Wednesday, August 1, 2018

O rubor sanguinis

Antiphon in evangelio, likely for the Magnificat at First Vespers for St. UrsulaBack to Table of Contents
and the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne (D 167r, R 471vb), by Hildegard of Bingen
O rubor sanguinis,
qui de excelso illo fluxisti
quod divinitas tetigit: tu flos es
quem hyems de flatu serpentis
numquam lesit.
O bloody red
that flowed from up that height
divinity has touched: a bloom you are
that winter with the serpent’s blast
has never marred.
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 starkly imagistic antiphon makes no specific reference to the story of St. Ursula and her companions. Instead, it describes their identities as virgin martyrs with a web of symbolic connections that mark it as a peculiarly Hildegardian piece. The specific redness (rubor) of the martyr’s blood flowing into flower recalls the redolent rosebuds of her antiphon for martyrs from the Scivias symphony, Vos flores rosarum. But it is the additional, virginal dimensions that give this antiphon its unique spin. Fittingly for an antiphon paired with the Magnificat, this piece’s bloom echoes clearly that of the Virgin Mary, especially from the short antiphon Hodie aperuit nobis, where her flower blooms to open the gate “choked” (suffocavit) by the serpent. In the antiphon above, Hildegard keeps the metaphor a little bit more contained by imbuing the serpent’s hiss with the cold, withering winter wind. But that hiss will still be choked (suffocatum est) by the “pearls” of Ursula and her companions—their virginal bodies—in the last verse of the sequence, O Ecclesia.

Echoes and reflections of Hildegard’s pieces to the Virgin suffuse many of the pieces in her Office for St. Ursula, to the point where the individual early medieval noblewoman named Ursula—if she ever even existed—is subsumed beneath the symbolic waves of her blood (to invoke another image from Vos flores rosarum). In both her virginity and her martyrdom, she becomes so utterly identified with, at turns, Mary, the Church, and Christ, that Ursula herself disappears behind the mask of one caught up in the drama of salvation.

One of the roles she plays in that drama, hinted at through verbal echo alone in this antiphon, is is that of prophetic witness. The “height [that] divinity has touched” (de excelso…quod divinitas tetigit) is, in its clearest signification, the Father’s heart from which the Word sprang forth, first creating and then incarnate, as described in the Marian antiphon, O splendidissima gemma. But the phrase also echoes “the mysteries of the mountain that touched heaven” (mistica montis qui celum tetigit) from the antiphon for the prophets and patriarchs, O spectabiles viri. The opening verses of Hildegard’s hymn for the Office of St. Ursula, Cum vox sanguinis, make the connection more explicit, for there the voice of Ursula’s blood resounds in heaven, and “ancient prophecy” (antiqua prophetia) responds to accept its drenching sacred touch. Her blood is revelatory.

The pathway along which Ursula is sublimated into a universal, unveiling archetype in salvation history is here the pathway along which her blood’s redness flows all the way up to divinity’s height. But it is also a pathway that flows back down, to allow other individual actors to be joined into her archetype. For Hildegard, Ursula’s power as a virgin-martyr is exemplary, and as such, one that can be shared. It is then no surprise to notice that Ursula’s power is often Hildegard’s own—as a virgin flower, she withstands the wintry blasts of the devil’s devices, in order that her voice too might proclaim the divinity’s mysteries.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: C below the final to F and octave and a third above
Setting: syllabic with one long melisma

This short piece is fairly straightforward. Hildegard employs both the modal final and A, the secondary significant tone in this mode, as grammatical markers. She begins the last phrase on D, but numquam. is outlined by B and A. Differences between the sources are minimal.

Further Resources for O rubor sanguinis
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 232 and 309.
  • Berschin, Walter. “Eine Offiziendichtung in der Symphonia Hildegards von Bingen: Ursula und die Elftausend Jungfrauen (carm. 44).” In Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of her Thought and Art. Ed. Charles Burnett and Peter Dronke. London: The Warburg Institute, 1998, pp. 157-62.
  • Flanagan, Sabina. “Die Heiligen Hildegard, Elisabeth, Ursula und die elftausend Jungfrauen.” In Tiefe des Gotteswissens - Schönheit der Sprachgestalt bei Hildegard von Bingen. Ed. Margot Schmidt. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog, 1995, pp. 209-22.
  • Flynn, William. “Hildegard (1098-1179) and the Virgin Martyrs of Cologne.” In The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. Ed. Jane Cartwright. University of Wales Press, 2016, pp. 93-118.
  • Flynn, William. “Reading Hildegard of Bingen’s Antiphons for the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne: Rhetorical ductus and Liturgical Rubrics.” Nottingham Medieval Studies 56 (2012), pp. 174-89, at 177, 180, and 182.
  • Walter, Peter. “Die Heiligen in der Dichtung der hl. Hildegard von Bingen.” In Hildegard von Bingen, 1179-1979. Festschrift zum 800. Todestag der Heiligen. Ed. Anton Ph. Brück. Mainz: Selbstverlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1979, pp. 211-37, at 223-29.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography

Spiritui sancto

Responsory at First Vespers for St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgin-Martyrs of Cologne (D 167r, R 471v)
by Hildegard of BingenBack to Table of Contents
R. Spiritui sancto
honor sit, qui in mente Ursule
virginis virginalem turbam
velut columbas collegit.
Unde ipsa patriam suam sicut Abraham reliquit.

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

V. Nam iste castissimus et aureus exercitus
in virgineo crine mare transivit.
O quis umquam talia audivit?

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui sancto.

R. Et etiam propter amplexionem Agni
desponsationem viri sibi
R. Honor to the Holy Spirit,
who in the Virgin Ursula’s mind
a virginal brood has gathered
like doves.
So too she’s left her homeland like another Abraham.

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.

V. For that golden troop so chaste
has crossed the sea with virgin tresses.
O who has ever heard of such a thing?

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.

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

R. And to embrace the Lamb,
a husband’s troth
she has cast off.
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

As this responsory tracks Ursula’s virginal mission, we glimpse some of the ways in which Hildegard configured her early medieval model in order to track her own life’s journey. The repetendum affirms the central choice that defines the virgin’s office: the rejection of a human husband in exchange for betrothal to Christ (cf. verse 6 of O dulcissime amator). But for Ursula, the rejection of her arranged marriage was only the beginning of an inspired plan to bear witness to the glory of her true Bridegroom—a witness paid in blood in several other pieces of this Office. Hildegard, too, understood the community of virgins gathered around her as a prophetic mission inspired by the Spirit and the Living Light. Moreover, in the verse, she allusively parallels her choice to move her community from the Disibodenberg to the Rupertsberg with Ursula and her companions’ sea-borne pilgrimage from Britain to Rome. When in her last years Hildegard recalled the difficulties that accompanied that move, she explicitly compared herself to Moses leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea.[1] Furthermore, as Newman notes (Symphonia, p. 308), the “virgin tresses” (in virgineo crine) may perhaps refer to the distinctive way Hildegard’s nuns wore their hair on high feast days, like that of St. Ursula (see the Commetary to O nobilissima viriditas).

Yet alongside the Exodus allusion of the “golden army” crossing the sea, Hildegard explicitly names Abraham as the model for Ursula’s pilgrimage. This is because Abraham serves also as a model of the virgin’s renunciation of the lusts of the flesh in several of Hildegard’s later writings. In another autobiographical passage collected into her Vita, she notes, “Abraham, however, was given increase, because, being obedient to God, he strove with all his might against the clamourings of the flesh.”[2] Likewise, she draws a typological connection between circumcision (which she says represents “the spiritual life”) and Christ’s virginal humanity in the Liber Divinorum Operum 3.2.8: “For as the dawn comes before the sun, so in the sign of circumcision, in which he ground away lust, Abraham preceded the Son of God’s humanity.”[3] These late parallels bolster William Flynn’s argument for dating Hildegard’s office for St. Ursula to the last decade of her life.[4] Finally, in the opening verse of its great hymn, Cum vox sanguinis, Hildegard’s invokes Abraham as a prophet-visionary of the Trinity (through the Three Visitors at the Oak of Mamre in Genesis 18), among a whole line of Old Testament types that merge Ursula’s martyrdom with Christ’s sacrifice and the heavenly banquet.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: E below the final to A an octave above
Setting: primarily neumatic with several melismas

Spiritui sancto opens with the salutation, while the second phrase begins with a similar melody and then diverges, reaching to the high A on the word, mente (“mind”). This same opening device appears throughout.

Most of the phrases are outlined by the modal final, A. Many of the phrases are quite long, so one would want to consider perhaps a tempo that would enable them to be sung on one breath. As is our practice, some are broken into two lines so as not to crowd the score, and a tick barline has been inserted to mark the end of the phrase. Whenever possible for long phrases, we try to break the line on E, which is the second most significant tone in the mode.

Most of the phrasing is fairly regular in this piece, though there is one interesting place in the verse where the musical grammar diverges from the textual syntax. On page 3 of the transcription, it makes sense to group o quis umquam talia audivit together (line 2). Musically, however, the phrase that begins on the first line should end, by the way Hildegard uses the tonal markers here, after “o” on line 2. I have inserted a tick barline as a guide.

The piece employs A as the final, but it is likely transposed, given the number of B flats that are signed in the sources. As usual, we only place flats where they are indicated in the sources, and so singers will need to make interpretive decisions. Given the way the flats are deployed differently in the manuscripts, it would appear that certain flats are intended to be continued until the end of a word or phrase. The same could apply to repeated melodic segments in which a flat was signed earlier.

Further Resources for Spiritui sancto
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 230 and 307-308.
  • Flanagan, Sabina. “Die Heiligen Hildegard, Elisabeth, Ursula und die elftausend Jungfrauen.” In Tiefe des Gotteswissens - Schönheit der Sprachgestalt bei Hildegard von Bingen. Ed. Margot Schmidt. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog, 1995, pp. 209-22.
  • Flynn, William. “Hildegard (1098-1179) and the Virgin Martyrs of Cologne.” In The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. Ed. Jane Cartwright. University of Wales Press, 2016, pp. 93-118.
  • Walter, Peter. “Die Heiligen in der Dichtung der hl. Hildegard von Bingen.” In Hildegard von Bingen, 1179-1979. Festschrift zum 800. Todestag der Heiligen. Ed. Anton Ph. Brück. Mainz: Selbstverlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1979, pp. 211-37, at 223-29.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Vita S. Hildegardis 2.5, trans. Anna Silvas in Hildegard & Jutta: The Biographical Sources (Brepols, 1998 / Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), pp. 164-65. 
[2] Vita S. Hildegardis 2.14, trans. Silvas, p. 176. 
[3] Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, 2018), p. 367; Liber diuinorum operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke (Brepols, 1996), p. 362. See also 3.4.10, trans. Campbell, p. 410; Latin text, p. 400. 
[4] William Flynn, “Hildegard (1098-1179) and the Virgin Martyrs of Cologne,” in The Cult of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, ed. Jane Cartwright (University of Wales Press, 2016), pp. 93-118. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rex noster promptus est

Responsory for the Holy Innocents [Dec. 28] (D 166v-167r, R 472rb) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
R. Rex noster promptus est
suscipere sanguinem innocentum.
Unde angeli concinunt et in laudibus sonant.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem

V. Tirannus autem
in gravi somno mortis
propter maliciam suam suffocatus est.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui sancto.

R. Sed nubes
super eundem sanguinem
R. Our King is swift and ready to
receive the blood of innocents.
So sing the angels and with praise resound.

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood

V. That tyrant still
was choked by death’s oppressive sleep
in punishment of his grave wickedness.

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood

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

R. But yet—the clouds
this blood
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

“But yet—the clouds this blood bewail.” This responsory’s lyrical pathos comes in its repetendum, whose lengthy melisma on plangunt contains an echo of the phrasing for sanguinem in the opening responsorium. As Newman notes, the clouds here take up Rachel’s cry of lament for the blood of the innocent children shed by King Herod in Matt. 2:16-18 (Symphonia, p. 307). Characteristically, however, it is neither mother nor matriarch weeping for these children, but creation itself responding to the sacrilege—an idea rooted in the Bible’s first bloodshed, when God tells Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Thus, in explication of a verse from the opposite end of Scripture, about the martyrs (Rev. 6:11), Hildegard writes:
Those are called their fellow servants who are slain for the faith and for justice, while their brethren are those who will be consumed at the end of time by the Antichrist, like the infants consumed by Herod, who denied the Son of God, as too the Antichrist will deny him. For the voice of a person’s outpoured blood rises up through his soul to cry out and lament that it has been driven from the seal of the body in which God had placed it. Thereafter that soul receives the merit of its works, either in glory or in punishment. Blood’s first voice, indeed, raised up its cry to God in Abel, for Cain had foolishly and forcefully destroyed the structure of God’s work.
     —Liber divinorum operum III.5.13[1]
Herod was a standard type for the Antichrist, but in her Gospel Homilies 10-13 (Expositiones Evangeliorum) on Matthew’s infancy narrative, Hildegard expands the allegorical scope to make him a figure of the Devil.[2] This, too, is the scope of the responsory’s contrast between God “our King” (rex noster) and Herod the “tyrant” (tirannus), for the fundamental error for both the Devil and Herod is the pride that denies the reality of God’s kingship and tyrannically tries to usurp God’s place. As Hildegard explains in explication of Matt. 2:18:
A voice in Ramah,’ namely of miseries, ‘was heard’ above, ‘wailing and much lamentation,’ that is, distress and sadness when Pride oppressed Innocence by striking it. ‘Rachel weeping for her children,’ evidently holiness, because the eyes of its knowledge brought forth weeping. She had lost ‘her children’ even as the children, who were supposed to possess an inheritance, were disinherited; but the innocent lamb demanded them back with his own blood.
     —Gospel Homily 11 (p. 66)
To see with “the eyes of [holiness’] knowledge” is to recognize God’s true Light, to see reality for what it really is, and therefore truly to live. But to deny that light is to be plunged into darkness, confusion, and death—and this is how Hildegard characterizes Herod’s punishment, “choked by death’s oppressive sleep” (in gravi somno mortis […] suffocatus est). Elsewhere, Hildegard uses a similar phrase to describe the blindness of the Jews to Christ’s divinity, a blindness that would lead them to kill him just as Herod killed the innocents: “For the eyes of the Jews were heavy in the shadow of death [in umbra mortis grauati sunt]: when they heard the words of prophecy, they cast them aside with the true Flower whom the entire earth itself recognized when he breathed his last upon the cross” (Liber divinorum operum III.5.18). As the clouds mourn the spilt blood of the innocents, so too all the elements when touched by the Crucified’s, as in Hildegard’s antiphon, O cruor sanguinis.

Despite the dark violence that sheds it, innocent blood shimmers and sings in Hildegard’s view (cf. Cum vox sanguinis). Through the clouded grief shines the angelic light and its joyous song, for the Christmas peace shatters the tyrant’s power:
In that day when the angels sang of the peace given to humankind, my Son was born of a Virgin, magnified by the angels and glorified by the shepherds who were searching with pious devotion. And the fruit of the earth abounded—the earth to which peace had been restored and the air bestowed its sweetness; and theirs was the joy who among the sons of Jacob had been freed from evil’s past tribulation, for they had once been crushed with just judgment by many tribulations. Furthermore, when the light of true faith illumines the hearts of the faithful, my Son will be magnified in them, for they will believe that he came forth from me; and they will glorify him when they confess that he has returned to me in glory. So too for them will the fruit of good works be lifted high. Their joy will also be increased when they have been snatched from the devil’s power and freed from the punishments of hell, to be counted among the children of God.
     —Liber divinorum operum III.5.18

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: C below the final to E an octave above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic with some melismas

This short responsory is fairly straightforward in phrasing, in which the final E is the primary grammatical marker. Note that the salutation is extended to include promptus est, which ends on E. A tick barline has been placed at the end of that segment for clarification purposes.

There are a number of differences between the sources – some important, some less so. Two significant ones include the opening pitches, which are given as D in Riesenkodex. As the piece is clearly in the E mode, this should probably be considered as a scribal error.

The second has to do with the response, Sed nubes super eundem sanguinem plangunt. It begins on the pitch B, the commonly used secondary tone in this mode. Note that the two final iterations of the response, page 2, lines 3 and 6, of the transcription, show what appears to be an error in the Dendermonde manuscript. Sed begins on A, which is unlikely, as the response is always sung the same way. Riesenkodex gives it correctly.

As far as the other divergences, which are primarily related to different ornamental neumes and some pitch variances, whenever possible I have tried to avoid the ossia staves and notated the differences above the staff. However, some simple changes were still difficult to explain succinctly, hence the partial ossias.

Further Resources for Rex noster promptus est


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works, trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell (Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming 2018). 
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Homilies on the Gospels, trans. Beverly Mayne Kienle (Cistercian Publications / Liturgical Press, 2011), pp. 62-74. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

O Pater omnium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer

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

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

Transcription and Music Notes

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

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

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

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

Further Resources for O Pater omnium

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

O dulcissime amator

Symphonia virginum / Symphony of Virgins (D 165v-166r, R 478ra-va) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1a. O dulcissime amator,
o dulcissime amplexator:
1b. Adiuva nos custodire
virginitatem nostram.

2. Nos sumus orte in pulvere,
heu, heu,
et in crimine Ade.
Valde durum est contradicere
quod habet gustus pomi.
Tu erige nos, Salvator Christe.

3. Nos desideramus ardenter te sequi.
O quam grave nobis miseris est
te immaculatum et innocentem
regem angelorum imitari.

4. Tamen confidimus in te,
quod tu desideres gemmam requirere in putredine.

5. Nunc advocamus te, sponsum et consolatorem,
qui nos redemisti in cruce.

6. In tuo sanguine copulate sumus tibi
cum desponsatione,
repudiantes virum et eligentes te,
Filium Dei.

7. O pulcherrima forma, o suavissime odor
desiderabilium deliciarum,
semper suspiramus post te
in lacrimabili exilio.
Quando te videamus
et tecum maneamus?

8. Nos sumus in mundo
et tu in mente nostra,
et amplectimur te in corde
quasi habeamus te presentem.

9. Tu fortissimus leo rupisti celum,
descendens in aulam Virginis,
et destruxisti mortem,
edificans vitam in aurea civitate.

10. Da nobis societatem cum illa
et permanere in te, o dulcissime sponse,
qui abstraxisti nos de faucibus diaboli,
primum parentem nostrum seducentis.
1a. O lover sweet,
so sweet the embrace:
1b. Help us to keep
our virginity!

2. In dust we were begotten—
in Adam’s guilt.
So rough it is now to refuse
whatever tastes of that one fruit.
Set us aright, O Savior Christ!

3. We burn in our desire to follow you.
How hard it is for us, the wretched,
to imitate your innocence,
the spotless King of angels.

4. Yet we have put our trust in you,
for you desire to seek again a gem in putrefaction.

5. Now unto you we cry, our bridegroom and our consolation,
who has redeemed us on the Cross.

6. For in your blood we are betrothed to you—
your blood our wedding gift;
for mortal husbands we refuse, choosing you instead,
the Son of God.

7. O beauteous form, O fragrance sweeter than
the most desired of delights:
our sighs of longing ever seek for you
within this lonely wilderness of tears.
When shall we look on you
and with you ever stay?

8. We live within the world,
and you within our minds,
and we embrace you in our hearts
as if you’re present even now.

9. The mighty lion, you have burst the heavens,
descending tp the Virgin’s palace-womb,
destroying death
and building life within a golden city.

10. Grant us her company
to dwell with you, O bridegroom sweet,
who saved us from the devil’s jaws
who dragged our primal parents into death.

Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Notes on the Text

Verse numbers: Rather than numbering the verses, the manuscripts indicate the beginning of each new verse with a rubricated initial. In Dendermonde (fol. 165v), the first two
          rubricated initials are the first “O” and the “A” of “Adiuva,” but in the Riesenkodex (fol. 478ra), “adiuva” is not rubricated, and the second verse begins with “Nos.”

Verse 10: seducentis] R; seducentem, D: the accusative ending is nonsensical and likely a scribal error caused by the endings of the previous words in the line.

Transcription from Dendermonde, fols. 165v-166r:

Transcription from Riesenkodex, fols. 478ra-va:

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Hildegard gave this piece the unique title of Symphonia virginum, a “symphony of virgins.” Together with O Pater omnium (also called a symphonia, but for widows), and the morality play Ordo Virtutum, it represents the only non-liturgical (or perhaps para-liturgical) genre in Hildegard’s oeuvre. We do not have any direct evidence for when or where these pieces would have been performed, or for what purpose. Nevertheless, it has been reasonably conjectured that the Ordo Virtutum was premiered for the dedication of the Rupertsberg monastery on May 1, 1152, and may perhaps have been performed annually in commemoration of that event. The two symphoniae may similarly have been composed for communal performance whenever a new nun was professed into the abbey.

The liturgy of profession as a vowed female monastic is filled with bridal symbolism, and so it is not surprising to find Hildegard embrace the nuptial imagery of the Song of Songs throughout this symphony. Newman has catalogued the parallels between the nuns and Solomon’s bride: “they praise their lover’s beauty and lament his absence (stanzas 7-8), extol his superiority above all others (stanza 6), bewail their own weakness (stanzas 2-3), and above all, plead for his help (stanzas 1-2, 4-5, 10)” (Symphonia, p. 305).

Intertwined with this highly conventional bridal imagery, however, is a structure more peculiarly Hildegardian: convergences between her virgins and the two great virgin mediators of God’s relationship to humanity, the Virgin Mary and the Virgin Church (Ecclesia). Mary’s model virginity suffuses Hildegard’s writings about the order of the Church to which she belonged, as for example in the antiphon, O pulcre facies. The final two verses of this symphony make this model explicit: because the Virgin is the mediator of Christ’s life-saving leap from heaven into humanity, it is in her company (societatem) that Hildegard’s virgins could follow that path in reverse, from the fallen frailty and mortal exile of “our primal parents” (first lamented in verse 2) to the “golden city” of heavenly, eternal life. Several of Hildegard’s compositions for Mary are likewise situated in that stark drama of death and redemption, with particularly strong verbal echoes between the symphony’s verse 9 and the responsories Ave Maria, O auctrix vite and O clarissima.

Another subtler parallel is found in verse 4 and the image of the virgins as a gem (gemma), which forms also the central conceit of the Marian antiphon, O splendidissima gemma. As documented in the commentary on that piece, Hildegard envisions the unfallen human body as such a “resplendent jewel,” reflecting and refracting the divine light of which the sun and stars are but dim shadows. Mary’s virginal body was by grace such a vessel, transparent and unpolluted, the perfect chamber for God’s presence that all other human bodies, following the inheritance of Eve, had scorned and vitiated with the darkness and shadow of sin. Thus the virgins in this symphony must at first bewail their fallenness, their gem-like bodies sunk in putrefaction (in putredine). But their yearning hope is affixed upon the radical idea that God himself wants to recover that gem despite the muck. So in the opening vision of Part III of Scivias, Hildegard sees the Living God “hold to His breast what looked like black and filthy mire, as big as a human heart, surrounded with precious stones and pearls.” As the commentary explains:
And to His breast, that is in the wisdom of His mystery, for love of His Son He holds that poor, weak, infirm mire that is Man [homo]: black in the blackness of sins and filthy in the filthiness of the flesh, but the size of a human heart, which is the breadth of the profound wisdom with which God created Man. For He has looked upon those who are saving their souls through penitence, and no matter how in their persistent weakness they have sinned against Him, they will come to Him at last. They are surrounded by ornaments, those great ones who rise up among them: martyrs and holy virgins like precious stones, and innocent and penitent children of redemption like pearls; so that by them the mire is surpassingly adorned, and the virtues, which so gloriously shine in God, shine also in the human body. For He Who put breath and life in Man was scrutinizing Himself. How? Because He foreknew and decided in advance that His Son would be incarnate to bring redemption; therefore, every stain of sin must be washed away from His body.
Therefore, the human form is to be seen in the inmost nature of the Deity, where neither angels nor any other creatures appear; because My Only-Begotten, to redeem the human race, assumed human form in the flesh of a Virgin. (…) O how beautiful is He! As the Pslamist says:

“Beautiful of form above the children of men” [Psalm 44:3]. This is to say: In Him shines forth beauty beyond beauty, the noblest form free from any spot of sin, without a splash of human corruption, and lacking all desire for the sinful works demanded by fleshly human weakness. None of these ever touched this Man. And the body of the Son of Man was born more purely than other people, for the stainless Virgin bore her Son in ignorance of sin.
     —Scivias III.1.4-8[1]
The Virgin Mary’s gleaming, gem-like purity was the matrix by which Christ himself took on human form—but it is through his pure humanity that all are offered the chance to imitate his beauty (celebrated in verse 7 of the Symphony), to recover their own lost purity. So he desires “to seek us again, a gem in putrefaction.”

Scivias II.6: The Crucifixion.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 86rr.
For Hildegard, the Virgin Mary’s mediating role in the Incarnation is directly transferred to the Virgin Mother Church, so that as Christ seeks to recover all humankind, it is through the Church’s motherhood we are born as he was born, and through her gleaming purity that his light shines. This transfer of office came upon the Cross, when Jesus gave his own earthly mother to John the Beloved (John 19:25-27) and betrothed himself to the Church. Thus verses 4-5 of the Virgins’ Symphony set Christ’s rescue of the gem from its filth in direct parallel to his redemption of us on the Cross:
…gemmam requirere in putredine.

…nos redemisti in cruce.
…to seek again a gem in putrefaction.

…has redeemed us on the Cross.
The nuptial imagery is joined (copulate) to the Cross even tighter in verse 6, in which Christ’s blood becomes the sign of betrothal (cum desponsatione). Likewise in Scivias II.6, Hildegard sees the Church standing below the Cross:
By divine power she was led to Him, and raised herself upward so that she was sprinkled by the blood from His side; and thus, by the will of the Heavenly Father, she was joined with Him in happy betrothal and nobly dowered with His body and blood.

And I heard the voice from Heaven saying to Him: “May she, O Son, be your Bride from the restoration of My people; may she be a mother to them, regenerating souls through the salvation of the Spirit and water.”[2]
In the last two verses of the Symphony, Mary becomes the Queen of the “golden city” (aurea civitate)—an instant invocation of the Heavenly Jerusalem of which the Church is the archetype, as found also in the opening line of O Ierusalem, the sequence for St. Rupert that Hildegard likely composed for the dedication of her own abbey in 1152. The sequence is an extended meditation on the convergence of the heavenly city with the walls of her own abbey church, its stained-glass windows glittering with the city’s bejeweled colors, which gleamed too in the virtuous life of St. Rupert (Verse 2b: Nam tu, o nobilis Ruperte, in his sicut gemma fulsisti). Though newly professed virgins taking their marriage vows to Christ on the Rupertsberg might not be immediately familiar with that piece, it would certainly soon enter their repertoire, to reinforce the network of ties between their own virginal lives and eternal virginal life.

Other compositions explicitly made for the dedication of churches also make these virginal symbols into ecclesiological ones. The holy city of heaven and its shimmering, crystalline light also characterize the antiphons O orzchis Ecclesia and O choruscans lux stellarum, the former of which also includes five words drawn from Hildegard’s invented “unknown language” (lingua ignota). Meanwhile, the antiphon O virgo Ecclesia also describes the Church’s betrothal to Christ under the banner of the Cross:
Sed o quam preciosus est sanguis Salvatoris,
qui in vexillo regis
Ecclesiam ipsi desponsavit,
unde filios
illius requirit.
But O, how precious is the Savior’s blood
that with the royal banner sealed
his bridegroom’s promise to the Church,
whose children
he is seeking.
The end effect of this network of images is to establish Hildegard and her virgin nuns as powerful heirs to the Virgin Mary and powerful participants in the Virgin Church. To be a Bride of Christ was also to reign as his Queen Consort. Although the temporal leaders of the Church were all male (her priests and prelates, bishops and popes), Hildegard subtly establishes a profound position of spiritual power for the women of her abbey. Though “in the world,” they live as brides of “the King of angels,” enthroned within their hearts (verses 3 and 8). With their mind fixed firmly on an eternal abode with him, he becomes “present even now” (verse 8), descending into the abbey like once he descended into the Virgin’s “palace” (in aulam, verse 9). Received within those sacred walls, the virgins who sang this Symphony experienced the first sweet taste of eternal life with their Bridegroom, the boundaries between earth and heaven dissolved with the entrance of Christ the New Song (see Ave generosa, verse 7).

Commentary: Music
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: E
     Dendermonde: E mode transposed and ending on A
     Riesenkodex: E mode ending on pitch D (possibly an error)
     In both sources the piece moves away from E as a focal tone and then returns, either as E or as E transposed.
     Dendermonde: A below the final [E] to A an octave and a fourth above the final [E].
     Riesenkodex: A below the final [E] to E an octave above the final [E].
Setting: Primarily syllabic

O dulcissime amator is a most interesting work. There are significant differences between the sources that create some ambiguity as far as its modality is concerned. Because of the number of discrepancies, we have created two transcriptions, one representing the Dendermonde version (D) and the other the Riesenkodex (R). This was done to avoid having to make extensive use of ossia staves and annotations.

In both sources, the symphony begins with a salutation. The first phrase, O dulcissime amator, is outlined by the modal final, E. The next phrase, o dulcissime amplexator, begins on G and ends on E, thus suggesting that it functions as the second clause of the salutatio. The next phrase, adiuva nos custodire virginitatem nostram, is a plea by the virgins to the Saviour to assist them in preserving their virginity. In D, the word adiuva (“help”) is capitalized, while it is lowercase in R. Thus it is not entirely clear if this phrase represents an independent verse, and the transcriptions differ according to the sources.

In both manuscripts, the piece begins in the E mode, but the tonal shifts and divergences between the sources begin quite early. The phrase that commences with adiuva begins on the pitch G in D and on the pitch A in R, though it ends on E in both. The next verse, Nos sumus . . ., starts with the pitch C in both manuscripts. In D, the tonal focus begins to shift to G as a grammatical marker, but in R, the focus remains on C until the end of the verse, which finishes on the final E. This occurs on the last line of page one in both transcriptions.

E remains dominant, with excursions to other pitch markers until page 3 of the transcriptions, with the phrase segment, repudiantes virum eligentes te, filium dei. In D, this text finishes on A, and the next verse (O pulcherrima forma . . .) commences on F. In R, repudiantes . . . begins and ends on G, while O pulcherrima forma . . . begins on E. From this point on, the sources diverge. In D, the melody moves into the A modality, and flats appear. In R, the movement is downward to C. While the D version continues in A and reaches higher into the range, in R, there is a return to E as an outlining pitch on page 4 of the transcription. Curiously, the R version of the pieces ends on the pitch D, while Dendermonde finishes on A. I am going to suggest that the D ending in R is an error, as the E modality predominates quite clearly after the downward transposition to C. Furthermore, there is no coherent relationship between R’s final pitch of D and the E modality that underlies the major structure.

Because of the interesting tonal shifts in this symphony, I consulted with Dr. Sheila Mary Forrester, whose dissertation, “Hexachordal segmentation as analytical method applied to Hildegard von Bingen’s Symphonia,” (Florida State University, 2001), examines Hildegard’s songs from the perspective of hexachordal analysis. Unlike most Hildegard scholars, who focus on mode and modal transposition to explain some of Hildegard’s more unusual tonal/modal practices, she examines the tonal structures as hexachordal mutations. She believes that one possible explanation for the source differences is that there were indeed two versions of this piece. She also suggests that R might have been intended to accommodate a nun whose vocal range was more limited than that which would be required to perform the D version of this song. Both of these ideas are plausible, as the melodies in certain sections also differ. She also suggests that the B flats added in D be continued when the pitch B appears more than once on a single word, as it would be odd indeed for the melody to shift between natural and flat on the same word. These suggestions are added as notes in the transcription of the D version.

In D, an interesting correlation can be observed between grammatical markers and range. The piece begins in the low register and remains there for the initial verses. As the governing pitch begins to move increasingly toward G and A in the last two pages of the transcription, the emphasis also starts to shift to the higher register. There is also a correlation between the register changes and the text. The opening theme has to do with the sorry state of humanity and reveals the struggle that holy women have with maintaining virginity and resisting temptation. As the lyrics move into the exaltation of the nuns’ holy marriage and their celestial bridegroom, the melody ascends into the higher register and mostly remains there until the end.

In her edition (Hildegard von Bingen, Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, Volume VI. Hildegard Publishing Company), Marianne Richert Pfau regularizes the mode and retains E as the primary modality. This results in transposing large segments and thus departing from the manuscript sources. Unlike our editions, which are intended as literal renditions of the sources, hers are intended for performance and thus would require editorial decisions. In this case, editorial changes would have to be substantial, as hers are, as there is no easy way to reconcile the different manuscript versions.

To summarize, the widely variant versions of O dulcissime amator incorporate different modalities, ranges and melodies. In D, the E modality is transposed, after a series of tonal shifts, to A, on which it ends. The range of this version is considerably higher than in the R rendition. In R, the transposition is downward rather than upward as in D. Despite the tonal migrations, the E modality is mostly preserved, at least until the very end, with the anomalous final pitch D, which we have already concluded is probably an error. All of this is somewhat unusual for Hildegard’s songs. Modes are generally consistent, even in those that employ the non-standard A and C as finals, and the differences between the sources are not this dramatic.

Further Resources for O dulcissime amator


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 311-15; Latin text ed. Adelgundis Führkötter and Angela Carlevaris, CCCM 43A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 331-36. 
[2] Scivias, trans. Hart and Bishop, p. 236; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43, p. 230. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

O nobilissima viriditas

Responsory for Virgins (D 165r-v, R 471rb-va, Scivias III.13.7b) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
R. O nobilissima viriditas,
que radicas in sole
et que in candida
luces in rota
quam nulla terrena excellentia

R. Tu circumdata es
divinorum ministeriorum.

V. Tu rubes ut aurora et ardes
ut solis flamma.
R. O noblest green viridity,
you're rooted in the sun
and in the clear
bright calm
you shine within a wheel
no earthly excellence
can comprehend:

R. You are surrounded by
the embraces of the service,
the ministries divine.

V. As morning’s dawn you blush,
as sunny flame you burn.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell. Although this is marked as a responsory, neither of the manuscripts repeat the repetendum after the verse, as would be proper for the form.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Scivias II.2: The Trinity.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 47r.
The beautiful paradox of this responsory is its opening image for virginity vital and fertile—viriditas, one of Hildegard’s favorite terms that connects the fresh, green life of nature to the active Life of the divine and its triple role as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Here, Hildegard traces virginal viridity back to its source, “rooted in the sun” of divinity and its incomprehensible wheel—the rota is one of her classic images for the creative and eternal movement of the divine, as in the opening vision of Part III of Scivias, or the circles of gold, silver, and blue used to illustrate the Trinity in several visions of the Rupertsberg manuscript of that work. Yet, this spinning wheel of divine power is not some cold or distant formulation, but one that sparks and glows with the red blush of dawn and the sun’s warming flames, as Hildegard describes its virginal, life-giving activity in the versicle.

The refrain, meanwhile, carries God’s generally creative activity into the particular service that Hildegard and her nuns offered in their daily lives—the “ministries divine” (divina ministeria) are the opus Dei, the “Work of God,” as St. Benedict described the hours of prayer and musical praise that monastics living under his Rule were to offer every single day. For Hildegard, this divine service was practically sacramental as its sung praises became an open channel to connect her community of nuns to the heavenly choirs and their eternal ministry of praise—in enacting God’s work every day, she and her virgins became agents of divine grace and power. Indeed, the very veils and ornate jewelry with which Hildegard (in)famously clothed her nuns on high feast days were divinely-commanded signs of the verdant, virginal grace that worked within and through them. Their design was revealed in Scivias II.5, a vision of the Orders of the Church—and as the illustration for this vision in the Rupertsberg manuscript shows, preeminent among those orders were the virgins standing at the breast of Ecclesia, some in verdant green cloaks and others in the sky-blue of the Incarnate Word. In their center stands the dawn-red-cloaked Virginitas—Virginity herself, hands lifted in the same virginal praise of God as Virgin Mother Church:[1]
Scivias II.5: Virginitas &
the Orders of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 66r (detail)
After this I saw that a splendor white as snow and translucent as crystal had shone around the image of that woman from the top of her head to her throat. And from her throat to her navel another splendor, red in color, had encircled her, glowing like the dawn (…) and shining mixed with purple and blue [pupura hyacintho]. (…) And where it glowed like the dawn, its brightness shone forth as high as the secret places of heaven; and in this brightness appeared a most beautiful image of a maiden, with bare head and black hair, wearing a red tunic, which flowed down about her feet.

And around that maiden I saw standing a great crowd of people, brighter than the sun, all wonderfully adorned with gold and gems. Some of these had their heads veiled in white, adorned with a gold circlet; and above them, as if sculpted on the veils, was the likeness of the glorious and ineffable Trinity as it was represented to me earlier, and on their foreheads the Lamb of God, and on their necks a human figure, and on the right ear cherubim, and on the left ear the other kinds of angels; and from the likeness of the glorious and supernal Trinity golden rays extended to these other images.
     —Scivias II.5, Vision[2]
Hildegard elaborated this vision in a later letter to Guibert of Gembloux:
I saw that all the ranks [ordines] of the Church have bright emblems in accord with the heavenly brightness, yet virginity has no bright emblem—nothing but a black veil and an image of the cross. So I saw that this would be the emblem of virginity: that a virgin’s head would be covered with a white veil, because of the radiant-white robe that human beings had in paradise and lost. On her head would be a circlet [rota] with three colours conjoined into one—an image of the Trinity—and four roundels attached: the one on the forehead showing the lamb of God, that on the right a cherub, that on the left an angel, and on the back a human being—all these inclining towards the [figure of the] Trinity. This emblem, granted to me, will proclaim blessings to God, because he had clothed the first man in radiant brightness.[3]
When Tengswich, the magistra of a community of Augustinian canonesses in Andernach, wrote to Hildegard questioning the propriety of dressing her nuns in flowing white, silk veils, their hair bound only by a golden coronet (rota—the circlet of the crown and the wheel of divinity sacramentally combined, perhaps in a combination of gold and silver with blue enamel, to echo the illustration of the Trinity for Scivias II.2 in the Rupertsberg manuscript), Hildegard responded with a glorious defense of her virgins:
Because the beauty of woman radiated and blazed forth in the primordial root, and in her was formed that chamber in which every creature lies hidden. Why is she so resplendent? For two reasons: on the one hand, because she was created by the finger of God and, on the other, because she was endowed with wondrous beauty. O woman, what a splendid being you are! For you have set your foundation in the sun, and have conquered the world.
Listen: The earth exudes the viridity of the grass [terra sudat viriditatem graminis], until winter conquers it. Then winter takes away the beauty of that flower, and the earth covers over its vital force [viriditatem] so that it is unable to manifest itself as if it had never dried up, because winter has ravaged it. In a similar manner, a woman, once married, ought not to indulge herself in primordial adornment of hair or person, nor ought she to lift herself up to vanity, wearing a crown and other golden ornaments, excepts at her husband’s pleasure, and even then with moderation.

But these strictures do not apply to a virgin, for she stands in the unsullied purity of paradise, lovely and unwithering, and she always remains in the full viridity of the budding rod [in plena viriditate floris virge]. A virgin is not commanded to cover up her hair and her viridity [non habet tegmen crinium viriditatis sue in precepto], but she willingly does so out of her great humility, for a person will naturally hide the beauty of her soul, lest, on account of her pride, the hawk carry it off.

Virgins are married with holiness in the Holy Spirit and in the bright dawn of virginity [in aurora virginitatis], and so it is proper that they come before the great High Priest as an oblation presented to God. Thus through the permission granted her and the revelation of the mystic inspiration of the finger of God, it is appropriate for a virgin to wear a white vestment, the lucent symbol of her betrothal to Christ, considering that her mind is made one with the interwoven whole [intexte integritati mens eius solidetur], and keeping in mind the One to whom she is joined, as it is written: “Having his name, and the name of the Father, written on their foreheads” [Apoc. 14:1] and also, “These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” [Apoc. 14:4].[4]
Although the bridal imagery does not appear in today’s responsory, it does fill her another of her compositions, the “Symphony of Virgins”, O dulcissime amator. Nevertheless, this responsory does make clear the preeminent place that Hildegard perceived for the virgins whose mother she became—the most dedicated of God’s servants, and thus his most powerful agents of fertile grace and viridity.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

C mode
Range: G below the final to D an octave and a second above
Setting: primarily melismatic

In this responsory, the opening salutatio consists of the phrase, O nobilissima viriditas (“O most noble greenness”), with viriditas referring to the virgins. As with the corresponding antiphon, O pulcre facies, Hildegard likens the earthly virgins (nuns) to the Virgin Mary, as many of the same metaphors apply. They are rooted in the sun (divinity), blush like the dawn, shine and burn in the sun’s brightness, and are entwined in the embraces of God. The salutation, as is typical, emphasizes the key words through outlining by the final of the mode. Here, each of the words of the salutation is outlined by C.

The text continues with the phrase, que radicas in sole (“who are rooted in the sun”), which extends from the salutatio and begins to expound the various characteristics of these most noble creatures. On the word que, the final is replaced by the pitch E, but the phrase ends on C. In the next phrase, the most significant word, candida, is given a lengthy melisma that extends to the highest range of the piece. The emphasis, then, is on the brightness of the virgins, the highest order of saintliness and a signifier of their special closeness to the divine.

The theme of extraordinary sanctity continues with the text, quam nulla terrena excellentia comprendit (“which no earthly excellence can comprehend”). The final C outlines quam nulla terrena excellentia, while the verb comprehendit begins on C but ends on G, the dominant or second most significant pitch in the mode.

The respondendum (refrain) explicates the next theme, that the virgins are embraced by the divine (tu circumdata es amplexibus divinorum misteriorum). The use of non-standard pitches in this lengthy section—A and D as grammatical markers—might be considered as an indicator that the entire thought should be construed as one idea. This is, however, more than one can sing on a breath, and thus, the absence of a definitive tonal punctuator underscores the holistic nature of the phrase.

The closeness to divinity echoes again in the versicle that closes the responsory (the repetition of the refrain is not marked in the manuscripts): “As morning’s dawn you blush, as sunny flame you burn.” Through its analogy to Mary, this confirms again the special place virginity holds in the hierarchy of sanctity in Hildegard’s theology of the feminine.

Further Resources for O nobilissima viriditas


[1] 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; accessible online here
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), p. 201; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 174-5. 
[3] Letter 103r, trans. Peter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), p. 169; Latin text in Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium II, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), p. 253. 
[4] Letter 52r, adapted from The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 128-9; Latin text in Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91, pp. 127-9. Barbara Newman also notes the similarities between this letter and the above responsory (in Symphonia, pp. 304-5). 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

O pulcre facies

Psalm antiphon for Virgins (D 165r, R 471rb, Scivias III.13.7a) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
O pulcre facies
Deum aspicientes
et in aurora edificantes,
o beate virgines,
quam nobiles estis,
in quibus rex
se consideravit, cum in vobis
omnia celestia ornamenta presignavit,
ubi etiam suavissimus hortus estis,
in omnibus ornamentis redolentes.
O faces fair
that gaze on God
and build upon the dawn—
O virgins blessed,
how noble!
In you the King
can glimpse himself, for in you
he sealed once all the ornaments of heaven,
where too you are the lushest garden,
the fragrances of all its ornaments.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer

This antiphon and the responsory that follows it, O nobilissima viriditas, are the two pieces devoted to the Choir of Virgins in the celestial symphony of the final vision of Scivias (III.13.7). Whether as individual virgins in this antiphon or collectively as bearers of verdant virginity in the responsory, they are portrayed as analogues of the Virgin Mary. Were it not for the plural nouns in this antiphon and the manuscript rubrics identifying the songs as de virginibus, “for virgins,” one would be tempted to interpret them as pieces devoted to Mary, for the imagery recalls the attributes Hildegard assigns to her in the songs addressed to her. They mirror, for example, the two pieces devoted to the Virgin Mary that opened the Scivias symphony (III.13.1), O splendidissima gemma and O tu suavissima virga. In the latter responsory, the “divinity gazed upon a daughter’s beauty” (divinitas in pulcherrimam filiam aspexit), while in this antiphon, the gaze is reflected back by the beautiful faces of God’s daughters (O pulcre facies Deum aspicientes).

Other images common in Hildegard’s Marian corpus are gathered here, too—the dawn light in Hodie aperuit; the nobility of O frondens virga; and the nearly continuous imagery of the Virgin’s blooming branch and flower, enunciated here with the image of the aromatic garden (see e.g. verses 2-4 of O viridissima virga). Hildegard regularly refers to Mary as “a joyful ornament” (in the versicle of O clarissima) and a mirror of divine beauty (verse 4a of O virga ac diadema). In O quam magnum miraculum, God the King enters into “the female form subdued,” and it is quite simply woman (femina) who “builds up every sweet perfume of virtues” (omnem suavissimum odorem virtutum edificavit) to adorn the heavens. Likewise in this antiphon, God the King sees himself in the faces of the virgins as Mary was the mirror of the divine beauty.

Sanctity is often described by Hildegard as fragrant, and thus the concluding melisma on redolentes, a musical gesture of emphasis and the only melisma of any length in the piece, solidifies the theme of the special holiness of virgin women. The enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) was a common medieval metaphor for virginity, but in Hildegard’s hands (probably frequently smudged with dirt and streaked with green from actually working in the garden), it springs into beautiful, verdant, fragrant life. Experiencing the warm sunshine beaming into the garden and bursting its flowers into bloom might very well have provoked Hildegard in her praise of virgins in this antiphon, which also echoes her description of the Order of Virgins amid the towering figure of Ecclesia, Holy Mother Church in Scivias II.5.5:[1]
Scivias II.5: Orders of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 66r.
But you see that from her throat to her navel another splendor, red in color, encircles her. This means that after the teaching of the apostles had so invigorated the Church (…), there arose the noblest perfection of churchly religion, which tasted heavenly sweetness with burning ardor and stringently restrained itself in order to gird itself with secret power; rejecting the union of human coupling, it avoided the division caused by the bitterness of the flesh. How?

That splendor glows like the dawn from her throat to her breasts, for this perfection arose from the taste of the excitement of miracles and extended in virginal gladness to the sweet nourishment of churchly religion. And it shines from her breasts to her navel mixed with purple and blue; for she fortified herself for the stringency of inner chastity by the noblest training, namely by imitating the Passion of My Son to gain the celestial love He guarded in His heart. Therefore, where it glows like the dawn, its brightness shines forth as high as the secret places of Heaven; for the perfection that flowers in the state of virginity directs its strength not downward toward heavenly things, but miraculously upward to what is in Heaven.
As most perfect handmaids of the Virgin Mother Church and successors of the Virgin Mother Mary, the women in Hildegard’s convent live out virginal fecundity. The verb presignavit is, in this regard, particularly significant—it shows that virgins have a special place in God’s order and plan for the beauty of the world. At the heart of Hildegard’s perception of the relationship between eternity and time, divinity and humanity, is the notion that Christ’s Incarnation was eternally predestined. By corollary, the means by which God became Man—the Virgin Mother who bore him—was also predestined before all time; and thus, the female figures who mediate God’s presence and activity into the world after and in analogue to her are also predestined. If God had foreseen Mary’s blooming branch in the very first moment of creation (so verse 3a of O virga ac diadema), then so too did he foresee the fragrant gardens of his virgins blooming throughout the Church.

Transcription and Music Notes

E mode
Range: D below the final to G an octave and a third above the final
Setting: primarily syllabic, with some neumatic segments and one long melisma

The salutation in this antiphon is not as straightforward as is often the case, as there is no clear outlining by the final of the mode in the first phrase. O pulcre facies (“O beautiful faces”), which might be considered a brief greeting, begins on the final but concludes on A. This strategy leads to the conclusion that the next two segments should extend the initial salutation. Deum aspicientes (“gazing on God”) employs D and G as tonal markers, neither of which are usually grammatically significant pitches in this mode. This supports the notion that the phrase is an extension of the first and connected to what comes after. The final phrase, et in aurora edificantes (“and building upon the dawn”) concludes on the final It is thus possible to consider the three phrases (lines 1-3 in the transcription) as the entire salutatio. Though it is a bit long, it makes better sense musically than subdividing it. Of course, in performance, breaths might have to be taken, but the rhetorical effect would be enhanced if the entirety were conveyed as a single phrase.

O beate virgines begins the next idea, and is more predictably outlined by the modal final. The remainder of the piece employs the fifth as its grammatical marker. Lines 8 and 9 (omnia celestia ornamenta presignavit) comprise a single phrase, and a tick barline has been inserted to indicate this continuity.

The seventh line of the piece presents an odd juxtaposition of musical and textual grammar. The verb consideravit ends one grammatical phrase in the text, while the conjunction cum begins another subordinate clause. In normal practice, syntactic units of text would coincide with musical phrases, with the first phrase ending on the final (or, as in this piece, the fifth), and the next phrase beginning there. But in this line, the two textual clauses are conjoined within a single musical phrase, though the conjunction is made on the octave of the final.

The final image commences with ubi etiam suavissimus hortus estis (“where too you are the lushest garden”). The pitch B remains the primary tonal marker until the conclusion of the long melisma on redolentes on the final. The use of A to end the phrase in omnibus ornamentis is a bit surprising, as one would expect to hear B. Redolentes, however, is clearly its own unit.

Further Resources for O pulcre facies


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 204-205; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 179-180.