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 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 Hildegard’s first work, Scivias. The 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 centerstage 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 a capacious 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.