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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Hildegard Von BINGEN (1098-1179)
In Portrait

Ordo Virtutum
Hildegard (documentary)
A Real Mystic (documentary)
A Source of Inspiration (documentary)
Illuminations (commented images)
Sound format: Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitle languages: GB, D, F, ES, NL
Picture format: 16:9 and 4:3
Picture standard: PAL
Region code: 0
OPUS ARTE OA 0874 D [250 min]


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Hildegard von Bingen is one of the rare female composers from the medieval period whose music has come down to us. Living in the twelfth century, a time of renaissance nearly as exciting culturally as the fourteenth century, this abbess wrote both texts and music to praise God. Ordo Virtuum, the Order of the Virtues, is the oldest surviving European music-drama, and Hildegard's greatest musical work.

This DVD is chock full of material: a performance of Ordo Virtutum, by Vox Animae, and four documentaries, recounting the life and music. With more than four hours of film, this is a delight for those familiar with Hildegard's works, and is also a wonderful way to explore the life and music of this profound woman.

The singers, dressed like members of a cult, bear expressions of mystical ecstasy as they lip-sync the music among the ruins of what looks like a church at the beginning of this film. While it's true that you need to do much more than simply show a group like this singing to make it worthwhile on film, the director has gone to great lengths to turn this music into a new-age visual feast. Why bother to show the singers if they are merely lip-syncing? The viewer is not witnessing a performance of the music, but rather a filmic interpretation of what the music may represent.

This said, the music is outstanding, and the performers excellent. The recording is quite good, wherever it was made. Hildegard's music is perhaps the most moving of all music of the period, and this DVD helps you discover its intensity and depth.

The documentary ĎA Real Mysticí, unfortunately presented by a writer of books on new-age spirituality, talks little about the reality of the music, but gives his own views of Hildegard, trying to connect her ideas with those of the present. Sure, if you're into this kind of stuff you'll find it interesting, but the speaker's bias is far too present.

The other two biographical documentaries, one by the BBC and the other by the Washington National Cathedral, are much more conventional, and give a better understanding of Hildegard's life and the context in which she composed. The BBC documentary is one of those dramatized accounts that suffers from a cinematic point of view, but which is nevertheless useful in providing a good idea of the character of the subject. While a bit anachronistic - the castle seen at the beginning, for example, is not a 12th century structure - it succeeds in providing enough semblance of the medieval period to be believable.

The documentary ĎA Source of Inspirationí, by the Washington National Cathedral, is a more classic documentary; with its didactic tone, and featuring Hildegard's music over pan-and-scan images, it gives a good introduction to her life and times.

All in all, despite the weaknesses of this set, it is truly entertaining and educational. If you ignore the fact that the singers are lip-syncing, you'll enjoy the music, and you'll certainly learn a lot from the documentaries.

Kirk McElhearn

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