Thursday, September 18, 2008
Journal Response: Hildegard of Bingen
During the 12th century, when Hildegard of Bingen lived, the Church allowed women to do an insignificant amount of daily tasks. Convents, where women could do things that were usually for men only, such as sing during Mass services and hold positions of leadership, had only women. Hildegard of Bingen not only held a position of power at a convent, but she also composed numerous works consisting of antiphons, responsories, and she even wrote both the words and music to her pieces. Also, women who were nuns at the convent sang the music. Her composition of both the words and music are worthy of note because men rarely wrote both words and music that during this time, so for a woman to do so was extraordinary. Hildegard possessed other talents besides her gift to compose. She is also a visionary, which means she had revelations from God. She wrote religious poems, prose, and books besides her music.
Her divinely inspired music is sometimes puzzling for modern ensembles to play since it leaves much open for interpretation. The group, Sequentia, that recorded this CD, was willing to try their take on Hildegard of Bingen’s work. Using only women’s voices, fiddle and harp, the group manages to capture the simplistic beauty of Hildegard’s composition. The Canticles of Ecstasy, features 16 tracks that last a little longer than an hour. Most of these pieces are antiphonally sung which means they have choirs that alternate singing, but some pieces are responsorially sung meaning they have a soloist and a choir. The instruments mainly provide a drone under the singing, except in the instrumental piece in which the harp and fiddle play together. This piece has much more rhythmic movement than the rest of the CD, probably because it is not chant, like all the vocal pieces.
Because Hildegard wrote mostly in chant, the rhythmic patterns are not exceedingly difficult. While the music is pretty and soothing, the lack of quick movement is boring and I wish there were more rhythmic variation. I realize that during this time, this style is what writers used. In spite of the rhythm that I found boring, Hildegard did use a technique that was uncommon and made these chants more pleasing to my ears. The large leaps provide more interest to the melody; they also employ much more of the range of the voice than was common for this era. Because of these characteristics, most of these pieces do not fit the definition of the genre of a typical chant, which would ordinarily move in step-wise motion. In Victoria’s blog, I enjoyed how she brought up this point of skips. She mentioned that it was difficult for the singers to sing this music because they would be bouncing back and forth between head and chest voice in the same measure. This is something that, even though I am a vocalist, I would never have thought of without reading this blog. Also, I do agree that when listening to this music, it is moderately easy to picture a mystical realm; nevertheless, this is not enough to redeem the music for me. The text is fairly profound and moving, but I concentrate more on what I hear right away rather than what I must look up and think about, and it simply did not catch my attention. I certainly admire Hildegard for all her accomplishments in her life, but for me, I will not be a regular listener of her music.
Because Hildegard is an approved visionary of the Church, the way I see this collection is greatly impacted. She believed that God inspired all her compositions. This can relate to earlier theories about m usic. Boethius and Pythagoras believed that there were three levels of music. First, was the musica instrumentalis, which is the name for the vocal and instrumental music. Next, was the musica humana, which had to do with the symmetry of the body and soul. Finally, the highest form of music was musica mundana that was God and the stars singing. If we believe that Hildegard was divinely stimulated to write her music, then that would be the lowest and highest levels of music uniting. In this way, her music is not only enjoyable for listening; this music is God’s and that makes it better than all things. I highly respect this music because of its background, but even with that admiration, I cannot bring myself to be a die-hard fan of it.