HILDEGARD von BINGEN  /  Sequentia

Celestial Hierarchy


Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 8 87654 68642 8


1. O splendidissima gemma  [10:21]
V fol. 154 · antiphon, to Maria / with canticum: Magnificat anima mea dominum
Lena Susanne Norin, ensemble

2. O dulcis electe  [4:34]
V fol. 161v · responsory, to St. John the Evangelist
Sabine Lutzenberger, ensemble

3. O speculum columbe  [7:34]
V 161v · antiphon, to St. John the Evangelist / with Gloria patri
Lydia Brotherton, with Norbert Rodenkirchen flute, ensemble

4. O spectabiles viri  [5:34]
V fol. 159v · antiphon, to the Patriarchs and Prophets
Christine Mothes, ensemble

5. O cohors milicie floris  [13:45]
V fol. 160v · antiphon, to the Apostles
with canticum: Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel

Agnethe Christensen, ensemble

6. O victoriosissimi triumphatores  [8:29]
V fol. 163 · antiphon, to the Martyrs / with: Gloria patri
Lena Susanne Norin, with Benjamin Bagby harp, ensemble

7. Kyrieleison  [3:13]
R fol. 472v
Esther Labourdette, ensemble

8. O vos imitatores excelse  [4:23]
V fol. 163v · responsory, to the Confessors
Sabine Lutzenberger, ensemble

9. O gloriosissimi lux  [5:12]
V fol. 159 · antiphon, to the Angels
Elodie Mourot, ensemble

10. O vos angeli  [8:40]
V fol. 159 · responsory, to the Angels
Lena Susanne Norin, Sabine Lutzenberger, Agnethe Christensen (verse),
Lydia Brotherton, Norbert Rodenkirchen flute, ensemble.

The Sequentia women's vocal ensemble:
Lydia Brotherton
Agnethe Christensen
Esther Labourdette
Sabine Lutzenberger
Christine Mothes
Elodie Mourot
Lena Susanne Norin

Norbert Rodenkirchen, flutes
Benjamin Babby, harp

SEQUENTIA, Ensemble for medieval music

All performing editions were prepared by Benjamin Bagby and are based on the manuscript V:
Dendermonde (Belgium), St. Pieter Et Paulusabdij Codex Afflighemiensis 9 (Rupertsberg, ca. 1170).
The Kyrieleison (track 7) and some minor corrections are from the manuscript R: Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2 ('Riesenkodex'). One small correction in O vos imitatores (track 8) is taken from Z: Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Codex theol. phil. 4° 253 (fol. 40v).

- transverse flute (track 3) by S. Silverstein (New York City, 1980)
Note: this instrument once belonged to David Hart (1951-1988) who played it in the first two Sequentia recordings of Hildegard's music.
In 2012 the flute was given to Norbert Rodenkirchen by David's brother Jim Hart, and is played here again, 30 years later.
- 15-string harp (track 6) by Geoff Ralph (London, 1983)
- transverse flute (track 10) by Neidhart Bousset (Berlin, 1998)

Recording: November 11-15, 2012, Church of Saint Remigius, Franc-Waret, Belgium
Recording Producer and Engineer: Nicolas Bartholomée · Assistant Engineer: Maximilien Ciup
Production Assistance: Norbert Rodenkirchen · Associate Producer: Matthias Spindler. Executive Producer: Jon Aaron

Front cover: The angelic choirs, from Hildegard's Scivias, Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek Hs. 1
(lost after 1945), 20th-century parchment copy from the Abtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen (Germany); akg-images / Erich Lessing
Artwork: www.waps.net

in memoriam



Mention the word "hierarchy" today, and very few people will respond positively to it, for we tend to think, rather, of fossilized power structures, of individuals straying into areas outside their field of competence and of attempts to muzzle those who think differently. It may be even harder for us to grasp the concept of a heavenly hierarchy as we are likely to suspect that we are dealing here with the same defective forms and at the same time that there is no possibility of resisting them.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) thought very differently. If she saw the saints and angels as an effective part of otherworldly reality, it was because she sensed that they supported her through a network whose scope for action far exceeded her own. And so she did what anyone would have done who wants to achieve something and who is in full possession of all their senses: she sought support from those people who had led exemplary lives and who were now in the Kingdom of Heaven or, in the case of the angels, had dwelt with God since the dawn of Creation.


The present release is the last in the series of Sequentia's set of recordings of music by the medieval female composer Hildegard von Bingen and is devoted to her hymns not only to the angels but also to the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles, martyrs, confessors, John the Evangelist and Mary the Mother of Jesus. Hildegard felt very close to each and every one of them, their exemplary lives encouraging her to continue on her own often difficult and painful journey through life. Two instances may illustrate this point. The patriarch Abraham left his home city of Ur of the Chaldees in order to embrace an uncertain future. In much the same way, Hildegard left the protection of the convent at Disibodenberg to live in the wilderness of Rupertsberg far from human comforts and achieve her dream of self-determination. The Virgin Mary was Hildegard's point of departure in developing her own particular brand of theology, with its support for women and for human dignity in general, an outlook that shielded the women of her convent from the commonplaces of the theological mainstream, which saw them as the source of all evil.

For Hildegard, every spiritual journey began with repentance, a world-changing force that found expression in a sigh. By "repentance" she meant the anguish felt when we are untrue to our innermost nature. In the case of the present recording, this aspect of Hildegard's world view is represented by the Kyrie eleison ("Lord, have mercy upon us"), which is an appeal to God's helping power and at the same time a hymn in celebration of that power. Its roots can be traced back to the Hellenistic period.

In Hildegard's eyes, praising God was one of those activities that allow us as individuals to reconnect with our origins, when the world was still a place of unspoilt innocence. When singing God's praises, we too take our place in Creation and achieve a state of self-realization. The interpretation of Creation as a musical event in which the world comes into existence through singing and is shaped by musical sounds is one that is found in many religions. According to Hildegard's view of theology, the literally shining example of this creative music-making takes the form of the angels, those beings of light whose principal task is to praise God. All human singing takes their musical existence as its starting point. When we add our voices to the eternal choir of angels, we invest our lives with a whole new perspective, thinking and acting in ways that literally transcend our limited human existence. lt is no accident that Hildegard's responsory O vos angeli seems to reflect the distance between heaven and earth with a range that extends over two and a half octaves. Light and sound are closely related phenomena, and the idea of a cosmos resounding with music is one that was bound to appeal to the visionary Hildegard, whose visions included not only the visible reality of God but also His musical reality.

As Hildegard puts it in her antiphon O spectabiles viri, the veneration of the saints begins with the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament who, like her, saw the living light for themselves. (In advancing this view, Hildegard was not only on firm theological ground but was also documenting her own understanding of the matter.) On their way to being examined prior to their acceptance into the tenth choir of angels, which, as Hildegard says, human beings are called upon to form, these ancient saints, in which the light took root, are expert precursors preparing the journey for those who are destined to follow them. They are succeeded by the apostles as symbolic representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel, who herald the age of the New Testament. In the early Church, the injunction "Be ye holy, for I am holy" applied as a matter of course to all Christians. For Hildegard, sanctity was above all a question of wholeness, which in terms of her own theological outlook could mean only to be in harmony with the positive forces of the cosmos, a harmony that in music is the equivalent of consonance. Among those who were venerated as saints, pride of place goes to those who died for their faith. It is to them that Hildegard dedicated her antiphon O victoriosissimi triumphatores. Next to the martyrs it was the confessors who were revered as saints, men and women who attested to the truth of the Word that Christ had addressed to them and that He Himself embodied. Hildegard honours them with her responsory O vos imitatores excelse. In her theology, Mary and John represent a direct link with God and His son, Jesus Christ. John is believed to be the disciple whom Jesus loved above all others and who remained at His side at the Last Supper. The extent to which Hildegard identified with John is clear from a vision - arguably her most personal - in which she herself takes his place. This connection between the Benedictine abbess and the disciple is particularly clear in the responsory O dulcis electe. In it she describes John as someone who comforts the "pigmentarii", an old word that literally means "perfumers" or "salve mixers", in other words, bishops who are meant to be the source of viriditas, the viridescent, healing life force that floods the whole of the cosmos.

Mary is undoubtedly Hildegard's favourite female saint, and the antiphon O splendidissima gemma is a fine example of her spirituality, a spirituality that links earth and heaven and that encapsulates the poet's fascination with gemstones, which she regarded as tangible relics of Paradise, allowing her to put into words her love of the Virgin Mary and to clothe that love in a complex musical form. O splendidissima gemma has been re-recorded for the present album, as the earlier recording from 1982, in which it featured as part of the morality play Ordo Virtutum, is no longer commercially available.


A comparison between the present release and earlier Sequentia recordings reveals that in the present case the instrumental accompaniment is markedly sparer, although this does not mean that instruments were not used in Hildegard's day. Her biographer and secretary Guibert of Gembloux mentions that her works were performed using instruments, and she herself thought highly of flutes, harps and other instruments, as is clear from her magnificent letter to the prelates of Mainz in which she describes the function of music, even identifying various human characteristics with different bodies of sound. But there are good reasons to use instruments more sparingly than was customary in the 1990s and to deploy them above all in the solo antiphons, which are particularly intimate in expression. At the same time, they may be used to lend a sense of stability to large-scale structures such as O vos angeli. Hildegard's songs are not examples of art music that are at home onstage and that can be arranged in effective ways depending on the performers' inspiration and wealth of ideas. The longer the ensemble has worked on this music and examined the research that has been conducted on it, the more it has become clear that we are dealing here with music for the liturgy. If we take this idea seriously, then we shall find that our basic attitude to the way that this music is sung and played is bound to change. Even though we live in an age in which faith is no longer a subject of discussion for many people, we cannot assume that this was the case in the twelfth century. Hildegard's music is inspired by the liturgy and written for it. If we take this into account, these works gain in focus and radiance, qualities necessary if we are to penetrate to their core.

The same is true of their notation. In the twelfth century neumatic notation was characterized by a different approach to the notes from that found in earlier manuscripts. And this certainly applies to Hildegard's compositions, which are influenced in turn by the vocal tradition of the Rhineland. The technique that she used in adapting the versus melodies affords impressive evidence of the care she lavished on the word-tone relationship, while her use of liquescent neumes for semantic purposes points to the rhythmic information contained in the neumatic notation of late Gregorian chant both in her own compositions and in those of a number of her contemporaries. If we take this seriously, the texts and their living declamation again become the focus of attention, and the melodies are taken seriously as a way of deepening and interpreting the textual message. This is perhaps their principal advance on equal or mensural interpretation.

Taking account of the contextuality of Hildegard's settings, Benjamin Bagby and his ensemble have deliberately combined a number of them with a Gloria Patri, a Magnificat and a Benedictus, since these antiphons were intended to be used during the canticles at lauds and vespers. It is merely because of the limits on the time available that not all the songs have been combined with Psalm verses and a Gloria Patri. As the basis of its recording the ensemble used the Dendermonde Codex, which dates from around 1170 and is the older of the two manuscripts preserving Hildegard's songs. The later Kyrie is taken from the so-called Riesenkodex. I am particularly delighted at this release as it provides a magnificent conclusion to Sequentia's pioneering complete recording. And I am no less grateful for my long and invariably inspiring contact with Benjamin Bagby and the unforgotten Barbara Thornton, whose ideas, profound musicality, expertise and enthusiasm substantially enriched my own work on these pieces.

Translation: Stewart Spencer


Since the early 1980's, the ensemble Sequentia's name has been closely linked with the music of Hildegard von Bingen, the visionary abbess whose musical compositions are among the most astonishing and unique creations from the dynamic milieu of 12th-century Benedictine monasticism. Under the general artistic direction of the late Barbara Thornton, many of the world's foremost vocalists and instrumentalists active in historical music performance joined Sequentia to perform and record Hildegard's works on a regular basis between 1982 and 1999, and again under Benjamin Bagby's direction in 2012.

In 2012 this final recording of the complete works, Celestial Hierarchy was brought to life by Sequentia's co-founder and director Benjamin Bagby to commemorate the elevation of Hildegard von Bingen to Sainthood and Doctor Ecclesiae (2012), to finish Sequentia's complete works project on the DHM label, and thus to honour the life's work of Barbara Thornton. For this recording, a multi-generational ensemble of seven women's voices has been assembled under Bagby's direction, together with the flautist Norbert Rodenkirchen and Bagby playing harp. One of the singers on this final recording had been a member of Barbara Thornton's ensemble, while some others were not yet born when the first recording was made in 1982.

to HERMAN BAETEN (Musica, Belgium) for the facsimiles of the Dendermonde manuscript (Alamire publishers) generously given to each musician involved in this project.
to MARIE NOEL COLETTE for stimulating discussions about 12th-century chant notation, especially the quilisma.
to JIM HART for the gift of David Hart's flute, used here in track 3.
to LAURENCE MOULINIER for permission to use her French translations of Hildegard's texts.
to KATARINA LIVLJANIC for providing the psalm-tones and cantica-tones used in this recording.
to LAWRENCE ROSENWALD for his new English translations of Hildegard's texts.
to BARBARA STÜHLMEYER for permission to use her German translations of Hildegard's texts and for her many years of support of the ensemble's Hildegard project.