Saint Hildegard vonBingen（born1098 inBemershie/Bergen, near Alzey (Rhineland Palatinate), died 17th September, 1179 in Rupertsberg near Bingen) was a mystic and seer, and adviser to popes, emperors and princes. She wrote numerous theological, scientific and medical works.
Since childhood she had been haunted by mystic visions, which she recorded in a series of writings and incorporated in her songs.
With their expanded tonal range, broadly vibrating melodies, the structure based upon a few melodic elements, Hildegard's songs from an integrated world of their own. Her language is marked by briliant figurativeness and has the apocalyptic character of her visionary writings.
The melisma of the songs exceeds everything to which one is accustomed from the Gregorian chant:long, drawn-out melodic phrases frequently stride through an entire octave. Hildegard has a particular predilection for wide intervals, fourths and fifths, which she often uses as the opening interval , in many cases superimposed upon each other.
In the 13th section of the Scivia, a representation of harmonica caelestis (sphere harmony), she explains her musical activity:
"I then saw the brightest light in which I (...) heard various kinds of music, praising the joy of the saints, brave and steadfast on the path to truth, (...) And that sound, like the voice of the praising multitude, in lofty steps combining in harmony, spoke as follows (....)"
Hildegard uses the term "symphonia" to describe the heavenly harmony, the inner harmony of mankind, the harmony of the sounds produced by voices and instruments. The soul of man is meant to represent symphonia and harmonia within itself. Hildegard sees man in the wholeness of his nature, of his being, and therefore transfers to him analogous tonal and musical illusions.
When Hildegard was on her last journey, the monk Volmat, one of her secretaries, in a letter written about 1170 laments the abence of the abbess with the wourds:
"Where is the voice to this unheard melody?"
This question was the reason for the foundation of Vox, a group with musicians from Germany, Italy and the USA, which examines the significance for our age of ancient music.Playing early music in a way called authentic performance practice has in recent years been occupying an ever larger role in our music life, but the quality of the quthenticity is seldom questioned.
Three basic levels of authenticity can be defined:
-The attempt to reconstruct a concrete performance from times gone by, if possible in the corresponding spatial setting and with the original musical instruments. Realization of this idea faces limitations: neither the historical musicians nor the historical audiences exist today.
-The attempt to decipher the musical structure of historical compositions from the manuscript sources and to convey this to present-day listeners in a performance which is "true" to the origianl. Differences exist here due to our listening behavior, which has greatly changed since the Middle Ages. The same sequence of notes or the same sound is perceived by a present-day listener quite differently from was the case in the Middle Ages.
-The attempt to convey to the present-day listerner similar impressions to those which Middle Ages listeners experienced when perceiving a certain word; that is to say, the performance media are adapted to present-day listening behavior. The performance of a piece by 7 or 8 musicians left the impression in the Middle Ages of powerful sonorous concentrations, but is regarded by the modern listener as chamber music if the formation is not altered.
The Vox ensemble's interpretation of Hildegard's songs is a performance with these three levels of authentic presentation of medieval music.
The intensive preoccupation with the writings in which Hildegard's songs have been handed down (Wiesbadener "Riesenkodex," Villarenser Kodex in Dendermonde) made it possible to develop a vocal style true to the text, taking into account the specific vocal ornamentation formulae for Hilegard's music.
The accompaniments, preludes and interludes of the medieval instruments (flutes, vielle, portative, hurdy-gurdy, frame drums) accord witht he performance customs during Hildegard's time.
The middle Ages understood music as a whole, comprising three elements:
The harmony of the instruments
The harmony between body and soul, singing
The harmony of the ellements, of the spheres and of the seasons
While present-day man is acquainted with the first two elements, also in their interaction, our senses can no longer grasp the function of "would music," the music mundana. Middle Ages man experienced the meditative immersion in music always in the counsciousness of the fateful participation of the celestial sphere. His sensitivity was intergral- he heard what he felt, smelt and knew. As we are aware from various sources which have come down to us, he was often capable of perceiving with his senses as a shout the wide-open mouth of a stone demon statue above a church door.
Our hearing now is materialistic; we hear real acoustic events, and our consciousness adds to what is heard only few ideas from other perceptive or sensory sectors. As a result, at least one element of medieval music-musica mundana-remains for us a closed book.
This fact was the reason for Vox to go beyond the boundaries of conventional performance of medieval music to apply the means of our day and age, thus making it possible for present-day listeners to acquire more intensive access to music of the Middle Ages, to make this music more available to the senses, proceeding further than the purely exotic attraction.
The inclusion of computer acoustics, electronic sound spaces, live electronics and digital alienation posibilities is a symbol of musica mundana. It allows us to experience the visionary character of Hildegard's music and to interpret the apocalyptic content of her texts.
With the amalgamation of text-authentic vocal practice, Middle Ages instruments and the technical means of our age, we are painting for the present day our picture of the three-fold entirety of medieval music.
1990 Dr, Vladimir Ivanoff