Hildegard von Bingen

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Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a famous German nun, a philosopher, an author of mystical writings, religious psalms and even music for them. She is one of the great representatives of German Middle ages – an epoch with religious Christian outlook, which was the main background of every sphere of life at that time. Christian doctrine greatly influenced the development of art, especially music. Religious music, which existed in the form of monophony, was the main stream at the time. Hildegard von Bingen, as all composers of that period created in a tradition of monophony. But contrary to them, almost all her musical compositions cannot be referred to the canon of Gregorian chant.

Ordo Virtutum is the most well-known composition written by Hildegard von Bingen. It is considered to be the first morality play in medieval music. In addition to this, the text and the music have been fully preserved. This composition deals with the reflection of a struggle between the devil and the virtue that want to seize human’s soul. The soul wants to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, but first it has to come through the earthly existence with all its seductions. This piece of music cannot be dynamic, because it was created in the Middle ages. There is no accompaniment of musical instruments, because in that epoch human voice was considered to be the best instrument, which was able to express the words that could get the soul higher to divine values. The virtues are performed by female voices, and the devil’s role is just to produce a yell in the end of the composition, because it was thought that the devil cannot cause divine harmony.

The structure of this music passage reminds medieval Romanesque cathedrals, which were built at that time in the whole Europe, especially in Germany (f.e. Trier Cathedral). They reflect the perfection and the inaccessibility of God in our life on earth. But at the same time, we have to be willing to be virtuous and follow the highest Christian values. Ordo Virtutum stresses the same idea. In its calmness, estrangement, but withal drama it expresses the spirit of that epoch.

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