Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
“Columba aspexit presents a vision of Saint Maximinus as a celebrant at Mass. The Holy Ghost hovers (symbolised by the dove and the lattice. Hildegard explains the latter symbol in the Scivias as the window of God’s mercy through which shines the perfect revelation of the New Testament) as Maximinus celebrates; flooded with grace he is a building – Saint Paul’s edifice of the temple which is in the devout heart. God’s love, represented in biblical fashion by the heat of the sun, blazes in the dark sactuary. The ‘stone’ of Stanza 4 is the altar – these lines are rich in imagery drawn from the liturgy for consecrating and anointing an altar (lapis); as he moves to it in his celebration, Maximinus is like the hart of Psalm 41 (42 in the Authorised Version). Stanza 5 turns to be the clergy who surround Maximinus in the ceremony. The ‘perfume-makers’ (perfume is a metaphor of Devine Grace) are the clerics of Trier: Maximinus was the patron of the Benedictine abbey there and Hildegard probably wrote this sequence for them. The ‘holy sacrifice with the rams’ was required by God in the ordination of Aaron’s sons to the priesthood (Exodus 29), but the ‘rams’ may also be the choirboys at Trier (Scivias, 2:5:45).
Ave generosa is a testemony to Hildegard’s devotion to the Virgin. The imaginary is frequently erotic.
O ignis spiritus is Hildegard’s apostrophe to her Muse, the Pentecostal fire which settled upon her and imparted knowledge of the major biblical books.
O Ierusalem celebrates Saint Rupert. Hildegard re-founded his monastery in 1150 and moved there with her nuns. The original buildings were destroyed by the Normans (the ‘fools’ of the Sequence), providing Hildegard with a potent but implicit comparison between her monastery and Jerusalem, destroyed on Earth and re-built in Heaven (Revelations 21, whence some of the imagery of this sequence is derived
O Eucharie, like Columba aspexit, was almost certainly written for the clergy at Trier. Saint Eucharius was a third-century missionary who became the bishop of the city. Stanza 1 evokes his years as an itinerant preacher (during which he performed miracles). The ‘fellow-travellers’ of stanza 2 are presumably Valerius and Maternus, his companions in the missionary work. The ‘three shrines’ of stanza 5 (compare Matthew 17:4) represent the Trinity and perhaps, if we follow the Glossa Ordinaria, the triple piety of words, thoughts and deeds. The ‘old and the new wine’ of stanza 6 represent the Testaments: Ecclesia savours both, but the Synagogue, like the ‘old bottles’ of Christ’s parable, cannot sustain the New. Hildegard closes the sequence with a prayer that the people of Trier may never revert to the paganism in which Eucharius found them, but may always re-enact the redemptive sacrifice of Christ in the form of the Mass.
With superb control Hildegard in O viridissima virga elaborates the image of Mary as the branch of Jesse. Mary’s fertility endows the animal and vegetable kingdoms with new life and brings mankind to God through the sheer joy of contemplating the Devine agency.
O presul celebrates Saint Disibod, the patron of the monastery where Hildegard was raised. She composed this sequence in response to Abbot Cuno of Disibodenberg who wrote to her asking for a copy of anything “that God reveals to you about our patron”. She centainly sent him this poem; we do not know whether it was accompanied by the music. Hildegard evokes the itinerant hermit’s life that brought Disibod to the place later to be the site of the monastery, and emphasises his founder’s role by a stream of architectural, cloistral imagery.
O Ecclesia celebrates Saint Ursula who, according to legend, was martyred with eleven thousand virgins at Cologne. Ursula, a woman who had rejected an earthly marriage for a heavenly one, who had died in Cologne, and who led a company of Christian women, naturally occupied a special place in Hildegard’s devotion. There were relics of Ursula at Disibodenberg where Hildegard had been raised, and Elizabeth of Schonau (a mystic whom Hildegard knew) created a stir in 1156/1157 with her visions of Ursula and her companions. Hildegard does not appear to have been directly influenced by these visions, but this is her most sustained response to a legend that was clearly popular and much in the minds of clerics and laymen.”
Eine Feder auf dem Odem Gottes
1. Columba aspexit (Sequentia de Sancto Maximino)
2. Ave generosa (Ymnus de Sancta Maria)
3. O ignis spiritus (Sequentia de Spiritu Sancto)
4. O Ierusalem (De sancto Ruperto)
5. O Euchari (De sancto Euchario Sequentia)
6. O viridissima virga (De sancta Maria)
7. O presul yere civitas (Sequentia de Sancto Dysibodo)
8. O Ecclesia (De Undecim Milibus Virginibus)
Emma Kirkby (Soprano); Gothic Voices; Christopher Page (Conductor)
Excerpt from Columba aspexit (Sequentia de Sancto Maximino):
Excerpt from Ave generosa (Ymnus de Sancta Maria):
Excerpt from O Ierusalem (De sancto Ruperto):
Excerpt from O presul yere civitas (Sequentia de Sancto Dysibodo):
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