Saturday, July 19, 2014

O magne Pater

Antiphon for God the Father (D 153, R 466r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O magne Pater,
in magna necessitate sumus.
Nunc igitur obsecramus, obsecramus te
per Verbum tuum
per quod nos constituisti
plenos quibus indigemus.
Nunc placeat tibi, Pater,
quia te decet, ut aspicias in nos
per adiutorium tuum,
ut non deficiamus, et
ne nomen tuum in nobis obscuretur,
et per ipsum nomen tuum
dignare nos adiuvare.
O Father great,
in great necessity we are.
Thus we now beg, we beg of you
according to your Word,
through whom you once established us
full of all that we now lack.
Now may it please you, Father,
as it behooves you—look upon us
with your kindly aid,
lest we should fail again
and, lost, forget your name.
By that your name we pray—
please kindly help and bring us aid!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


In this antiphon, Hildegard continues to use the formal structure of the collect found in O Pastor animarum, but with an unusually high level of formality. Although at first glance, the generally traditional tone and (for her) restrained level of imagery may seem a bit stiff, several characteristically Hildegardian themes soon emerge.

The first half is an unadorned meditation on the state of neediness and lack in which we humans find ourselves. God made us through his Word with a fullness of being, of life and vitality, that we have managed to drain away, left by our own devices half-blind and lost, fumbling through the shadows in a desperate attempt to fill the emptiness gnawing at our hearts.

But crucially, this empty neediness and hollow echo chamber of sin need not be the end. The second half of the antiphon fills out the plea of line 3 by calling upon God to act in accordance with his very nature, which is to fill all things with his overflowing being. Muscially, Hildegard begins to open up the antiphon towards a fuller sound at this point, with her characteristic leap of a fifth from A to E on per (line 4), nunc (line 7), and ne (line 10); and the setting of more notes per syllable, growing to the final, lengthy melisma on adiuvare—God’s help for which the antiphon pleads. Moreover, the antiphon’s range ascends out of the extended salutation and petition, as the leap on per leads into the the highest note, A above the final, on the key word Verbum. The next leap of a fifth begins Nunc placeat tibi Pater, which, like the previous phrase, ascends to the A an octave above the final on Pater, with a similar melodic line that links Pater with Verbum. This melodic structure appears again with the high A on nomen tuum (line 11) and adiuvare (last line), highlighting the main thematic movements of the text to signify the creative and re-creative power of God’s Word, expressed in its fullness to aid the being it creates.

That aid comes in the form of the restoration of our nature to its fullness, predestined in Christ and actualized in his Incarnation. This restoration is, moreover, an act utterly befitting God (quia te decet). The needy “necessity” in which we have placed ourselves is balanced, then, with the necessary fullness of God’s gift of being itself.[1] The petition of this prayer is that God will kindly aid us so that we do not fall again into the hollow emptiness where the light of his presence—his name—is hidden and forgotten as our shallow attention turns away from him and towards the shimmering but ultimately illusory fancies of pride and disobedience. God’s name becomes both that which we are in danger of forgetting and that which pulls us back from the brink of oblivion: for God’s name, revealed to Moses from the burning bush, is being itself (Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses,‘I AM WHO I AM.’”).

The “I AM” statement can often be found echoing in the speeches of virtues and other allegorical manifestations in Hildegard’s writing, as for instance in the speech of Caritas (Divine Love) in the first vision of the Liber Divinorum Operum: “I am the supreme and fiery force…. But I am also the fiery life of the essence of divinity… I am also rationality… For I am life, pure and whole.” (LDO I.1.2) And it is, of course, a frequent refrain of Jesus, especially in John’s Gospel, as when, on the night before he was betrayed, he told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) It is in remembering those statements of God’s identity that we are helped out of the poverty of sin and into the richness of truth and life.

Transcription and Music Notes

A mode
Range: E below the final to A an octave above the final
Setting: mostly syllabic, with limited neumatic episodes

Musical phrases are demarcated by A and E. Phrase lengths are mixed and coincide for the most part with the poetic phrasing of the text. In the transcription, the salutation, O magne Pater, occupies a short phrase beginning and ending on A. The next phrase (in magna necessitate sumus), which begins the “petition,” is an ornamented version of the basic melody on O magne Pater. With Hildegard’s characteristic leap of a fifth from the final A to E on per (line 4), the piece begins to ascend to the highest note, the A an octave above the final, on the next word, Verbum. The focal pitch moves from A to E at the end of Verbum until the resolution on A at the end of line 6 (indigemus). The cadence on the final concludes the first idea. Nunc placeat tibi Pater follows a similar melodic pattern, opening with the leap and ascending to the high A on Pater. This phrase continues to the end of the next line, where it concludes on the final of the mode. The melodic structure of the second half of the antiphon is similar to that of the first half. The A an octave above the final appears within a similar melody to what is found on Verbum and Pater on nomen tuum (line 11) and adiuvare (last line), again linking these words and endowing them with rhetorical emphasis.

As far as performance is concerned, larger sense units can be combined, and pauses of different lengths can be made in places where the edited text has been punctuated. For example, on page one, lines 7 and 8, the text, nunc placeat tibi Pater | quia te decet | ut aspicias in nos, can be broken into three short phrases that end on E above the final. These three phrases can also be considered as a single, long phrase, perhaps with a short pause after Pater.

Phrase breaks in the transcription are made according to the use of the final and the E above the final as outlining gestures, as well as the sense of the text and the length of phrase units.

One issue in this piece concerns the placement of the conjunction et at the end of line 10 (page 2, line 2 in the transcription). From the standpoint of Latinity, it would make little sense for this conjunction to be separated from the one that immediately follows, ne. However, to place et with ne at the beginning of the next phrase disrupts the rhetorical use of the A/E leap as an opening gesture. While leaps of this type are found within phrases in the Symphonia, when they appear at the beginning of the line, they are intended as the opening gesture and are often repeated throughout a piece with this same rhetorical function. It is possible that when Hildegard sets a conjunction to the final, with the leap from the final to the fifth above immediately following on the next syllable, she intended the first note to be slurred into the second, effectively retaining the musically rhetorical emphasis of the leap while not breaking with Latin syntax. Singers can choose how they want to perform this particular idiosyncrasy, but care should be taken to place sufficient emphasis on the leap on ne.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O magne Pater
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 104 and 270.
  • MacKendrick, Karmen. “The Voice of the Mirror: Strange Address in Hildegard of Bingen” Glossator 7 (2013), pp. 209-226; online here (PDF).
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] This “necessity” of God’s overflowing goodness and being entails a type of “necessity” of our redemption—but one that, critically, falls somewhere between what we today think of as the simple dichotomy between necessity and contingency. For medieval thinkers, and especially for Hildegard’s English counterpart a few centuries removed in time, Julian of Norwich, the story of salvation has its own type of logical convenience which is neither absolutely necessary nor completely accidental. Julian refers to this type of “just so” fittingness as “behovely”—thus our choice to render quia te decet as, “for it behooves you”. On Julian and the “behovely” narratival logic of salvation, see Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian (Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 32-51. 

No comments:

Post a Comment