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Hildegard Von BINGEN (1098 - 1179)
‘Songs of Ecstacy’
CD 1: ‘’Voice of the blood’

O nubor sanguinis [02:01]
Favus distillans [08:29]
Laus trinitati [01:36]
In matutinis laudibus [09:53]
O ecclesia [07:56]
Instrumental piece [06:33]
O aeterne deus [02:12]
O dulcissime amator [06:46]
Rex noster promptus est [06:25]
O cruor sanguinis [01:35]
Cum vox sanguinis [06:31]
Instrumental piece [02:59]
O virgo ecclesia (instrumental) [07:48]
Nunc gaudeant materna [02:26]
O orchis ecclesia [03:36]
CD 2: ‘O Jerusalem’

O Jerusalem [10:26]
Qui felix pueritia – magnifica [05:27]
O felix apparitio [02:43]
O beatissime ruperte [02:23]
Instrumental piece [05:46]
O tu illustrata [07:46]
Cum erubuerint [02:49]
O frondens virga – gloria patri; Ave generosa [05:55]
O quam preciosa [07:05]
O ignee spiritus [06:49]
Instrumental piece [05:41]
O quam magnum miraculum est [04:44]
Sequentia, Ensemble for medieval music: (Vox feminae) Barbara Thornton (dir), Gundula Anders, Pamela Dellal, Elizabeth Glen, Heather Knutson, Nancy Mayer, Lucia Pahn, Consuelo Sañudo, Carol Schlaikjer, Janet Youngdahl; (Sons of Thunder) Benjamin Bagby (dir), Stephen Grant, Peter Halpern, Eric Mentzel, Peter Schmitz, Bernhard Schneider
(Instrumental ensemble) Elizabeth Gaver (medieval fiddles), Benjamin Bagby (medieval harp, portative organ, organistrum), Joachim Kühn (organistrum, symphonia), Na'ama Lion (medieval flute), Barbara Thornton, positive organ
Recorded in October and November 1994 (CD 1); October 1995 at St Panthaleon in Cologne (CD 2)
RCA RED SEAL 47321 886 892 [2CDs: 76:55 + 67:30]


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The 1990s saw the rise of interest in one of the most intriguing personalities of the Middle Ages: Hildegard of Bingen. Several factors contributed to this fascination. She was an abbess, raised and living in a convent, but who wrote treatises on all kinds of subjects and corresponded with some of her most famous contemporaries, something one doesn’t expect from a woman in the Middle Ages. Composing music was certainly something which wasn’t associated with medieval women. In addition to that, her music seems to have a personal touch, which is lacking in most sacred music of the time. And some of her texts seem to reflect a more open mind than is associated with her time, especially considering her position as abbess and therefore subordinate to the authority of the Church.

This fascination led to attempts to associate Hildegard, her thinking and her writings with 20th century concepts and ideas. She was presented as a pioneer of the feminist movement, and supporters of ‘New Age’ saw her as someone whose ideas foreshadowed their own.

But all these attempts are doomed to fail, for the simple reason that they are highly anachronistic. Sure, Hildegard is a remarkable and in many ways unique figure, who was clearly different from most people, in particular most women, of her time. But that doesn’t mean she was a rebel. There is no sign in Hildegard's writings nor in the texts she set to music that she questioned the authority of the Church or its doctrines. The second CD in this set, which contains a number of hymns to the Virgin Mary, gives evidence of that.

There are many recordings of Hildegard’s works. Some of these reflect the attempt to link Hildegard to – in particular – the New Age movement, and mysticism in general. Sequentia has recorded almost all of Hildegard's works, and these recordings show nothing of this kind of anachronism. This ensemble always painstakingly prepares recordings with historical research, and always tries to put the music in its proper historical and spiritual context.

The first CD contains music which refers to the life of St Ursula of Cologne, who was supposedly tortured by barbarian soldiers, with her partners, the Eleven Thousand Virgins. St Ursula developed cult status, and Hildegard strongly identified with her. This is reflected in the music, which is very personal, almost exalted. Sequentia delivers this character very convincingly. In comparison, the music on the second CD is more restrained. It was written to celebrate the building of a new church for Hildegard’s congregation on the Rupertsberg, which once accommodated a convent dedicated to St Rupert. The hymns here are devoted to him, to the Virgin Mary and to the Church, for which Jerusalem is used as a metaphor. The performances are exemplary.

The ensemble contains two separate vocal groups of women and men respectively. They never sing together, which is historically justified, as is the rather sober use of instruments.

This is a reissue of previously released recordings on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. This budget release is a great opportunity to get to know the music of Hildegard. Unfortunately the programme notes are very brief and also hard to read: they are in very small letters on a coloured background. Even the titles are difficult to decipher, and the texts of the songs are not printed, which is a serious omission.

Johan van Veen

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