment maker], who plants pigment-bearing and aromatic plants in his garden, taking care always that his garden was green and not parched. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 5)
Though still just a priest at this point in his life, Hildegard’s description alludes to his future as a bishop, as pigmentarius was her peculiar visionary term for bishops in their roles as chrism-makers and anointers in the sacrament of confirmation (cf. Scivias 2.4). Moreover, we see already how central the metaphor of the spiritual life as a garden, green and verdant, will be in her version of his story.

Disibod seemed content to live a quiet, humble life in the pursuit of divine wisdom, but God had different plans for the budding saint. Despite the objections of those “whose life was blameworthy,” the local people elected him after their bishop died, and despite his own reluctance to leave the seclusion of his quiet, spiritual garden, he accepted the commission as “a teacher and bishop” (magister et antistes; c. 8). He labored “manfully and strongly” at this commission, and his holy teaching and proclamation of “the justice of God” inspired many in the local church, including a group of close-knit companions who gathered around the bishop to support him. Unfortunately, that support was not sufficient against the growing enmity of a laundry-list of enemies and heretics, especially those who found Disibod’s spiritual discipline too harsh for their taste.
Finally, aided by a multitude of unbelievers, they expelled the suffering man from his see with many insults. He preferred to serve God in quiet rather than waste any more time with no useful result. So he gathered a few religious men around him and for the sake of Christ’s name left behind the see of his honorable office, which he had ruled for ten years vigorously and devoutly, his country, and all that he had. (…) And so, with a happy mind and for the sake of eternal life, he undertook the pilgrimage that he had long desired. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 12)
His exile took him to Germany, where he found the way of life that would fulfill his humble yearnings:
But while he tarried in that province, deliberating about where he could turn next, he heard of the good and sweet reputation of St. Benedict’s form of religious life. Benedict had recently passed on to the Lord, and had left behind many people who loved his way of religious life. And so, Disibod recognized through the prompting of the Holy Spirit that he had not yet fulfilled a desire of his. For a long time he had wanted, in place of the people formerly committed to him, to join to himself some men of true and perfect form of religious life. For this is why he had gone again and again from place to place, and still neither in the places nor in the lifestyles of the inhabitants did he find what pleased his soul. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 13)
Hildegard here offers a subtle reminder of why she referred to Disibod in her liturgical compositions as still an exile—“the lifestyles of the inhabitants” of his own monastery were failing to “please his soul.” In the next excerpt, she then implicitly compares her own visionary charism—which included the divine revelation of the place of the Rupertsberg—to Disibod’s; as Hugh Feiss notes, “It is probably true that the vita of Disibod tells us more about Hildegard than about St. Disibod. (…) Hildegard uses the vita to admonish the monks of St. Disibod to return to their pristine fervor, and it reveals something of her understanding of what monastic life should be.” (Two Hagiographies, p. 32)
Because of the viridity of Disibod’s good desire, at this point God accepted his prayers. He sent into Disibod’s mind the sweet consolation of repose, just as dew falls upon the grass. In a night vision God also showed him by a certain manifestation that sometime he would find a place which matched what he prayed for. For to this blessed man, as to others of his beloved who desired God with all their longing on account of their great and good intention by which they strove for him faithfully with all their heart, God appeared as present in vision, speech, and hearing.
After crossing [the River Glan, near the Rhine], he saw a high, wooded peak. After ten years of pilgrimage he went up it. Exhausted, he sat down there and rested. Touched by the Holy Spirit, he said to his companions (…): “Here will be my rest.”

When he had traveled all around the mount and diligently examined all its slopes, its beauty satisfied his soul more and more as a place where he should dwell. Its height offered difficult access to those who came there, while the streams that flowed on both sides offered bodily refreshment to those staying there. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, cc. 14, 16-7)
St. Disibod and Companions.
Engraving by Raphael Sadeler, 1594.
From Wikimedia Commons.
Disibod began to live the hermit’s life of fasting, vigils, and prayer upon the mountain’s slopes, while his three companions built shelters some distance away. As the reputation of his holiness spread, more and more people were attracted to the holy mountain—some to take up residence in the growing monastic community; others to seek healing, guidance, and miracles; while wealthy nobles began to endow the holy house with the lands surrounding the mountain. As the community grew to over fifty monks in twelve years, Disibod served as a committed and masterful teacher of the brothers under his care, fortifying them with the virtues of holiness and spiritual discipline in their fight against the Devil:
In this way this holy man began to unite and strengthen his sons. (…) The Holy Spirit, who had planted this community, also watered it, so that dew fell upon the fertile field, and those who lived in it under discipline ascended from virtue unto virtue. They met with no impediments from the ancient tempter, because wherever the Holy Spirit is with his miracles, there the ancient enemy will be terrified. He will not even dare to enter there. But if he stealthily sows something there, the Holy Spirit will again tread it down in consternation. Signs and miracles of God followed the merits and holiness of blessed Disibod, and these were often renewed without being wearying, because God always makes things new. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 25)
Though Disibod remained for the rest of his long life the Abbot Father of the community, he never joined the brothers in the oratory and other buildings that he built upon the summit. Rather, he remained throughout in a small oratory upon the eastern slope, living as the hermit whose life, like St. Anthony’s, is the root and summit of the monastic discipline described in the Rule of St. Benedict—thus informing another set of paradoxes that Hildegard invokes in her liturgical compositions, of spiritual loftiness rooted in earthly lowliness.
This servant of God lived among his own as a hermit, which way of life is the root of the life of monks, because men of this way of life withdraw from the world in all ways and live in solitude amid the praise of the angels. Their life is so laborious that many, because of their bodily or mental weakness, could not bear it, should they rashly and hastily undertake it. Living in this confining way of life, by teaching and example [doctrina et exemplo] the blessed father strengthened his subjects for every good work, like a man who makes a fire burn very hot. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 29)
St. Disibod
Oil on canvas, 17th c.
(From Colonial Art)
This portrait of Disibod’s fathership of his community reveals how deeply Hildegard was imbued with St. Benedict’s careful balance of holy strictness and caring, tender concern; and perhaps that Disibod had learned a bit from his rough experience as a bishop in Ireland:
He never received the habit of the monastic form of religious life, which his community used, because he allowed his subjects a way of life according to the Rule of blessed Benedict that was milder than his own. He did this for fear that if he were in a habit like theirs and did not want to lay aside the harsh rigor of his vigils, fasts, and other bodily renunciations, he would distract from their religious observance and detract from their common life. (…) From the time when he was driven from his see until the end of his life, he celebrated the divine rites of the altar not in the manner of bishops but according to the custom of poor priests. From this he had no mental unrest but happiness of heart, because he was imitating the suffering of Christ. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 30)
After more than thirty years of faithful service to this community, Disibod’s health began to fail. He appointed his successor as abbot, and gave instructions that he be buried, not in the monastery upon the hilltop, “but in the shaded arbor of his oratory [in humili umbraculo oratorii sui], in which he had served God as a solitary” (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 34). Having faithfully kept the spiritual garden of his life like the pigmentarius (spice or dye maker) to which Hildegard compared him at the beginning, those spice trees and fragrant flowers came at last into full bloom:
After many labors and many troubles in the eighty-first year of his life, on the eight day of the Ides of July, he accepted the end of the present life. (…) His passing was immediately followed by a very sweet odor, like that of balsam, myrrh, and frankincense, and all other scents. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 35)
The remainder of the vita tells of the ups and downs of the Disibodenberg’s community in the centuries that followed—foreign invasions that led to abandonment; reestablishments later disendowed by greedy nobles; and several episodes of worldly monks whose vainglory got in the way. Hildegard connects the foundation’s history into that of the German church when she claims that St. Boniface, “Apostle of the Germans” and bishop of nearby Mainz, himself presided over the translation of Disibod’s relics in 754 from his humble oratory upon the mountain’s slope into the main oratory at its summit (c. 45). Though Hildegard kindly omits any mention of her own disputes with the “vainglory” of the current community—which, however, she did censure in the sermon she delivered to the community with the finished vita—the parallels with previous failures are clear enough. She chooses instead to close the saint’s life with an exhortation of hope, grounded in the eschatological perspective that she takes in the liturgical compositions:
So now let there be praise to God, who always fights against the ancient serpent in such a way that he removes every wrinkle of sin until the consummation of the world [cf. Eph. 5:27], when every disposition of his faithful will fully appear as he originally arranged it. Then the ancient serpent will be completely overthrown, since he will not be able to do anything for himself or to others, nor will he be able to give glory to anyone. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 54)

  • Summarized and adapted, with Latin text from Hildegard of Bingen, Two Hagiographies: Vita sancti Ruppert confessoris; Vita sancti Dysibodi episcope, ed. Christopher P. Evans, trans. Hugh Feiss (Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations, 11; Paris, Leuven, Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2010), pp. 86-157.
  • The older edition of the Latin text can be found in Patrologia Latina 197, cols. 1095-1116.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

O choruscans lux stellarum

Votive Antiphon for the Dedication of a Church (R 472vb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O choruscans
lux stellarum,
o splendidissima specialis forma
regalium nuptiarum,
o fulgens
gemma, tu es ornata
in alta persona
que non habet maculatam rugam.
Tu es etiam socia angelorum
et civis sanctorum.
Fuge, fuge speluncam
antiqui perditoris,
et veniens veni in palatium regis.
O sparkling,
starry light,
O special, splendid form
of royal marriage,
O flashing
gem, you are adorned
in high nobility,
with neither spot nor blemish marred.
You are the angels’ partner
and a citizen with saints.
Flee, flee the den
of the ancient destroyer,
and coming, come into the palace of the King.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Although this antiphon lacks a rubric in the manuscript, its placement right after the other three antiphons marked “For the dedication of a Church,” leads us to assume that it, too, is devoted to the Church. Its traditional imagery confirms this: the Church is the royal bride of God (cf. O virgo Ecclesia), “with neither spot nor blemish marred”—Hildegard’s version of Ephesians 5:27. But beyond the traditional imagery, there are two elements that give it its uniquely Hildegardian stamp: first, the antiphon implicitly identifies the order of virgins with the Virgin Church that it celebrates; and second, like O virgo Ecclesia and Nunc gaudeant, it situates that Church within the dramatic conflict of salvation history.

The figures of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Church, and the virgin nuns of Hildegard’s monastery frequently coalesce under common images. In this antiphon, we thus find echoes of the “jewel resplendent” from the antiphon for the Virgin Mary, O splendidissima gemma; and the “high nobility” (alta persona) of the Church in this antiphon operates in the same register as the noble stock of the Virgin that opens the hymn, Ave generosa. Meanwhile, in the letter known as “The Proem to the Life of St. Disibod” (delivered to the monks of the Disibodenberg nearly two decades after Hildegard and her nuns had left the monastery to found the Rupertsberg), Hildegard sketched out an elaborate vision of salvation history interlinked with cosmology, where two heavenly bodies (planetae) whose positions heralded the birth of Christ represent the virgins and monks who would “adorn” the Church with their light. Building on her frequent identification of the angles with the stars, she continues:
But just as the star revealed [the Son of God] to devout people, who, in turn, illumined the whole world, so, too, virgins and monks once adorned the Church, and all people spoke of them as if they were angels, just as the prophet had exclaimed about them, “Who are these, that fly as clouds, and as doves to their windows?” [Isa 60.8]
     —Letter 77r[1]
Similarly, in a vision in The Book of Divine Works, Hildegard sees the “avenue” or path of virginity illuminated by “the brightly shining star” of Christ’s exemplary virginity, while additional rays of starlight beam all around:
These signify that within that protection above in the heavens, the paths of virginity are covered round about on all sides. For with an unconquered power, virginity, which began with the Son of God and was fortified by the Holy Spirit’s strength, also enjoys the guardianship of the angelic spirits; because virginity is a companion of the angels [socia angelorum], it merits their companionship in return.
     —The Book of Divine Works 2.1.12[2]
Thus the starlight of this antiphon both connects the Church with the angelic hosts above and highlights the particularly brilliant place of virgins within the Church’s identity.

Equally striking is the darkness of “the den of the ancient destroyer,” which the Virgin Church’s light puts to flight. At the broadest level, this is a reminder of the Church’s mission to escape the ancient enemy. As with the veiled references in O virgo Ecclesia, this too might be a warning against heretics—Hildegard’s vision of the Devil enchained in Scivias 2.7 concludes with a similar admonition, likely against Cathars: “And flee from those who linger in caves and are cloistered supporters of the Devil” (Scivias 2.7.22).[3]

But more personally, the exhortation to flee from the Devil’s den and come instead “into the palace of the King” targets, again, the virgin nuns of her community. In The Book of the Rewards of Life (Liber vitae meritorum), Hildegard notes that, because “the innocent blood of Christ and his martyrs joined the promise of virginity to itself,” the devil hides shamefully in caves to hatch his plots against it (LVM 5.38[52]).[4] And to complete the circle that connects virgin nuns with the Church and back to the Virgin Mary, we find that troubled soul, fighting against the Devil’s whirlwinds, declares, “And so I look to God Who gave me life, and I run to the Most Blessed Virgin who trod underfit the pride of the ancient cavern [antiquae speluncae], and thus I am made a strong stone of God’s edifice” (Scivias 1.4.7).[5]

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: A
Range: E below the final to E an octave and a fifth above
Setting: primarily syllabic with long melisma on the last word

In this antiphon, Hildegard alternates between the use of A, the modal final, and E as phrase demarcators. Several phrases as they have been transcribed here either end or begin with other pitches (G, B or F). There are potentially other interpretations of the phrasing in some of these cases.

The opening salutation, according to the melodic line, is probably intended to be O choruscans. It begins and ends on the final, and the next line opens with a leap from A to E, which appears on the next phrase on the O. Leaps are often found as phrase openers with Hildegard. To be clear, and because the piece is generally known by the longer title, I put parentheses around lux stellarum instead of changing it to be consistent with the generally accepted protocol in which the title is equal to the first line of the song. Performers can, of course, be free to interpret differently.

For example, o fulgens gemma tu es ornata in alta persona can be divided in different ways, depending on whether one is prioritizing melodic or verse/language structure. The linguistic sense might lend itself more to this:
O fulgens gemma
tu es ornata
in alta persona

Taking that approach, however, would mean that tu would begin a phrase on D, which is unusual and appears nowhere else in the piece. Often when she uses unusual tones to outline phrases, she does so more than once in the song, which serves as a clue to her intent.

In performing, it would make sense to sing lines 4 and 5 as one phrase.

Lines 6 and 7 on page 1 of the transcription might be considered one phrase, which would negate the use of F as a grammatical opening device on line 7.

Lines 6 and 7 might also be approached as one phrase from a musical perspective, though not perhaps from that of the text.

As far as the melisma on the last word, regis, is concerned, there is no musically logical place to break, so other options are possible than dividing it in half as I did here.

It is not our practice to add or suggest editorial ficta, and there is no version of this antiphon in the Dendermonde that could help with knowing when to add flats. A few clues exist, however. Repeated motives might be treated similarly, and tritones nullified by the addition of Bb in those instances where the scribe does not sign it.

Further Resources for O choruscans lux stellarum


[1] The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 169. 
[2] St. Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, 2018), p. 281. 
[3] Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of the Rewards of Life, trans. Bruce W. Hozeski (Garland, 1994 / Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 243. 
[4] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), p. 301. 
[5] Adapted from Scivias, trans. Hart and Bishop, p. 115; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), p. 71. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

O orzchis Ecclesia

Votive Antiphon for the Dedication of a Church (R 472va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O orzchis Ecclesia,
armis divinis precincta
et iacincto ornata, tu es caldemia
stigmatum loifolum
et urbs scientiarum.
O, o, tu es
etiam crizanta
in alto sono et es
chorzta gemma.
O Church immense,
with arms divine enfortressed
and jacinth set: you are the sweet aroma
of peoples sealed by wounds,
and the city of all knowledge.
O, o, you are
anointed too
in soaring song, you are
a sparkling gem.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This is one of Hildegard’s most noted antiphons, because it is her only musical composition (and indeed her only piece of writing outside of the glossary) that uses words from her Lingua Ignota, her “Unknown Language.” This invented language is preserved in a glossary of some one thousand words (all nouns) in two manuscripts (the Riesencodex, fols. 461v-464v; and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Ms. lat. qu. 674, fols. 58r-62r)—but to see how the language worked in action, we have only this antiphon for evidence. Hildegard’s invented words in this antiphon are given the following Latin glosses in two manuscripts that preserve its text (the notated version later in the Riesencodex has no glosses):
Gloss in
fol. 405va
Gloss in Stuttgart,
Cod. theol. et phil.
qt. 4 253, fol. 28r
orzchis immensa immensa “immense”
caldemia aroma aroma “aroma”
loifolum populorum populorum “of the peoples”
crizanta ornata uncta “adorned” / “anointed”
chorzta choruscans chorusca “sparkling”
Nativity, with virgin and unicorn below, from Floreffe Bible, 12th century.
Scivias 2.5:
The Orders of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 66r
When these invented words combine with the rest of the Latin text, we find a panoply of synesthetic images projecting a characteristically Hildegardian vision. The imagery is dense and cryptic, moving—as Hildegard’s poetic symbols usually do—from register to register without always betraying the connections. It draws upon the Church as the Heavenly Jerusalem, the city described in the Apocalypse of St. John as a Bride adorned, her walls set with precious gems (Rev. 21) and echoing with the heavenly symphony. This is the same towering figure of the Church presented in Scivias 2.5, immense and powerful, yet also gilded and graceful. As imagined in the illustration Hildegard designed for that vision, she appears with golden flames reaching up behind her shoulders like the crenellations of a fortress. Meanwhile, she holds at her breast Hildegard’s virgin nuns as they sing their liturgical songs, adorned like Ecclesia as brides in silver-white veils and golden coronets.

The jacinth of the antiphon is both the deep-red gem found in the breastplate of Israel’s high priest (Ex. 28:19) and the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:20), as well as the deep-purple or blue flower known as the hyacinth. Hildegard saw that blue color of hyacinth intermingled with the red glow of dawn from Ecclesia’s throat to navel in Scivias 2.5, illustrated in the manuscript image with gold, but echoed also in the deep-red cloaks of the figure of Virginitas and two of the virgin nuns on either side of her, as well as in the blue-colored vestments of a bishop (identifiable by his pallium) to the left and behind Virginitas and a nun to the right. This figure of the Church possesses both the strength of priestly authority symbolized by the jacinth gemstone and the virginal purity with which Hildegard invests hyacinth blue.[1]

The imagery of the “sparkling gem” (chorzta gemma) also helps us begin to unravel one of the antiphon’s more cryptic “unknown” lines, the caldemia / stigmatum loifolum. The glosses for caldemia and loifolum are relatively clear (“aroma” and “of the peoples”), but the Latin word in between them (stigmatum) is complicated. Stigmata are marks or brands, originally cuts made into a person to form identifying scars. They are also, as we know from the experiences of later holy people like St. Francis of Assisi, the marks of Christ’s wounds that appear in the flesh of his followers, to mark them as his own. The range of ideas that can be wrapped up in this phrase is thus diverse. At one end, you have the marks of identity with which the Church, through baptism, brands her citizens. These are fragrant, in order to announce their virtue (the odor virtutum is one of Hildegard’s recurrent images: cf. verse 2a of O ignis Spiritus paracliti; verse 6 of O Ierusalem; and verse 5 of O Ecclesia); but also to announce the particular power of virginity, channeled through the Virgin Mary (cf. O quam magnum miraculum and verse 3 of O viridissima virga) and the Virgin Church into the virgins of Hildegard’s monastery. In another vein, those marks of identity are the wounds of the martyrs, which become the redolent blooms that adorn the Church in the responsory Vos flores rosarum. Meanwhile, at the other end of the range of images, they are the scars of sin, wounds for which the Church herself supplies fragrant, medicinal balm.[2] Christ himself pleads his Father in the finale of the Ordo Virtutum that these, his wounds (vulnera mea) should be transformed so that his body might appear “full of gems” (plenum gemmarum). The polyvalent logic of Hildegard’s highly compressed visionary language forestalls any attempts to pin down just one of these meanings. They all are at play.

In fact, the very nature of language itself becomes a theme of this antiphon because of the use of words from the Lingua Ignota. It could very well serve as Exhibit A alongside Hildegard’s apologia for music in the famous Letter 23, written to defend her monastery against an interdict (a ban on sung liturgy) imposed in the last year of her life. There, Hildegard articulated an argument for the saving necessity of singing based on her view that before the Fall, Adam’s language was the powerful singing tongue of the angels. Music is the language of heaven, and the Church embodies her heavenly presence and future through singing. Michael Embach has convincingly argued that a fundamental motivation for Hildegard’s invention of the Lingua Ignota was to recapture that prelapsarian Adamic voice.[3]

This allows us then to make sense of another one of the antiphon’s potential puzzles: the Church as “the city of all knowledge.” Barbara Newman has noted, “from a prophet like Hildegard, who on principle rejected all human teaching, urbs scientiarum is an unexpectedly humanistic title for the New Jerusalem.”[4] But the restorative nature of the Lingua Ignota indicates that the “sciences” which the Church embodies are not humanistic but divine in origin. This is knowledge restored to its unfallen purity. Hildegard often writes of the confusion wrought in human knowledge by the Fall:
For the knowledge of inner sight teaches a person about divine things, though the flesh opposes it, while blinded knowledge enacts the works of night according to the serpent’s sight, which does not see the light. So too, the serpent turns as many as he can away from the works of light, just as he did with Adam when he clouded the light of living knowledge within him.
     —The Book of Divine Works 3.1.2[5]
It is the “knowledge of inner sight” that the Church contains and administers, with “the light of living knowledge” restored to her by Christ. By using the words of a new language that yearns to recapture the lost voice of primal human rationality, Hildegard’s antiphon celebrates “in soaring song” the power that the Church has to effect that restoration in her members. As Hildegard puts in another of her antiphons for the Church, O choruscans lux stellarum, they thus become “the angels’ partners and citizens with the saints.”

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: E
Range: C below the final to E an octave above
Setting: primarily syllabic with several melismas

From a musical perspective, phrases in this work are delineated primarily by the modal final and the pitch B, with two exceptions. The first is found on the second line of the transcription, which begins with G. The second appears on the second-to-the-last phrase in which D is placed on the word in. This is not especially unusual, as Hildegard often dips to the pitch below the final to open a phrase, especially when the ideas between the two are closely related.

For those who prioritize text rhythm, it will be necessary to break with the musical phrases as I have set them up. In particular, there are two instances where this is most apparent. The first concerns the text, O, O, tu es, which from a verse standpoint one might want to make O, O its own phrase. Et es on the second-to-the-last line is treated similarly. The reason for this is that F is not generally used as a grammatical marker in this mode, and by ending the phrases on E, the openings of the following lines, etiam crizanta and chorzta gemma fall on B, the secondary demarcator in this mode. My first inclination was to go with the text, but in looking at it more closely, this would have meant the use of three different musical verse markers, two of which are not the norm for E mode. Hence the decision was made to prioritize the musical outlining.

Further Resources for O orzchis Ecclesia
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 252 and 316-17.
  • Dronke, Peter. “Hildegard’s Inventions: Aspects of her Language and Imagery,” in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld, ed. Alfred Haverkamp (Mainz: Trierer Historische Forschungen/P. von Zabern, 2000), pp. 299-315, at 306-308.
  • Higley, Sarah L. Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language. An Edition, Translation, and Discussion (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), pp. 30-32.
  • Schnapp, Jeffrey. “Virgin Words: Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota and the Development of Imaginary Languages Ancient to Modern,” Exemplaria 3.2 (1991): 267-298, at 292-94.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

[1] For a more detailed argument about Hildegard’s design of the Scivias illustrations, see Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 36-39 and 57-61 (online here); idem, “Picturing Hildegard of Bingen’s Sight: Illuminating Her Visions,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Jennifer Bain (Cambridge University Press, 2021), pp. 257-259 (online here). 
[2] See Sarah Higley, Hildegard of Bingen’s Unknown Language. An Edition, Translation, and Discussion (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), p. 31. 
[3] Michael Embach, Die Schriften Hildegards von Bingen: Studien zu ihrer Überlieferung und Rezeption im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. 269-271. 
[4] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley, 1987; 2nd ed., 1997), p. 204. 
[5] St. Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, 2018), pp. 377-378.