Saturday, October 11, 2014

O frondens virga

Psalm antiphon for the Virgin (D 155r) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O frondens virga,
in tua nobilitate stans
sicut aurora procedit:
nunc gaude et letare
et nos debiles dignare
a mala consuetudine liberare
atque manum tuam porrige
ad erigendum nos.
O blooming branch,
you stand upright in your nobility,
as breaks the dawn on high:
Rejoice now and be glad,
and deign to free us, frail and weakened,
from the wicked habits of our age;
stretch forth your hand
to lift us up aright.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: A below the final to D an octave above the final
Setting: primarily syllabic, soe neumatic elements and several short melismas

This is one of two pieces (the other being Laus Trinitati) that appear only in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript. Their omission from the expanded collection of the Riesenkodex may simply have been an error, or it may be that Hildegard grew dissatisfied with this piece and intentionally took it out of circulation.

The phrasing in O frondens virga is fairly straightforward. D is used to outline most phrases. Nunc gaude et letare is outlined by A, a secondary important tone. The next phrase, et nos debiles dignare, can be considered as a continuation of the previous idea, but it also continues and is completed by a mala consuetudine liberare, which begins on F on line 6 of the transcription. A tick barline has been inserted in the transcription to clarify. All three are probably too long to sing, so a break can be made at the end of line 4.

O frondens virga recalls the elemental association of the divine feminine with earthly fertility. Mary is addressed as “O blooming branch,” and she is described as standing in her nobility. The image of dawn and its radiance is also invoked. As in Cum erubuerint, Mary’s salvific actions take on a hint of independent agency: “deign to set us frail ones free” and “stretch out your hand to lift us up.” The musical rhetoric is not as powerful in this work. Melodic motives are shared on the words virga, sicut [aurora] and ad erigendum. The high registral pitch occurs on nobilitate, letare and manum. These linkages serve to highlight Mary’s key attributes and actions.

Further Resources for O frondens virga
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 120 and 274.
  • 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. Is the word 'letare' a typo of 'laetare' or is this as it should be?

    1. We follow the spelling used in the manuscripts. It was common in medieval Latin to spell the "ae" diphthong with just an "e." So yes, letare is correct for the twelfth century, even though ancient and modern authors would spell it laetare.

  2. Hi, I'm trying to read the original manuscript and see how it was transcribed, and I don't fully understand why there's a B-flat in the fourth system. There's a neume I don't recognize that could be what's marking it as a B-flat, or it could just be because it's a leading tone down to A. Are either of those the reason, or is there something I'm missing?

  3. The numerous in question is a compound neume with the flat signed on the B on the source. Hildegard's use of flats is not always clear. In the transcriptions we include only those that appear in the original sources. We don't edit and add where we think they might also be needed. If it appears in the manuscript you need to follow it. You can add flats safely, usually, on gestures that are repeated but only signed the first time

  4. Sorry about the auto correct. Numerous is supposed to say neume