HILDEGARD von BINGEN / Sequentia
Voice of the Blood

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (BMG) 05472 77346 2


1. O rubor sanguinis [2:03]
Antiphon to St. Ursula
Heather Knutson

2. Favus Distillans [8:29]
Responsory to St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgins
ensemble, fiddle, symphonia

3. Laus Trinitati [1:36]
Antiphon in Praise of the Trinity
Gundula Anders

4. In Matutinis Laudibus [9:53]
Office for the Feast of St. Ursula

1. Studium Divinitatis
2. Unde quocumque
3. De patria
4. Deus enim
5. Aer enim volat
6. Et ideo puellae
7. Deus enim rorem
8. Sed Diabolus

ensemble, intonation: Pamela Dellal,
Carol Schlaikjer, Elizabeth Glen, solo in 7.

5. O Ecclesia [7:57]
Free Sequence to St. Ursula
Barbara Thornton, ensemble

6. Instrumental Piece [6:34]
Elizabeth Gaver · based on 'O viridissima virga'
fiddle, portative organ, symphonia

7. O aeterne Deus [2:12]
Antiphon to God the Father
Janet Youngdahl

8. O dulcissime amator [6:46]
Symphonia of the virgins
solo: Pamela Dellal, Nancy Mayer, Consuelo Sañudo, Lucia Pahn
ensemble: Elizabeth Glen, Janet Youngdahl

9. Rex noster promptus est [6:25]
Responsory to the Innocent
ensemble, Lucia Pahn, organistrum

10. O cruor sanguinis [1:36]
Carol Schlaikjer

11. Cum vox sanguinis [6:32]
Hymn to St. Ursula

12. Instrumental Piece [3:00]
Elizabeth Gaver, based on the D-modes of Hildegard
fiddle, portative organ

13. - [7:48]
O virgo Ecclesia
Antiphon for Ecclesia · ensemble, organistrum
Instrumental Piece
Elizabeth Gaver · fiddle

14. Nunc gaudeant materna [2:27]
Antiphon to Ecclesia
Gundula Anders, Elizabeth Glen, Carol Schlaikjer, Janet Youngdahl, ensemble

15. O orzchis Ecclesia [3:39]
Antiphon to Ecclesia

SEQUENTIA, Ensemble für Musik des Mittelalters
Barbara Thornton & Benjamin Bagby

Barbara Thornton, voice, portative organ
Elizabeth Glen, Janet Youngdahl, Carol Schlaikjer,
Nancy Mayer, Pamela Dellal, Heather Knutson,
Lucia Pahn, Consuelo Sañudo, Gundula Anders

Elizabeth Gaver, fiddle
Joachim Kühn, organistrum, symphonia

Fiddle: Rainer Ullreich, Wien 1991
Portative organ: Louis Huivenaar, Jan de Bruijn, Amsterdam 1983
Symphonia: Bernard Ellis, Dilwyn, Herefordshire, GB 1978
Organistrum: Alan Crumple, Leominster, GB 1982

Assistant to SEQUENTIA: Joachim Kühn
Assistance by Laurie Monahan and Elisabetta de Mircovich in transcription work is greatly appreciated.

Barbara Thornton, Elisabeth Gaver

All arrangements, transcriptions, and reconstructions of Hildegard von Bingen's music by Barbara Thornton are protected under copyright law and may not be used by others without express permission.

Latin texts from:
„Hildegard der Bingen. Louanges” Traduites du Latin et présentées par Laurence Moulinier.
© Orphée / La Différence, Paris 1990.

Music sources:
Rupertsberger „Riesencodex” (1180-90) Wiesbaden: Hessische Landesbibliothek, Ms. 2, f. 466 ff.
All pieces performed from diplomatic editions based on direct consultation with Wiesbaden Ms, prepared by Barbara Thornton.

We dedicate this recording to the memory of all victims of violence.

(P) + (C) 1995 BMG Music
Executive producer: Jan Höfermann
Producer: Klaus L Neumann
Recording supervision: Barbara Valentin
Balance engineer: W. Sträßer
Editing: A. Plagmaker
Mastering: Andreas Neubronner (TRITONUS)

Recorded: 30. October-3. November 1994, St. Pantaleon, Köln

Front cover picture: Miniature from Codex Latinus 1942
Design: Ariola/Strada
Art direction: Thomas Sassenbach
Text editing: Dr. Jens Markowsky
All rights reserved

Eine Coproduktion mit Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln

This recording marks the second in the series of Sequentia's BMG/DHM recorded productions of the complete musical works of Hildegard of Bingen. The first, entitled Canticles of Ecstasy, presented a selection of her compositions of relatively ambitious scope: Marian songs possessing intricate theological and imagistic programs were contrasted with similarly complex songs dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Perceiving the Cosmos as animated by both a feminine and masculine divine force, Hildegard was able in these praise-songs to give an insight into the two opposite but equally powerful universal poles of energy.

The present series of her symphoniae creates such juxtapositions on a more specific, "human" level. In the story of Ursula and the 11.000 virgins we see crystallized in the form of a human woman the tenderness of nature, humility and receptiveness to spirit which Hildegard found magnified to celestial proportions in Maria, but also the rock-solid strength of virgin devotion which stands up to misunderstanding, mockery, even death, allowing it to ultimately partake in supra-terrestial celebrations of the blessed which await the purest and most steadfast of souls.

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 thus 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.

Ursula and Ecclesia: Myths and Meaning

Of all the subjects and personages which inhabit Hildegard's poetic cosmos only the Virgin-Mother Maria received the homage of composition more often than the saint and martyr, Ursula of Cologne. St. Ursula was a young woman who, along with her companions, 11.000 virgins, was reportedly martyred in that city by barbarian soldiers. As attested to by a stone inscription from the IVth century (discovered in the IXth century) her cult was an ancient and lively one, spreading throughout Europe from its center at the church in Cologne which still bears her name. In the 12th century worship of this saint reached an apogee due to the discovery at the Ursula church site of an old Roman burial ground full of bones purported to be the actual remains of the slaughtered women. In addition, another cloistered visionary, contemporary to Hildegard, Elisabeth of Schönau, was receiving visions relating to the life and martyrdom of Ursula, causing a feverish interest in her cult as a result. It is known that Elisabeth and Hildegard were in correspondence, and perhaps shared this vital interest in St. Ursula.

Her legend unfolds in a remote early-Christian time: She was the daughter of baptized Breton royalty, and promised in marriage (under duress) to the son of the King of England. Raised a Christian, she resisted with horror the idea of marrying the barbarian English prince, but was saved this fate by the visitation of an angel. He instructed her to demand a three-year reprieve from the marriage promise, to undertake a pilgrimage under royal and ecclesiastical patronage to Rome, stopping in Mainz, Basel and Köln on the way in the company of eleven other noblewomen (the number eleven seems to have mutated into the traditional number 11.000 through scribal vagaries). Having been enthusiastically received by the Pope in Rome, this crowd of virgins met its tragic end while stopping in Cologne on their return trip at a time when Attila the Hun was besieging the city (not a historically defensible scenario, but a very colorful one just the same). The 12th century fervor for Ursula's cult was expressed mainly through trafficking in her relics (the newly-found bones from Cologne), in numerous paraliturgical compositions dedicated to her, presumably intended for her feast-day celebrations on October 21st, and in relatively modest visual representations of her virgin followers. By the 15th century the Ursula legend was favored by many masters, and can be found in elaborately executed works such as frescoes, paintings, and altar pieces, in all parts of Europe (the most notable being Memling's altarpiece in Bruges and Carpaccio's canvas in Venice).

Hildegard's strong identification with this figure goes beyond the enthusiasm demonstrated in her lifetime; as the leader of a spiritual community for women, as the model of purity and love for the Divine, as bearing up to the vicissitudes of outside opposition and the responsibilities of inspired leadership, as a figura for the apotheosis of the human soul within the sacred space of Ecclesia, and for the ultimate realization of that sacredness in eternal space and time, she found in the figure of Ursula a thematic complex around which her fondest poetic fictions could freely pivot. Musically, she was able to achieve something like a “song-cycle” which begins with the simple image of the redness of shed blood and ends in the grand visions of Ecclesia in all the tragedy and magnificence which tradition bestows on this figure.

Ecclesia is the Latin form of a similar Greek word meaning "gathering", "assembly". Thus it is literally synonymous with the word "synagogue", (also Greek). Before this word came to signify "church", as a church building, or the Christian Church, it represented the idea of a collective, per se: a people before its god, or even the space suited to receiving spirit, be it within the soul of an individual or within a community. In the course of centuries the concept was expressed in the form of a female figure rich in amplifications and resonances, as attested to in numerous examples of ecclesiastical iconography and textual exegesis. She was the archetypical, eternal Heavenly Community; Jerusalem, or the daughter of Jerusalem; the mountain of Zion; She was the original and final manifestation of those in union with God: Bride and Beloved of Solomon, of Christ; their temple, synagogue, church; She was the epiphany of the feminine: the very soul itself, the soul of a people, or of a people living in expectation of union with its god-eternally existing, eternally waiting to become the divine dwelling for Divine Wisdom. We learn through Hildegard's Ursula works that the saint greatly desired to make of herself that dwelling place for Wisdom, and that the force of her personal Ecclesia created a multitude of similarly dedicated women around herself. Certainly the same could be said of Hildegard von Bingen.

In the Embrace of Ecclesia

We present here a series of Hildegard's compositions with reference to her own programmatic positioning of pieces in the manuscript created at her abbey, and according to thematic and formal groupings. This effort has been aided by the invaluable insights provided by two of the leading Hildegard scholars today: Peter Dronke and Barbara Newman. (For more detailed treatment of these poems the reader should refer to the works of these authors). A veritable dramaturgy results from aligning the pieces in their present order, whereby we perceive that Hildegard has woven together through the immediacy of her images and personages themes which spring from the Biblical text traditions of Song of Songs, and the Apocalypse, and the early Christian figure of Ecclesia.

The pieces

The cycle opens with the searing image of red blood flowing between Heaven and Earth, the most binding of covenants. Through mere hints in her text and a masterfully succinct melody, we feel the horror of death transformed into contemplation of it as a tender, eternal flower.

Opens to a world of nature and longing reminsiscent of the Song of Songs: Mel et lac sub lingua eius: “honey and milk beneath her tongue” implies the complete fulfillment of all higher senses and desires. To show the snow-white purity of Ursula and her multitude they are likened to a garden of apple-blossoms.

An energetic exclamation to the Trinity as an animating force closes off this vision of Paradise as a call to worship to begin the quasi story-telling cycle of antiphons which immediately follows.

4.) IN MATUTINIS LAUDIBUS This cycle was surely intended to be sung at Hildegard's cloister during the canonical hours, and in praise of Ursula on her feast-day (October 21). It attests to the fact that such special days in the church year most have been richly celebrated, and have served as outlets for Hildegard's compositional skill. This marvelously constructed series combines the actual story of Ursula with some very specific ideas Hildegard wanted emphasized: It alternates between the traditionally designated feminine E-modes (i.e. antiphons 4, 7) and the masculine dignity of the D-modes (i.e. antiphons 6, 8), thereby favoring us with insights into her stated concept of how females' very particular sort of spirituality rests upon and is protected by the fundament of male organization and authority. (Hildegard has occasion in her life to both profit and suffer from this perceived natural order). A bold truth of life finds expression in the concluding D-mode piece: ... Qua nullum opus Dei intacta dimisit: “... for no work of God's remains untarnished”.

Barbara Newman claims this piece as “one of Hildegard's most stunning achievements”; surely the same could be said of Newman's analysis of it in her edition of translations of the Symphoniae. Peter Dronke has written of the opening address to Ecclesia, “Hildegard begins with an astonishing composite image, laden with prophetic and mystical associations from the Old Testament. In her visions in Scivias, and in the illuminations made under her supervision to accompany them, Ecclesia is seen as larger than life, but still as a recognizable womanly figure. Here Ecclesia is a figure of cosmic dimensions, and Hildegard does away with the last traces of realism. The sapphire of her eyes evokes the throne in Ezekiel's vision of the Son of Man; her ears, the porta caeli (Heavenly gates) of Jacob's dream, where earth and heaven seemed nearest to each other; her nose, the fragrant place where the lover in the Song of Songs waits for his bride; her mouth evokes that roar of waves which, coming from the wings of the four living creatures, seemed to Ezekial ‘quasi sonum sublimis Dei’ (‘like to the sublime sound of God’)”.
This sublime quality of the poem, and its ambitious range, are beautifully captured in Hildegard's D-mode tour de force setting. The opening strophes are drenched in the emotion of “desiring desire” which is Ursula's; as she is put to the test in this desire, so does the music of the piece gain in complexity. Extremes of range and of mode are employed for the painting of images such as “purest ether” (purissime aere), “fiery burden” (ignea sarcina), “the devil's members invaded” (= agents of destruction in the world, membra sui invasit). Decorative and expressive gestures ornament words like “pearls from the matter of the Word of God” (margaritis materie Verbi Dei), “desired with desire” (desiderio desideravit), and “murdered” (occiderunt). Hildegard even bursts out of the Latin tongue with the German ecclamation of profound grief, “Wach!” at the moment when Ursula's blood sacrifice is heard from the earth below by the powers and elements of the universe above.

The following instrumental piece in G-mode, constructed by Elizabeth Gaver, weaves together both freely and in a stately structure some of the most tender of Hildegard's 8th-mode gestures. As this mode in the 12th century was thought to be most indicative of the state of blessedness, bestowing upon the listener inner peace and meditative quiet, its effect is to offer comfort after the harsh realities put forth in the last antiphon of the foregoing cycle.

This individual prayer serves as a prelude to the subsequent communal one: in Hildegard's rubric it is dedicated to the virgins, but should perhaps be conceived as being sung by the virgins who “in Ecclesia” and like Ursula, direct their ardor to the Highest Love, the highest Lover.
“In your blood we were wed to you”, echoes words which could be spoken by the figure of Ecclesia, who is often pictured beneath the crucified Christ with a chalice to catch the blood spilling from his side. All the pity and passion of such complete identification with a divine lord, and awe for the miracles of embodied divinity are heard through sneaky, arousing E-mode incantations, both individual and “in symphonia”.

Receiving blood-sacrifice from earth, “Angels sound harmoniously, and in praise together, but the clouds weep for their (the innocents) shed blood”.
This strong, stark E-mode piece reminds us that, while Heaven rejoices and builds its eternal city through the purity of souls who have sacrificed themselves through love of the Divine, the extreme pain of sacrifice is felt on this earth. Hildegard is able to reflect both the majesty and the sorrow of these ideas through one and the same mode.

The short antiphon confronts us once more with the sadness of innocent bloodshed. While written in the same mode as O rubor sanguinis, it seems to address our human feelings in the face of such tragedy, here serving as a prelude to the next piece, a visionary “Ordo” which plays itself out in cosmic time and space.
This composition constitutes one of Hildegard's major works. It begins again with the image of blood: the blood of sacrifice which in its agony cries out to Heaven where it is heard and received and submitted to transformations. The drama of this vision is accomplished through the unending powers of invention which are Hildegard's as she molds the classic D-mode figures around her procession of images springing from Old Testament events, myths, prophetic lore, and the Ursula legend. Hildegard of Bingen uses the Old Testament topologies which show the dynamics (and dangers) of human convenant with Divinity to foreshadow Ursula's own relationship to her God and to her sacrifice. The ram caught in the thicket is the innocent animal God substitutes for the blood sacrifice Abraham is asked to make of his only son to Jahweh (Gen. 22,13). God appears directly to Abraham in Mamre (Gen. 18,1), but turns his back on him later (Ex. 33, 20) saying, “No man shall see me and live”. The Biblical book Leviticus spells out the ancient protocols of meat sacrifices. When He shows Himself to Moses, He does so as a burning bush (Ex. 3, 1-4). By invoking the old and innovating anew she apotheosizes Ursula's devotion: we learn that in Heaven she loses her earthly name, Ursula, (meaning “she-bear”, symbol of earthly spiritual strength) and is given the heavenly name “Columba” (meaning “dove”, symbol not only of the purity of her own soul, but of the congregation of pure feminine souls around her, a kind of “ecclesia”.) Ecclesia in person is invoked at the end as the piece climaxes in a vision derived from the one found in the Biblical Apocalypse where New Jerusalem's 12 gates are seen to be built of 12 precious stones (here she mentions sapphire, topaz, and gold of the whole city).

This composition reflects the noble generosity of the D-modes of Hildegard's antiphon cycle, (piece 4, antiphones 6,8). In it we can feel the joy and glittering brightness of the foregoing Jerusalem-vision.

In Hildegard's manuscript, the songs dedicated to Ursula are followed by Ecclesia pieces. The first of the series begins with a bitter lament addressed to Ecclesia who is pictured here as both virgin and mother whose children have been ripped away from her sacred, protecting viscera by vicious wolves. Rarely has Hildegard used such strong language, both verbal and modal, to arouse our understanding of the suffering of separation from Spirit. As a postlude we give expression to the sorrow of such pain in a fiddle piece constructed by Elizabeth Gayer which also emphasizes figures in E-mode capturing the extreme emotions of the lament to Ecclesia. The suffering is immediately dispersed in this, one of Hildegard's most exuberant pieces which rejoices at the restoration of souls to Ecclesia's embrace. The cycle concludes in otherworldly solemnity achieved by her giving the E-mode an ethereal manifestation, and in texts partially written in Hildegard's lingua ignota, or secret language. Privy to visions, both aural and optical, which surpassed her abilities of expression, she devised a vocabulary of words (a mixture of Latin and German) needed to give utterance to the unutterable things she saw and heard. In her musical works she resorted to her secret language only in this piece in order to render something of the mystery of Ecclesia — realized and unrealized community of Spirit.

Barbara Thornton