In Festis B. Mariæ Virginis
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard of Bingen: Her songs in context
Hildegard of Bingen was a very extraordinary woman for her time. She was a prolific writer, considering theological questions and reflecting upon her own visions, as well as delving into both the practical and philosophical world of music. Furthermore, Hildegard was the first German naturalist and the first female healer to write down her cures and remedies. A composer, painter, and theologian, as well as a benedictine abbess, Hildegard founded her own convent of Rupertsberg on the Rhine. In her role as spiritual leader, Hildegard offered advice and counsel to popes and emperors and was not even afraid to criticize their decisions. In her lifetime she was often referred to as "prophetissa teutonica" - Sibyl of the Rhine.
Hildegard composed most of her hymns, antiphons, and responsories in honor of the Virgin Mary, who embodied the "prima materia" - the primordial womb. "Materia" was a key word for Hildegard, for within this word itself is hidden the word "mater" - mother; and according to Hildegard's view on creation, without this "prima materia," God's creation was not possible.
The selection of songs and the program:
Ever since we began singing Hildegard's songs, we have been interested in the question of when and where her music may have been sung.
The Divine Office (Liturgy of the hours or canonical hours) has been the determining factor shaping the daily routine in monasteries and convents for centuries. In the Middle Ages, the day was divided into eight phases, each of which was assigned its own specific liturgical chants. For our CD, we chose Vespers (Evening Prayer), one of the major hours. At the heart of Vespers is the"Magnificat," also known as the Song or Canticle of Mary. It is highly likely that Hildegard's own songs would have been sung in her convent during Vespers, since these compositions are liturgical chants which were conceived to be performed within the Divine Office.
In order to attempt a historically-informed performance of Hildegard's music today, it is important to emphasize that liturgical music outside the context of church services was an unknown concept inthe twelfth century. This CD program is thus based upon the structure of a vespers service, using Hildegard's songs in combination with psalms and their correspondent psalm tones, in the hope that these interrelationships may help us as performers, as well as listeners, to experience, perceive, and even comprehend this music to a greater degree.
As a guideline, our Marian vespers utilizes two Divine Office services (found in two antiphonaries belonging to the Cologne Cathedral Library), which were sung in the Convent of the Poor Clares in Cologne on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - this being the most important of the Marian feasts within the church year (even today this date is still an official holiday in some German states and most notably in Italy).
In this way, ACC was able to unite two of the ensemble's most important objectives into one singleCD project: On the one hand, singing, exploring, and cultivating the music of Hildegard of Bingen - through which Ars Choralis Coeln has already made acclaim both nationally and internationally - and on the other hand, fostering the performance of music found in medieval manuscripts from Cologne through solid academic research, analysis, and interpretation.
About the recording location
The Eberbach Monastery in the Rheingau is not only a special place - it is the only monastery inclose proximity to Hildegard's convents which was built within her lifetime and which still exists today. That Hildegard had contact with the monks of Eberbach has been documented, and what is more, it is thanks to these monks that Hildegard of Bingen not only remained a local "saint," but also became well-known in all of Europe even long after her death. The monks wrote a medieval "Who's Who," in which they gave Hildegard a prominent position.
Prior to the recording of this CD, ACC had two rehearsals in the Eberbach Monastery - an amazing acoustical experience!- after which was clear that the Eberbach Monastery was the only place in question for a recording of Hildegard's music. But this realization was only the beginning of a new discovery: Completely new sounds emerged - one could even almost say new musical works - so that a recording in this exceptional acoustic, so close to Hildegard's now no longer extant original convents, constitutes an important contribution to the performance practice of the music of Hildegard of Bingen.
Not only are our voices our instrument, but the sanctuary itself also becomes an instrument for us - and such an "instrument" as the sanctuary of the Eberbach Monastery certainly renders an outstanding recording.
Ars Choralis Coeln (8 -10)
ca. 60 min.