Friday, November 21, 2014

O vos angeli

Responsory for the Angels (D 159r-v, R 468v, Scivias III.13.2b)
by Hildegard of Bingen
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R. O vos angeli
qui custoditis populos,
quorum forma fulget
in facie vestra,
et o vos archangeli
qui suscipitis
animas iustorum,
et vos virtutes,
dominationes et troni,
qui estis computati
in quintum secretum numerum,
et o vos
et seraphin,
sigillum secretorum Dei:

R. Sit laus vobis,
qui loculum antiqui cordis
in fonte asspicitis.

V. Videtis enim
vim Patris,
que de corde illius
spirat quasi facies.

R. Sit laus vobis,
qui loculum antiqui cordis
in fonte asspicitis.
R. O angels, you
who guard the peoples in your care
whose form reflects in flash
upon your face;
O archangels, you
who lend your aid
to righteous souls;
O virtues,
dominations, thrones—
you’re reckoned
in the mystic fifth;
and O you
and seraphim,
the seal upon God’s mysteries:

R. Praise be to you,
who glimpse the chamber of the ancient heart
within the fount, the source.

V. For you look into
the Father’s
inner strength—
the breathing of his heart
as of his face.

R. Praise be to you,
who glimpse the chamber of the ancient heart
within the fount, the source.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer and Nathaniel M. Campbell

E Mode
Range: G below the final to D an octave and a 7th above
Setting: neumatic and melismatic, with one very long melisma on asspicitis in the respond

Needless to say, this is one of Hildegard’s most elaborate pieces. It displays an extensive pitch range, ornate and extensive melismatic statements and makes liberal use of large intervallic leaps in both directions, including one upward move of a 6th.

Hildegard considered the angels to be the highest ranking personae in the celestial hierarchy, who interacted directly with divinity and whose speech was imitated most closely by music. Thus it is unsurprising that songs to the angels would be exuberant and ecstatic constructions.

O vos angeli opens with the melismatically set salutation, “O you angels,” which is melodically articulated in close range to the final and below to G. The melody extends upwards to the E an octave above the final on the word custoditis [you guard], which refers to the angelic guardianship of humanity, whose form is reflected in the faces of the angels. On page 2 of the transcription, the melody ascends dramatically from the E an octave above the final to D a 7th higher on suscipitis [you receive], which describes the angels as receiving the souls of the just. The highest ranges are again attained on the words principatus [princedoms], and dominationes [dominations] that describe the exalted attributes of the angelic beings.

The phrasing is in this responsory, despite its range changes, is fairly straightforward. The final, E an octave above the final, B, and A are the primary grammatical marking tones, and most phrases are outlined by one of these pitches. When the phrase is too long for one line in the transcription, it is continued to the next line and a tick barline inserted at the end of the phrase.

This piece offers insights on one of the vexing issues in Hildegard’s songs - the question of phrase lengths. Here, it is clear that the lengthy melismas assigned to individual words are intended to be sung on one breath. For example, on page 2 of the transcription, the single words potestates, principatus, and dominationes [et troni] are set to melismas that contain 34 or more notes. This gives us a bit of a clue about tempo, as such long statements would be difficult to sustain on one breath at a slow speed.

The word asspicitis in the respond [page 4] occupies 3 staves in the transcription. Obviously this needs to be broken in performance. The phrasing given here is one possible interpretation. ingers, however, should make breathing spaces according to what works individually for them. If one wants to keep to the standard grammatical markers, one might consider breaking line 4 in the middle between E and B. These are not conjoined neumes, so breathing is possible. It does, however, diminish the significance of the leap some. Again, individual interpretation and choice applies.

Another interesting question brought up by O vos angeli is the manner of performance Hildegard intended. While the respond and the verses would have been sung by different choirs, the extensive pitch range appears in the verses. For example, the melody moves from the lowest to the highest pitch by line 1 of page 2 of the transcription. According to Julia Smucker, some singers might have possessed such a range - as she does. Nathaniel Campbell suggests that another potential division in the first section before the respond would have been to divide each ‘o vos’ statement up, with different singers taking one segment. At any rate, O vos angeli is quite a remarkable work that would have been spectacular in performance.

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