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.