Canticles of Ecstasy


Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (BMG) 05472 77320 2

1. O vis aeternitatis   [8:05]
responsorium · Laurie Monahan, ensemble, 2 Fideln, Organistrum

I. Symphoniae to Maria

2. Nunc aperuit nobis   [1:53]
antiphon · Heather Knutson, Susanne Norin, ensemble

3. Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit   [1:51]
antiphon · Janet Youngdahl

4. Cum processit factura digiti Dei   [6:40]
antiphon · Janet Youngdahl, ensemble, 2 Fideln

5. Alma Redemptoris Mater   [2:10]
Marian antiphon, 10.Jh. · ensemble

6. Ave Maria, O auctrix vite   [9:04]
responsorium · Heather Knutson, ensemble, 2 Fideln

II. Symphoniae to Spirit

7. Spiritus Sanctus vivificans vite   [2:17]
antiphon · Pamela Dellal

8. O Ignis spiritus Paracliti   [6:26]
sequenz · Susanne Norin, ensemble

9. Caritas habundat in omnia   [2:17]
antiphon · ensemble

III. Symphoniae to Maria

10. O virga mediatrix   [2:28]
alleluia-antiphon · Laurie Monahan, Harfe

11. O virdissima virga, Ave   [3:54]
lied · ensemble

12. Instrumental Piece   [3:34]
E. Gaver, E. de Mircovich, B. Bagby

13. O Pastor Animarum   [1:28]
gebet · Elizabeth Glen

14. O tu suavissima virga   [11:23]
responsorium · Susane Norin, E. Gaver, ensemble

IV. Ecclesiastical Community

15. O choruscans stellarum   [2:42]
antiphon · Barbara Thornton

16. O nobilissima viriditas   [6:44]
responsorium · Gundula Anders, mit
Elizabeth Glen, Janet Youngdahl, ensemble


Ensemble für Musik des Mittelalters

Barbara Thornton, Gundula Anders, Pamela Dellal, Elizabeth Glen,
Heather Knutson, Laurie Monahan, Susanne Norin, Janet Youngdahl

Benajmin Bagby, mittelalterliche Harfe, Organistrum
Elisabeth Gaver, mittelalterliche Fidel
Elisabetta de Mircovich, mittelalterliche Fidel

Instrumentalbearbeitung · instrumental arrangements:
Benjamin Bagby, Elizabeth Gaver


Rupertsberger „Riesencodex” (1180-90) Wiesbaden: Hessische Landesbibliothek, Ms. 2, f. 466 ff.
(Alle Stücke, die aus handschriftlichen Ausgaben musiziert werden, basieren auf direkten Konsultationen mit Wiesbaden MS, eingerichtet von Barbara Thornton. All pieces performed from diplomatic editions based on direct consultation with Wiesbaden Ms, prepared by Barbara Thornton.)

Lateinische Texte aus/latin texts from:
Hildegard von Bingen, Lieder.
Nach den Handschriften herausgegeben von/after the manuscripts edited by
Pudentiana Barth OSB, M. Immaculata Ritscher OSB und/and Joseph Schmidt-Görg. Salzburg, 1969.

Fidel (E. Gaver): Rainer Ullreich, Wien 1991
Fidel (E. de Mircovich): Richard Earle, Basel 1988
Harfe: Geoff Ralph, London 1983
Organistrum: Alan Crumpler, Leominster, GB, 1982

Assistenzarbeit: Fabienne Carlier

Special thanks to:
Pastor Peter von Steinitz of St. Pantaleon, Köln and to José Verstappen and members of the 1992 Vancouver Early Music Festival concert ensemble and course participants for their support of the Hildegard von Bingen project.

(P) + © 1994, BMG Music
Executive producer: Jan Höfermann
Producer: Klaus L. Neumann
Artistic recording supervision: Barbara Valentin
Technical recording supervision: Martin Andrae
Editing: Barbara Göbel

Recorded: 16.-21. June 1993,
St. Pantaleon, Köln, at the sarcophagus of the Empress Theophanu (d. 990)

Front cover picture: Illustration to Hildegard's vision „The Cosmos”
[sic; we believe it's „The Trinity”]
(Das Weltall) from Scivias („Wisse die Wege/Know the Ways”) Book I, Vision 3
Rupertsberger Scivias-Codex, Abtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen.
Copy of Wiesbaden: Landesbibliothek, Ms. 1, [missing since ca. 1944]
Photo Back cover: Marco Borggreve

Complete editing: Dr. Jens Markowsky

A co-production with Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln



Hildegard von Bingen's spiritual compositions represent a pinnacle of individual creation in an distinguished age of art and thought. The twelfth century is widely referred to as having witnessed a “Renaissance” in the sense of a full cultural flowering, and this reputation is largely due to the exceptional intellectual vigor, philosophical depth, and aesthetic brilliance of the monastic arts of the time. The manner in which theological renewal, economic well-being, and far-reaching social innovations came together to support monastic life accounts in part for the phenomenal musical and literary output of Hildegard von Bingen and some of her contemporaries. As of the age of eight, she lived the cloistered life according to Benedictine Rule, first in the double (male and female) monastery called Disibodenberg, west of the Rhine, and then, at the height of her powers, as the leader of her own community at Rupertsberg on the Rhine at Bingen. As abbess of Rupertsberg, Hildegard's authority, fame, and creative power increased significantly. Between 1151 and 1158 she was writing and collecting her musical compositions intended to be sung by the sisters at the convent at liturgical and other functions. She called them symphoniae harmoniae celestium revelationum, a title meant to indicate their divine inspiration as well as the idea that music is the highest form of human activity, mirroring as it does the ineffable sounds of heavenly spheres and angel choirs. It was also during this time that she carried out an extensive correspondence with important personalities in ecclesiastical and temporal circles, as well as turning her energies to compiling encyclopaedic works on natural science and the healing arts.

In her own time, as in ours, the “Sibyl of the Rhine” amazes those with the ears to hear her. “It is said that you are raised to Heaven, that much is revealed to you, and that you bring forth great writings, and discover new manners of song ...” wrote Master Odo of Paris in 1148. Then, as now, she is admired for fearlessly exploring the cosmos with her vision, for creating a moving feminine theology which nonetheless remains in awe of both the masculine and feminine divine powers. Her ability to function in the real, political world is as impressive as her complete dedication to the life of the soul, and to nurturing it among her cloistered sisters.

The Pieces

O vis aeternitatis

This composition begins the symphonia collection in the Wiesbaden manuscript, which was prepared in Hildegard's own scriptorium. It is a monumental piece which achieves its architecture of profunda altitudine (her term: profound height) principally through the responsory form: the alternations of solo and ensemble singing. Hildegard has chosen the “indirect” and “hidden” E-mode to depict the mysteries she dares approach. Our musical setting is intended to show profound symphonia (cosmic harmony) appropriate to Hildegard's universal themes of incarnation and suffering.

I. Symphoniae to Maria

Nunc aperuit nobis porta clausa
Quia ergo femina morte instruxit
Cum processit factura digiti Dei

These three pieces form a thematic trilogy in the Wiesbaden Ms. The first piece is written in a mode based on C which Hildegard habitually reserves for passages of highest energy and significance (for example, sections sung by the character Victoria in Ordo Virtutum). In this piece she proclaims that the “door has now been opened!” This is the “door to the mysteries” as described in Isaiah 60:10. The closed door is the feminine principle which has lived in the shadow of the Fall; the open door, the victory of womankind as a reversal of the Fall of man and woman in Paradise. The feeling of a curse being lifted is communicated with great intensity. Quia ergo femina morte instruxit continues the thought of the beginning piece, but its mode and message present a contrast: the E-mode is of a sweet variety, as intimate and feminine as the text (dulcissima et beata virgine: sweetest and most blessed virgin), so that we understand this quality Hildegard considers to be singular in the feminea forma (female form). Cum processit factura digiti Dei completes the trilogy in lamenting E-mode figures similar to those used in Ordo Virtutum and elsewhere where the tragedy of human life is bewailed. Halfway through the piece, in contemplation of the cosmic music which surrounds the divine Maria, the same lugubrious E-mode reveals itself to be infinitely harmonious. The instrumental prelude is constructed rhetorically using motives derived from the words femina, feminea, Maria, virgo, and the extensive melisma on sonante as found in Quia ergo and Cum processit.

Alma Redemptoris Mater
Ave Maria, O auctrix vite

The first piece — not composed by Hildegard — is one of the four Marian antiphons originally chanted in the office, but more commonly sung as an independent piece, and traditionally thought to have been written in the 10th century. What is immediately apparent in this antiphon is the glowing joyfulness of its F-mode; in the modal system it is heard as audaciously triadic and open. Hildegard's Ave Maria, O auctrix vite was obviously composed as an elaborate textual and musical embroidery of Alma Redemptoris Mater. In it she constructs, again through the responsory form, a long narrative history of the victorious Maria. The musical setting evokes the Celestial Woman, surrounded by stars, planets, and moving spheres.

II. Symphoniae to Spirit

The Spirit searches out all things, yea the deep things of God
(I Corinthians 2:10)

Spiritus sanctus vivificans vite
O ignis spiritus Paracliti
Caritas habundat in omnia

By moving to the D-modality, a significant shift is achieved. Contrasting E-mode and D-mode is a device we see throughout Hildegard's opus, and it is used to great effect in Ordo Virtutum. The D-mode is traditionally considered the fons et orgio (source and origin) of all modes. Its emotional Affekt is most noble and serious, yet it is more than any other mode adaptable to the shades of expression in any poem. Through this very succinct and powerful text we are able to understand that Spirit is the source and origin of all life (“the life of life”). O ignis spiritus Paracliti is one of the approximately nine sequentiae in Hildegard's collection, and, like the others, progresses not in the classic fashion with literal melodic repetitions (aa, bb, cc, etc.) Rather, she once again has fashioned her ideas with a masterly sense of variation by freely improvising on her stated themes in the repeat sections, allowing her rich text to dictate emphases on consonance or dissonance. The third piece in this trio, Caritas habundat in omnia (sister piece to Spiritus Sanctus), speaks of Caritas, the marvelously complex figure developed in Hildegard's opus, who is at once the Bride of the Song of Songs, Divine Wisdom, and Charity of the New Testament. She is the central character in a vision in the cycle, Liber vitae meritorum (The Book of Life's Merits), and is heard to say, “I am the air; I nourish all green and growing life ... I am skilled in every breath of the Spirit ... so, I pour out limpid streams.” A more melismatic, flowing use of D-mode (which she colors variously) stimulates this special sense of Love as World-Soul.

III. Symphoniae to Maria

O virga mediatrix
O viridissima virga
Instrumental piece
O pastor animarum
O tu suavissima virga

Like many medieval poets, Hildegard uses images of nature to arouse “natural” yearnings for the divine: desire which carries resonances of Paradise and which seeks union with the Divine Beloved. Some of these pieces are exalted through her visionary gift, yet are grounded in the elements of this world. Each of these Marian songs addresses the Virgin as virga (branch), and later as flos (flower). As virga mediatrix she is the “mediating branch”, and as pulcher flos, the “beautiful flower.” Taking its tone from the initial Alleluia, this piece reaches within its E-mode build up an ecstatic pitch in contemplation of the innermost, life-giving part of Maria (viscera, womb). Considered by many to be one of Hildegard's masterpieces, O viridissima virga (most verdant branch) is realized in a G-mode. This mode is associated with youthfulness and upward movement, and is said to refresh the spirit, as it reflects the perfections of Paradise before the Fall: “transcendit labores et erumnas”, “transcends all earthly labors and tribulations”. Thus her concatenations of earthy words are paraded before us as in a sacred dance, their significance heightened by deft juxtapositions and musical variation. The sense of sacred dance has been rendered in this recording by having selected a special location in the body of the church to sing from, and by the addition of an instrumental piece in the same mode. A pastoral prayer, O Pastor animarum, interrupts these evocations of the lush, natural world by invoking its heavenly care-taker. The created world needs a World-Pastor, and with lamb-like simplicity, Hildegard uses the primary D-mode and an utterly sincere text to call out to Him. Maria is now a “most gentle branch” (O tu suavissima virga), and her flower is bright (clarus flos), probably in the sense of being made of light. The D-mode here is given the color of the mystic E-mode through a lowered second tone. The extreme visionary quality of the poem is haloed in music of otherworldly beauty to illustrate the miracle of how spirit becomes material.

IV. Ecclesiastical Community

O choruscans stellarum
O nobilissima viriditas

Ecclesia (Greek) is the place where spirit is received, be it in a temple, or in the hearts of a people, and is thus synonymous with the Hebrew synagoga. This song praises the feminine figure Ecclesia in an exalted D-mode by likening her to certain Apocalyptic images. In the second piece the Marian virga (branch) has become virgo (virgin), and extolls companies of virgins. As understood in traditional societies, a virgin was not necessarily a woman who had never known a man, but one who had espoused herself, body and soul, to Spirit; who, in a collective form, observed the liturgies of oracle, temple, church, or monastery, and provided thereby a feminine spiritual anchor to a temporal dynasty. This extraordinary C-mode composition becomes progressively redder in its imagery and in musical intensity (rubes, ardes, flammis). Elsewhere she has written that the gifts of spirit gradually redden in the soul, deepening its native fire-red nature with each experience.

Barbara Thornton