Hildegard von Bingen
William Marshall (c. 1591-1649), engraving from Fuller’s Holy State (1643)
It is not surprising that Hildegard’s music has made a resurgence within the standard repertoire of artists, church choirs, and early music ensembles throughout the last thirty years.
The sacred visions, political speeches, sermons, theoretical and scientific writings, and letters of Hildegard have sparked an avalanche of modern scholarship and analysis. Hildegard’s achievements, remarkable by any measure, were truly astonishing for a woman in 12th-century Germany.
In her youth, Hildegard began to experience powerful visions, which she recorded later in life in large volume and detail. These searing and detailed visions describe Hildegard’s remarkable personal theology and display a consummate dedication to the church and its ideals. Our contemporary consciousness—encompassing both sacred and secular—is powerfully drawn to her ideas, her character, her language, and her music.
Hildegard’s oeuvre of liturgical songs, known collectively as the Symphonia harmonie celestium revelationum (“Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations”), contains 77 unaccompanied works. These songs encompass a wide variety of themes which echo concepts of Hildegard’s Benedictine theology. Many are keyed to various feasts and commemorations throughout the liturgical year, and were sung by the nuns of the convents at Disibodenberg and Rupertsberg (in the Rhine Valley), most likely under Hildegard’s tutelage.
Hildegard’s poetry is rich with visual imagery and elaborate metaphorical concepts. Her musical language conjures these images and allegories through elegant melodic lines, at times sweeping and dramatic and at times syllabic and punctuated, depending on the text setting. The intimate marriage of Hildegard’s poetry and music is central to a performer’s understanding of this repertoire.