Mystery play by Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen, Liber SCIVIAS, 13th vision of the 3rd part:
“Then I saw a completely transparent atmosphere.
In it I heard in a wondrous manner the various sounds of harmonies: songs of praise, lamentations, and the encouraging song of the powers of heaven. And this song, which resounded from above like a multitude of voices in harmony, expressed the following...”
Thus the beginning of the 13th vision of the “Liber Scivias” (“Know the Ways”) by Hildegard of Bingen. It is the last chapter of a magnificent vision, and we find in it the original version of the Ordo, alongside other texts that she was later to set to music. With her visionary works and her songs, Hildegard of Bingen wrote a kind of theological Gesamtkunstwerk that is without equal. And with the ORDO VIRTUTUM she created Europe’s earliest mystery play to have come down to us in written form. One perceives Hildegard’s passion for creating and her talent for dramatic stagings when she allows the powers of virtue to appear as allegories and to sing: Hildegard’s musical vision of a divine order.
The title alone – ORDO VIRTUTUM – poses us today with a number of questions, since it can only be approximately translated. The Latin word “virtus” is often translated as “virtue”; Hildegard, however, sees a relationship to the word “vis,” with which she indicates power and strength. And the Latin word “ordo” that is frequently translated as “play” or “roundelay” is not really that what Hildegard is concerned with in her “Ordo”: ordo refers here to the rules of the religious order, to the organization and the rules according to which the world functions. For Hildegard, the “Virtutes” are both divine powers as well as human attitudes, and we find them throughout her written works. Hildegard’s mystery play “Ordo Virtutum” is the scenic realization of one of Hildegard’s fundamental ideas: the powers of God help the human soul, court it, and desire to gain it for the collaboration with God – a collaboration that Lucifer refused. Yet the soul gets involved with Lucifer, with the Devil (Diabolus). When it realizes that it has only harmed itself with this decision, it asks the powers of God for help.
The music of the Ordo Virtutum is found in the so-called Riesenkodex (Wiesbaden Codex), and was transcribed from the original source by Maria Jonas for this production. The idea behind our performance is a visual and acoustical journey through time to the world of music and mysticism of that distant epoch that is today again so near. Traditionally, the Devil is played by a man. In our performance, the representational part of the Diabolus is taken by a female dancer, but is spoken by the Infelix Anima, the unfortunate soul, as an inner monologue. The Devil is the confuser and divider – that is what is diabolical and dangerous about him. The Virtues confront him, together, but also each individually, alone. Together, however, they can withstand and even overcome him. We place this aspect of the ORDO VIRTUTUM at the center of our staging – and above all the question, which runs through the whole piece like a thread, and with which the piece begins and ends: Who are you, Virtues? Who are you, human being? Who are you, God?
The Organization of the Powers of Heaven and the Vices
Both in the “Liber Scivias” (The Book: Know the Ways) as well as in the “Liber Vite Meritorum” (The Book of Life’s Merits), the “Virtutes” (powers of heaven, virtues) compete with one another. In the last vision of the “Liber Scivias” we find the original Ordo – here still without music and in a short version. The confrontation of the powers of heaven, which appear in the version of Ordo Virtutum subsequently set to music, and the corresponding vices, which are described in Hildegard’s two books, form the basis of our interpretation and staging.