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. 

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