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Hildegard von Bingen Biography

Hildegard von Bingen

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Born: 1098. Died: 1179. Lived in: Germany

Hildegard of Bingen OSB, also known as Saint Hildegard and the Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most-recorded in modern history. She has been considered by many in Europe to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

Hildegard's fellow nuns elected her as magistra in 1136; she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She is also noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.

Although the history of her formal canonization is complicated, branches of the Roman Catholic Church have recognized her as a saint for centuries. On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church in a process known as "equivalent canonization". On 7 October 2012, he named her a Doctor of the Church, in recognition of "her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching."

Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard's music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers.

One of her better-known works, Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues), is a morality play. It is uncertain when some of Hildegard's compositions were composed, though the Ordo Virtutum is thought to have been composed as early as 1151. It is an independent Latin morality play with music (82 songs); it does not supplement or pay homage to the Mass or the Office of a certain feast. The most significant part of this entire composition is, however, that the Ordo virtutum is the earliest known surviving musical drama that is not attached to a liturgy.

This entertainment was both performed and bemused by a select community of noblewomen and nuns. Even more fascinating about this piece, the devil has no music whatsoever in the plot of the play, he instead shouts and bellows all his lines. All other characters sing in monophonic plainchant. This includes Patriarchs, Prophets, A Happy Soul, A Unhappy Soul and A Penitent Soul along with 16 female Virtues (including Mercy, Innocence, Chasity, Obedience, Hope, and Faith).(citation needed)

The Ordo virtutum was probably performed as a manifestation of the theology Hildegard delineated in the Scivias. The play serves as a group enchantment of the Christian story of sin, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Notably, it is the female Virtues who restore the fallen to the community of the faithful, not the male Patriarchs or Prophets. This would have been a significant message to the nuns in Hildegard's convent. Scholars assert that the role of the Devil would have been played by Volmar, while Hildegard's nuns would have played the parts of Anima (the human souls) and the Virtues

In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. The songs from the Symphonia are set to Hildegard's own text and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories. Her music is described as monophonic, that is, consisting of exactly one melodic line.(57) Its style is characterized by soaring melodies that can push the boundaries of the more staid ranges of traditional Gregorian chant. Though Hildegard's music is often thought to stand outside the normal practices of monophonic monastic chant, current researchers are also exploring ways in which it may be viewed in comparison with her contemporaries, such as Hermannus Contractus. Another feature of Hildegard's music that both reflects twelfth-century evolutions of chant and pushes those evolutions further is that it is highly melismatic, often with recurrent melodic units. Scholars such as Margot Fassler, Marianne Richert Pfau, and Beverly Lomer also note the intimate relationship between music and text in Hildegard's compositions, whose rhetorical features are often more distinct than is common in twelfth-century chant. As with all medieval chant notation, Hildegard's music lacks any indication of tempo or rhythm; the surviving manuscripts employ late German style notation, which uses very ornamental neumes. The reverence for the Virgin Mary reflected in music shows how deeply influenced and inspired Hildegard of Bingen and her community were by the Virgin Mary and the saints.

The definition of viriditas or "greenness" is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This greenness or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard's works.

Despite Hildegard's self-professed view that her compositions have as their object the praise of God, one scholar has asserted that Hildegard made a close association between music and the female body in her musical compositions. According to him, the poetry and music of Hildegard's Symphonia would, therefore, be concerned with the anatomy of female desire thus described as Sapphonic, or pertaining to Sappho, connecting her to a history of female rhetoricians.