Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ave generosa

Hymn to the Virgin (D 155v [incomplete], R 474v) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
1. Ave generosa gloriosa et intacta
puella, tu pupilla castitatis,
tu materia sanctitatis,
que Deo placuit.

2. Nam hec superna infusio in te fuit,
quod supernum Verbum in te carnem induit.

3. Tu candidum lilium quod Deus ante omnem creaturam

4. O pulcherrima et dulcissima,
quam valde Deus in te delectabatur,
cum amplexionem caloris sui in te posuit,
ita quod Filius eius de te lactatus est.

5. Venter enim tuus gaudium habuit
cum omnis celestis symphonia de te sonuit,
quia virgo Filium Dei portasti,
ubi castitas tua in Deo claruit.

6. Viscera tua gaudium habuerunt
sicut gramen super quod ros cadit
cum ei viriditatem infundit, ut et in te factum est,
O mater omnis gaudii.

7. Nunc omnis ecclesia in gaudio rutilet
ac in symphonia sonet
propter dulcissimam Virginem
et laudabilem Mariam,
Dei Genitricem. Amen.
1. Hail, nobly born, hail, honored and inviolate,
you Maiden are the piercing gaze of chastity,
you the material of holiness—
the one who pleasèd God.

2. For heaven’s flood poured into you
as heaven’s Word was clothed in flesh in you.

3. You are the lily, gleaming white, upon which God
has fixed his gaze before all else created.

4. O beautiful, O sweet!
How deep is that delight that God received in you,
when ‘round you he enwrapped his warm embrace,
so that his Son was suckled at your breast.

5. Your womb rejoiced
as from you sounded forth the whole celestial symphony.
For as a virgin you have borne the Son of God—
in God your chastity shone bright.

6. Your flesh rejoiced
just as a blade of grass on which the dew has fall’n,
viridity within it to infuse—just so it happened unto you,
O mother of all joy!

7. So now in joy gleams all the Church like dawn,
resounds in symphony
because of you, the Virgin sweet
and worthy of all praise, Maria,
God’s mother. Amen.
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

In this glorious hymn, Hildegard skillfully weaves together several of her most characteristic images and symbols to celebrate the complementary themes of the Virgin Mary’s chaste union with God and her giving birth to God’s Son in the flesh. The perspective of the hymn moves back and forth between the realm of heaven and its eternal symphony, on the one hand; and the Virgin’s womb and its classic symbol, the lily, on the other. The point of contact between the two, then, is when the Heavenly Bridegroom brings the eternal symphony into the Virgin’s joyous bedchamber and the Incarnate Word enters the world in song.

The opening verse sets the tone by marrying the language of the court—to be generosa was to be born of noble stock, and thus to be bred to be “generous”—with the praise of Mary’s untouched chastity. Both elements combine to make her the “material”—matter, mother, and matrix—whose perfect holiness befits the garment that will be crafted from that material (cf. O splendidissima gemma). The second verse then recalls an image from the responsory, O vis eternitatis, of human nature as a garment, soiled by the Fall but “washed and cleansed” of its suffering by the suffering of the Incarnate Christ. Here, Hildegard describes the Word “clothed in flesh” in Mary’s maternal material of holiness, infused (infusio—“flood”) from above (superna).

Verse 3 complements this by offering another image for Mary’s chastity, the gleaming white lily—but the perspective shifts back from the moment of the Incarnation to its eternal predestination. Just as God foresaw before all eternity that his Son would become a human being, so he also looked upon the Virgin’s fertile flower within that same “eternal counsel”, knowing that she would be the vessel for the Incarnation.

The next verse then combines these elements to describe the espousal of God and this predestined Virgin; as Barbara Newman notes, “The chaste eroticism of such lyrics is a characteristic medieval mood, no less fervent for being virginal, nor less delicate for being ardent” (Symphonia, p. 275). The conceptual movement of the first four verses is reinforced by the use of repeated musical motive that first appears with tu materia in the first verse—reaching from the final to the high A an octave above (which occurs in the first four verses only in the context of this motive or its variations), it then descends a note at a time to D before recovering to E. This motive appears also on superna (Verse 2), lilium (Verse 3), in a modified form on dulcissima (Verse 4), and again on caloris sui and quod Filius eius (Verse 4); for further use of this motive, see Beverly Lomer’s commentary below. Mary as matrix and pure, sweet white flower receives from above the heat of a spousal embrace and the sunlight, which issues in the Incarnation.

Verses 5 and 6 shift into a joyous celebration of this union, focused on what have emerged as the two key images: the realm of heaven and its symphony; and the movement from heaven to earth, represented in the flower and the viriditas flooded and infused into it (infundit, echoing the superna infusio of Verse 1). The music in Verse 5 works especially to connect the celestial symphony with the gleam of Mary’s chastity, as it reaches several times to the highest note in the piece, the C an octave and a fourth above the final. Verse 6 then invokes one of Hildegard’s favorite images, of the viridity that sparkles in the early morning light as it reflects off of the beads of dew that have settled on each tender blade of grass.

Finally, in Verse 7, ecclesia receives a modified version of the repeated motive traversing the final and its high A octave, leading the transfer of the office of Virginal Mother from Mary to the Church. The early-morning light is alluded to in the verb rutilet, which literally means “to gleam red” (cf. Cum processit factura), and becomes the setting for the heavenly symphony, which sounded in the Virgin’s womb with the entrance of Christ as “the New Song”, to echo in the Church (Symphonia, p. 275). Here, Hildegard’s particularly sacramental view of music comes to the fore, as she and her nuns would literally fill the Church with music in the course of singing the praises of their Virgin Mother, bringing into being the musical grace of her Son. In singing for the Lord, they became themselves actors in the divine drama, feminine agents of divine power. Indeed, they literally acted out those roles when they performed as the various Virtutes—not just virtues, but emanations of divine power working within the world—in the sung morality play, Ordo Virtutum, that Hildegard composed for them. Moreover, the special veils and crowns with which Hildegard clothed her nuns on high feast days would combine with their liturgical service of song to create a sacramental matrix in which was channeled the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to Ecclesia’s choirs of virgins, where they reflected the symphony in the blessed joy of song.[1]

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: E below the final to C an octave and a third above the final
Setting: syllabic and neumatic
Manuscript: unfinished in D, complete in R

As in many of the A mode pieces, here Hildegard extends the range to the C an octave and a fourth above the final. A is the primary tonal marker, and E is also used. There are several textual phrases in the last two verses, however, that cannot be made to fit these parameters. The first two lines of verse 6 (last line of page 2 and first line of page 3 of the transcription) can be understood as a single phrase; the second begins on F, but F should not be understood here as a grammatical marker. On lines 6 and 7 of the final page (verse 7), the lack of clear phrase separation does indeed cause the break to be made after the E on virginem in line 6, thus beginning the next segment with F, a non-common grammatical tone in this mode. Singers might be able to perform these two lines as all one phrase, but if not, then the break makes sense both musically and linguistically at the end of line 6. The last phrase of the piece, Dei genitricem, Amen, begins on G. Though this is also unusual in the A mode, there really is no other way to make the phrase breaks that makes sense.

This hymn begins with a salutation to Mary, which can be interpreted several ways. Textually, the salutation could properly read, Ave generosa, gloriosa et intacta puella. This choice, however, would begin the next segment on C, an unusual grammatical indicator in the A mode. Thus, the transcription renders the salutation across the first two lines. Line 3 of the first verse (tu materia) begins a new musical idea and reaches the A an octave above the final. This signature motive is also placed on several other key words: superna (verse 2, line 5, page 1), candidum lilium (verse 3, line 7, page 1), caloris (verse 4, line 2, page 2), Filius (verse 4,line 3, page 2), viriditatem (verse 6, line 3, page 3), and omnis ecclesia (verse 7, line 5, page 3). Thus Hildegard links the supernal flood from God into Mary’s womb with Mary as the shining lily, greenness (viridity), Ecclesia, heat, and the Son, through the strategic deployment of one musical idea. Not surprisingly, given the significance of music to Hildegard, the melody ascends to the highest pitch, the C an octave and a third above the final, on the phrase, celestis symphonia de te sonuit.

Further Resources for Ave generosa
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 122 and 275.
  • Lomer, Beverly R. “Rhetoric and the Creation of Feminist Consciousness in the Marian Songs of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).” Ph.D. diss., Florida Atlantic University, 2006.
  • Lomer, Beverly. Music, Rhetoric and the Sacred Feminine. Saarbrücken, Germany: Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[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. 57-61; accessible online here


  1. First of all, congratulations for the great work that is being done here. I am a Brazilian classical guitar student and currently I have developed interest in Hildegard's music, but I am as far as possible from an expert on anything. I just had a few doubts about this piece and the comments regarding it:

    1- Why is it stated that the piece presents a range from G below the final and C an octave and a fourth above the final? There is an E below the final in line four of the first page of the transcription and a C would be an octave and a third above the final, no? I am not familiar with medieval notation and musical theory, so I don't know if the same parameters of more recent music can be used like I am doing.

    2- Is there any rhetorical reason related to where Hildegard uses a natural B and a flat B? (I know occurrent accidents were not commonly written in renascentist music, and I guess they also weren't in medieval music, right?)

    Thank you for the attention and for the website, and congratulations again for the great work!

  2. Thank you for your comment, and you are correct. There was an error, which has now been fixed, in the range of the song.
    As far as your question about the B natural and B flat, you raise an interesting point. Both were accepted in all modes. They were not always notated. There were some instances in Hildegard's music in which the B flat is used to remind singers to avoid the tritone. In those cases, it might be notated and it might not be. Often it is notated once, and singers are expected to know to repeat the flat. It is used similarly in certain other cases. Hildegard might notate the flat in the context of a particular melodic gesture, and it should be repeated when that fragment appears again. The other theoretical use of the B flat has to do with transposed modes. Some scholars believe that Hildegard's A and C pieces are transposed. The flat appears to preserve the intervallic relationships. Some believe these modes are new creations. The question has not been settled definitively, and we have not explored this aspect of her music fully. That said, I believe that Hildegard's music is carefully composed, and the musical gestures she uses are strategically/rhetorically designed. There are reasons why the use of the flat is mixed in her songs, and rhetorical intent is definitely one of the possibilities.


  3. Thanks for your excellent work. Only one question...who are the executors of the version of Ave generosa reported? Thanks!


  4. Who were the performers in this piece?

  5. is this from scivias

    1. No. This hymn was transmitted in the collection of Hildegard's music that she titled, Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum ("Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations"). Although Hildegard did include the lyrics to several of her musical compositions in the final vision of Scivias, no musical notation was ever included in manuscripts of Scivias. In our Table of Contents, we list after every piece where it comes from, and so pieces whose lyrics appear in Scivias will be noted there.

  6. Hi Nathaniel, is there anything like a list of Hildegard's musical works in chronological order? It is thought that Ordo Virtutum was composed c. 1151 but are the composition dates of any of her other musical works such as Ave generosa known?

    1. We can't pin down an exact chronology for all of the compositions, but we can give some ranges for some of them. The Scivias song cycle would be Hildegard's earliest compositions and was almost certainly in existence by the completion of the treatise c. 1151. The same dating would apply to Ordo Virtutum if we assume that the truncated version of the play that appears at the close of Scivias was a redaction of the full play; if the reverse is the case, then the OV could date somewhere in the early to mid-1150's.

      While some of Hildegard's compositions (such as the Office for St. Ursula) may have come later, in the 1160's or even 1170's, it is likely that she had finished the bulk of her musical work by the time she began writing the Liber vite meritorum in 1158, as she explicitly mentions her "Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum" in that work's prologue.

      Finally, it is possible that pieces that do not appear in the Dendermonde manuscript (and thus only appear in the Riesencodex) date to the 1170's, as the Dendermonde manuscript was produced in the late 1160's. It is also possible, however, that the pieces missing from Dendermonde were omitted for other reasons or have been misplaced (since there are a few leaves apparently missing).

  7. Hi there! I direct a schola, and we are forming a women's choir from it. We'd like to do this and pair it with some polyphonic settings of the text. Forgive me for this rudimentary question because I'm just getting introduced to Hildegard in terms of performance. How does one negotiate the rhythms in comparison to the neumes/note heads? I'm a little mystified. Are there scores with more nuanced rhythms and durations? Thanks so much.


    1. Medieval plainchant, as recorded in the manuscript sources, does not have any markings for rhythm or duration. Those decisions are left entirely at the discretion of the performer. Phrasing should, however, follow the melodic periods marked by the key notes of the piece's mode (the final and the fifth) -- in the case of "Ave generosa," that's A and E. As much as possible, our transcriptions follow those phrasing markers.

  8. I have a problem with the translation of the lyrics: what does "que" in the last sentence in verse 1 mean grammatically in Latin, since it does not seem to be "-que", which is the same as and, and yet there is no such form of "que" in the relative pronouns. I have found similar expressions in other Hildefard Von Bingen poems. Are they specific to her or her time?

    1. In medieval Latin, it was common to use "-e" in place of the diphthong "-ae". So here, "que" is the same as "quae".

  9. Hi There - I was wondering what you mean by A mode? Is that Phrygian or something different? Thanks!

    1. For our edition, we have named the modes based on the final or "home note" of the piece -- in this case, A. Technically, this piece would belong to the first maneria (Mode I, which is sometimes confusingly called Dorian), but transposed up a fifth, with the final thus transposed from D to A. For a comparable piece set in the same mode, see O tu suavissima virga.