Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) text

Known as "the Sybil of the Rhine," Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a German abbess, mystic and writer. She was born to noble parents, who promised her, their tenth child, to the church. At the age of eight, she became a novice under the abbess Jutta of Spanheim at the Benedictine Abbey of Disibodenberg. On Jutta's death in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as abbess. About fifteen years later, she founded her own independent abbey, against the wishes of the local Church authorities.

Although Hildegard was highly educated, she saw herself primarily as the instrument of God's will. Throughout her life, she experienced apocalyptic, prophetic and symbolic visions that she eventually codified in three large books. Hildegard's writings include theological, medical and botanical essays. She also wrote lyric works, letters, lives of saints and the morality play Ordo Virtutum, or The Order of the Virtues. About eighty of her vocal compositions survive.

Hildegard's Ordo Virtutum relates the dramatic struggle between a Soul, the Devil and a host of allegorical Virtues. The dramatic text and vocal setting are fully notated. Since sacred vocal music of the time was accompanied by instruments, it is likely that the Ordo would have been as well. The cast calls for 20 female singing roles (the Soul and Virtues), a few male singing roles (Prophets and Patriarchs), and the non-singing role of the Devil (which may have been played by Volmar, Hildegard's secretary). The piece was presumably performed by the nuns in Hildegard's convent. It appears to be the oldest surviving Western work of what may be called musical theater or opera.

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---Joseph Hannan, for Lincoln Center Festival program notes


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