========= from the cover ==========
Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard von Bingen, the legendary visionary, prophetissa teutonica, and "sibyl of the Rhine", was one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages, along with such women as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine of Siena, and Heloise.
Born in 1098 to the noble family of Hildebert of Gut Bermersheim near Alzey in Rhinehessen, she exhibited exceptional gifts as a young girl. At the age of eight, her spiritual training was assumed by the abbess of the nearby cloister at Disibodenberg, Jutta von Spanheim. There, she was instructed in the rules of the Benedictine Order (Regula Benedicti), the liturgy, and in the various artes liberates. In 1136, upon the death of her mentor Jutta, she was elected by the nuns as magistra of the convent. Against the wishes of the abbot of Disibodenberg, Hildegard succeeded in founding an independent convent in Rupertsberg, near Bingen, the construction of which she personally directed. In 1152, the Archbishop of Mainz dedicated the cloister church at Rupertsberg. This is most probably the occasion for which the Ordo virtutum was created. Sixteen of the fifty women living in the cloister sang the roles of the virtutes, and presumably the spoken role of the devil was assumed by the only male of the community at the time, the monk Volmar, who, in addition to administering the sacraments to the nuns, also functioned as Hildegard's secretary.
Throughout Hildegard's life, she was continually plagued by illnesses. In 1141, she tells us, these afflictions receded and gave way to a series of religious visions. With the help of Volmar and the nun Richardis, Hildegard was able to record these visions in the book Scivias (Engl. "Know the Ways", Ger. "Wisse die Wege"). The most important manuscript of this work, the Rupertsberger Codex, was completed in ca. 1165 in the famous monastic scriptorium. It contains painted miniatures which depict the visions she described. In her lifetime, she was to complete two other books of visions (one with miniatures), and thirteen other works in the fields of theology, medicine, and the physical sciences. In addition, she wrote over 300 letters, the stories of saints' lives, nearly eighty vocal compositions, poetry, and the musical drama, Ordo virtutum.
Upon hearing excerpts from Scivias at the Synod of 1147, Pope Eugenius III recognized Hildegard von Bingen as a true visionary and prophet. During her lifetime, her fame spread beyond the Rhineland. She corresponded with kings, popes, archbishops, and such celebrities as Friedrich Barbarossa and Bernard de Clairvaux, responding to theological questions, making prophecies, and functioning as spiritual guide to the powerful. Despite her delicate health, she made four ambitious preaching voyages to such divers places as Mainz, Wurzburg, Cologne, Trier and Metz.
One speaks of Hildegard von Bingen's world view, or cosmos, as being constructed according to the neo-Platonic and patristic norms upon which accepted 12th century ecclesiastical education was based. To Hildegard, the universe of her visions was not constructed, but rather revealed. She was not a scholastic; she was a true visionary and prophet.
Although highly educated and undoubtedly well-indoctrinated in the intellectual traditions of her day, she presented herself above all as a person operating not through her own knowledge, but as the instrumentum of God's will.
"The words I speak come from no human mouth; I saw and heard them in visions sent to me ... God moves where He wills, and not to the glory of earthly man. I am ever filled with fear and trembling. I have no confidence in my own capacities - I reach out my hand to God that He may carry me along as a feather is borne weightlessly by the wind."
She calls herself simplex homo, humilis forma, a childlike, delicate woman, yet her works are infused with extraordinary power and unity of conception. Her creations- must be seen as resulting from her personal, mystical experiences of God's revealed realm, and any musical concept of Ordo virtutum must acknowledge this astounding proposition.
- Barbara Thornton (1982)
The musical conception of Ordo virtutum
To discourse upon the working methods in the reconstruction of Ordo virtutum, one is first of all obliged to deal with some of the basic problems of interpretative work in all medieval repertoires. While all non-contemporary styles present similar problems of reconstruction, in so far as they are not living traditions transmitted by living musicians, the medieval period is not only remote in time, but utterly different in its aesthetic purposes from ours. Thus, the crux of our medieval musical performances is in our approach to the original artistic intentions, with the aid of existing documentary evidence: the manuscript sources. The pitches found in a medieval manuscript were never intended as indications which would lead to a piece's definitive performance, such as we normally use notation as a basis for performance today. In the Middle Ages, performers did not generally use notation, and therefore did not conceive of music in such terms. Thus, one could speak of our manuscript sources -admittedly the main evidence we have to go by - as mere skeletons, very much in need of conceptual fleshing-out and understanding, and not as a reality. The Ordo virtutum is typical of its period, though we shall see that Hildegard was to extend the vocabulary of medieval music radically beyond the norms in order to serve her artistic vision. It is monophonic vocal music set to original Latin texts - also written by Hildegard -some of it poetry, some of it prose, and all non-metric, as we understand the term. We can speak of a musical language whose constructional elements could be called melodic cells or types (lat. modi, Ger. Weisen), defined by Leo Treitler as "concretizations of archtypical forms within a tradition.") He mentions the Arabic maqam and the Indian raga as operating on similar principles. The appreciable significance of the different Weisen depends on a number of factors: the arrangement of intervals within a sound-spectrum (Ger. Klangraum), the range and tessitura of pitches, the position of the primary tone and its related tone-series, the handling of the analogy of a musical system functioning as a language, through the understanding of the modi, we can read from the page the ideas intended to be expressed in the music. More important than the intervallic movement between individual tones is the identifiable character of each of the melodic types. The ancient Greeks also speak of their modes as having the function of imparting specific characters and emotions to the listener.
Thus, we have in the medieval idea of melodic types an ideal vehicle for texts, in its ability to reflect content; not in the direct, madrigalistic manner known to us from later periods, but in the inseparable relationship of musical and linguistic gesture, whereby melody does not exist for itself, but rather "serves as a document of the musician's reaction to the form and meaning of the text." (Leo Treitler).
Thus, remaining close to the spirit of a 12th century art-form entails capturing the feeling for the form and content of the given text, and learning to react in a musicianly fashion, while remaining true to practices and aesthetics of the period. Hildegard von Bingen's literary Latin is surely one of the marvels of the age, not only beautiful to speak and to listen to, but immensely rich in images, which demand a creative imagination and a strong theological background for their understanding. Only through the study of her poetic vocabulary does the logic of some of her musical eccentricities emerge: the juxtaposition of unrelated modes, the surprising leaping melodies, the interruption of declaimed passages with richly ornamented melismas, etc. One attributes the astonishing unorthodoxies and beauties of the music to the predominance she gives to the depiction of thematic material in the scheme of her play. It requires a painstaking unraveling of the symbols of this work, in addition to familiarity with her other writings, in order to arrive at a consciousness of the sense of her words. This, then, is how we designed our musical gestures: in reaction to the symbolic, poetic or dramatic nature of the text. In so doing, we developed a singing style giving special attention to the delineation of primary and secondary tonalities, the integration of melismas into a primarily declamatory style, the performance of notational ornaments, the arrangement of rhetorical devices, which are so important to the understanding of texts. In the same way, we gave the dramatis personae symbolic/ allegorical roles in the play. The function of the instruments became specifically representative of themes, characters, moods and actions. We learned to recognize six different Weisen, and we assigned specific subjective properties to each of them. The picture which emerged from these studies of Hildegard as a composer was one of the mystic, for whom musical composition was something to which she turned to express her visionary experiences. This she did with an unfailing instinct for the dramatically and thematically effective, and in so doing, she created a highly individual and unorthodox musical style.
She often mentions the cosmic role of music, singing and musical instruments throughout her works. She states that the goal of Creation is that every creature unite its voice in singing the praises of the Creator - such as is done in Heaven, where choirs of angels sing to Him eternally. Before the fall of Adam, she says, when man still lived in perfect harmony, his voice expressed this harmony, and he could sing like the angels, "with the sound of the monochord." She believes that musical tone enhances the holiness of words when combined in sung speech, arousing sympathetic vibrations in the body and allowing the sense of the words to enter directly into the soul. In the Ordo, the devil is denied musical characterization; in his very being, he is the enemy of harmony and seeks to steal it from humans. His shrill speaking, specified by Hildegard, is always experienced as an interruption of the blessed world created by music. The sound of stringed instruments, she says, corresponds to the earthly condition of the soul, as it struggles back to the light. This sound draws forth tears of repentance from hearts made soft by its lamenting music. Thus, in our interpretation, the laments of souls and virtues are characterized by the accompaniment of fiddles. In her view, the instruments of heavenly blessedness are the harp and the psaltery, which accompany the characters of Felix Anima (Happy soul) and Castitas (Virginity). One's soul should be as passive in the hands of its Creator, and as willing to bring forth beautiful tones, as the harp is in the hands of the harper.
Likewise, the flute is associated with the presence of God and therefore accompanies Scientia Dei (Recognition of God). As the instrument of the hieros gamos or mystical marriage of the soul with God, it is the instrument which accompanies the purified Anima at the point in the drama at which she is ready at last to embrace the Virtutes (Virtues) and, with their help, ascend to God.
- Barbara Thornton (1982)