Text: Hildegard of Bingen;
12th-century German Catholic abbess, composer, mystic
Hildegard rose to become an abbess of her own convent, and experienced mystical connection with the divine throughout her life. She left countless chants that record her visions and were meant for the nuns under her care to sing daily in liturgical services. In October 2012, she was raised to the rank of saint and then further became one of 34 Doctors of the Catholic Church, only 3 of whom are women.
The first two poems in Hildegard von Bingen’s De Virginibus, written and dedicated to the nuns under her care — figure among her most playful and lighthearted texts. The tone is one of wonder and affection, with no hint of admonishment; Hildegard, herself a master gardener and herbalist, likens the nuns to young plants who greet the dawn and flourish under a celestial sun. The third poem, far longer than the first two, is also heavier in tone, and addresses the challenges of living in collective celibacy with frank, sensually evocative language. The musical setting for these poems is inspired largely by Hildegard’s own music: highly melismatic, written to showcase both the ethereal and earthy qualities of the female voice, more modal than tonal, and sensitive in its treatment of text. A dotted-note Leitmotif, meant to musically depict the natural delivery of the word ‘dulcissime’, appears throughout the work.