Monday, July 4, 2022

O mirum admirandum

Psalm antiphon for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(D 162r, R 470va) by Hildegard of Bingen
O mirum admirandum,
quod absconsa forma
precellit ardua
in honesta statura,
ubi vivens altitudo
profert mistica.
Unde, o Disibode,
surges in fine, succurrente
flore omnium
ramorum mundi,
ut primum surrexisti.
O wonder, so wondrous!
A hidden form,
so hard, so steep, surpasses
in its lofty honor—
where Living Height itself
reveals the mysteries.
And so, O Disibod,
you shall arise at the end of time
as first you rose—
the flow’r of all the branches of the world
comes to your aid.
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 is one of several pieces that Hildegard composed in honor of St. Disibod, the patron of the Disibodenberg, the monastery where she was first enclosed and grew up. She first provided this antiphon, together with the responsory, O viriditas digiti Dei, and the sequence, O presul vere civitatis, as part of a visionary letter in answer to a request in the early 1150’s from the Disibodenberg’s abbot, Kuno, for any information revealed to her concerning the patron.[1] These three pieces appear in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript (fols. 162r-163r); they are joined by two other, rather more generic antiphons (perhaps to fill out the office), in the Riesencodex (fols. 470v-471r and 475v). Kuno’s letter (no. 74) may have been an attempt to patch things up between his community and the nascent Rupertsberg, to which Hildegard had recently relocated her growing community of nuns from the Disibodenberg. The move had been contentious—Kuno had initially refused Hildegard’s request for it, and even after he relented under the pressure of “the Living Light,” the two communities continued to argue bitterly for several years over the rights to the lands dowered to the Disibodenberg upon the entry of the women into the community before the move.

Though including the texts that would be used liturgically, Hildegard’s response (Letter 74r) was not, at first, warm:
O how foolish is the man who does not amend his own life, and yet delves into other people’s private affairs and, with a torrent of words like rushing waters, noises abroad all the vices that he finds hidden there. Let the man who does this hear the words of the Lord: “O man, once having tasted of good works, why are you deaf to their music, for they resound before God like a symphony? Why do you not examine your own heart and reject your unabashed lasciviousness? I am the One who brings the lost sheep back to the fold, the One to whom you should always turn, but you fail to do so, and thereby slap me in the face, rejecting my wounded hands and feet. And so you will answer to me concerning the house of your own heart and concerning the city I made and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Why are you not afraid to break the man that you did not create? You fail to anoint him and, therefore, neither cover nor protect him, but rather, you afflict him grievously with the heavy rod of correction. Now the period of your decline is at hand, but God, who created you, does not wish to lose you. Therefore, take these things to heart.”
These words of rebuke likely begin in censure of Kuno’s efforts to interfere with the financial administration of Hildegard’s community, but soon indicate that those “lascivious” efforts interfere in the spiritual life of the Disibodenberg, too. Hildegard showcases here her Benedictine spirituality, in that “the taste of good works” (gustus bonorum operum) are intuitively linked to the Opus Dei, the sung liturgies of the “Work of God,” enjoined by the Rule. The foolish, worldly concerns of Abbot Kuno have thus rendered those good deeds of liturgical service mute, and the consequences come in several Hildegardian images—ecclesiastical corruption “wounding” Christ anew, and alienation from the Heavenly City of Jerusalem that serves as the exemplar for the monastic community here on earth. Fundamentally, however, what Kuno and his brethren have done is to betray their patron and founder, blessed Disibod—their “heavy rod of correction” that has errantly fallen on Hildegard and her community turned back onto the bones at the most concrete center of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Her choice to respond to Kuno’s request for “any revelation of God” concerning Disibod with liturgical compositions, rather than the full-fledged hagiographical vita of the saint that she would compose two decades later (see here for more on her Life of St. Disibod), thus reflects the way in which the liturgical life of the community forms its heart. The symphony of God’s work connects the monastics who chant it with its source in the heavenly symphony that resounds ubi vivens altitudo profert mistica—“where Living Height itself reveals the mysteries.” This first antiphon in the three hagiographical pieces that follow Hildegard’s admonition sets the stage for the themes that will dominate, “the pervasive dichotomies of hiddenness, humility, and exile, and height, honor, and liturgical community.”[2] These abstract pairs of ideas, however, are rooted in the concrete placement of the Disibodenberg high atop a mountain, and yet St. Disibod’s choice even after founding the community to remain but a lowly hermit clinging to the steep hillside.

The antiphon is situated both within and outside of time, as St. Disibod’s “form” governed the monastery, first while “hidden” within that hermitage, and now while “hidden” within the celestial glory of the heavenly city. Moreover, Hildegard plays on the concept of “rising up” (surges and surrexit) to mirror Disibod’s initial climbing of the mountaintop with his resurrection at the end of time. Thus, she intentionally seeks to connect the current community to their founder through this communion of sanctity, both looking back to its founding and forward to its eschatological consummation. Finally, crossing all of these temporalities at once, Hildegard uses the present participle succurente (“aiding”) to invoke the help of Christ, “the flow’r of all the branches of the world,” in the divine work of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: G below the final to C above (Dendermonde Version); G below the final to E an octave above (Riesencodex Version)
Setting: primarily syllabic, some neumatic

Because there were extensive divergences in some lines between the sources, it was decided to create separate versions for Dendermonde and Riesencodex. The big differences begin on Line 7 of both transcriptions, though smaller ones are found earlier. Essentially, the R version is set in a higher range than that of D. One can speculate that the original (D) was too low for a particular singer.

There is one peculiar interval in the Riesencodex—line 6 of the transcription on the words profert mistica. There is an unusual leap of a sixth, from C (the last note of profert) to A (the first of mistica). This is rendered as a fifth in D (B to F), but a Bb must be added there to avoid a tritone. There is no signed flat in the source.

While most of the musical punctuation is fairly typical—use of the final and the fifth to outline phrases—there are some deviations. The first four lines of the transcriptions presented some vexing issues as far as alignment of the melodic phrasing and text. While word order in Latin is not so definitive as word order in English and other languages, Hildegard’s text phrases are generally congruent with musical ones. You will recall from other commentary on this site, that melody generally prevails, especially when standard text punctuation is consistently applied. In this case I chose to begin Line 2 of the transcription with D and kept it as the opening pitch of Line 4. It creates a somewhat awkward text phrasing. An alternative for those who prefer the final as phrase marker might be:
O mirum (E to E)
admirandum quod absconsa (E to E)
forma precellit ardua (E to E)
When the sources diverge, D remains more conventional, with the change to A as the punctuating pitch. In R, we see a more unusual use of C and G to open phrases, with G and B as closures respectively on those lines.

Further Resources for O mirum admirandum
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 180 and 290-91.
  • Leigh-Choate, Tova; Flynn, William T.; and Fassler, Margot E. “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Kuno’s request is Letter 74, and Hildegard’s response Letter 74r, in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), pp. 160-2; The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 158-62. 
[2] Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220, esp. p. 202. 

No comments:

Post a Comment