Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hildegard von Bingen - Composer Study

The first composer that we focused on for the 2014-15 homeschool year was Hildegard von Bingen who was also known as Saint Hildegard. She was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; and draws on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term is often used to describe great thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, each of whom excelled at several fields in science and the arts, including: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, and Michael Servetus.

Hildegard wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems. She also created and supervised miniature illuminations and mandalas.

Cultivating the Cosmic Tree

At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced major works of visionary and theology writings. When few women were respected, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings.

Hildegard used the curative powers of natural objects for healing; and wrote treatises about natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees, and stones. She founded a convent where her musical plays were performed.

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a noble family. As was customary with the tenth child, which the family could not count on feeding, and who could be considered a tithe, she was dedicated at birth to the Church. As a young girl, she started to have visions of luminous objects at the age of three. She realized that she was unique in this ability and hid this gift for many years.

At age eight her family sent Hildegard to an anchoress (a woman who chooses to withdraw from the world to live a solitary life of prayer) named Jutta to receive a religious education. Hildegard’s education was very rudimentary, and she never escaped feelings of inadequacy over her lack of schooling.

During the years with Jutta, Hildegard confided of her visions only to Jutta and a monk named Volmar, who was to become her lifelong secretary.

Through her music, she gave certain instruments a special function and meaning:
- Tambourine – inspires discipline. The skin of the tambourine is spread tightly over the frame, like that of a fasting body.
Flute – with its intimate sound, it reminded her of the breath of the Spirit.
Trumpet – clear, strong, wakeful, like the voice of the prophets.
Strings – correspond to the earthly condition of the soul as it struggles back to the light. The sounds of the strings stir up the emotions of one's heart and lead listeners to repentance.
Harp – instrument of heavenly blessedness. It brings back thoughts of one's holy origins and helps listeners remember who they are and who they are called to be.
Psaltery – a plucked instrument with strings stretched over a soundboard and played by one or two plectra. It represented the unity of heaven and earth since it was played both on the top and bottom strings.
Organ – as an instrument capable of playing harmonies, it helps create community.

After a prolific composing and writing life, Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, at the age of 81.

Das Weltall.
Manuscript illumination from Scivias (Know the Ways).

Below are the pieces that Sophia and Olivia listened to and what their thoughts were as they listened to each one.

Voice of the Living Light (1:16:57 - though we didn't listen to the entire piece)

Sophia thought: Is this opera? (No.) There are parts that I really like,  but then it goes quiet and I don't like that as much. It reminds me of the Titanic - it has kind of a lilting tone to it. You would hear it in a church.

Olivia thought: It sounds like something I've heard on a movie that Sophia was watching yesterday (Lord of the Rings). It's not bad. It makes me feel sad, thoughtful.

Spiritus Sanctus - (7:56)

Sophia thought: This sounds the same as the other one. The mood seemed slightly happier and not as longing.

Olivia thought: It sounds the same as the other one, except slightly louder. It seems like happier music than the first one (Voice of the Living Light). The mood for the song was mellow. I wouldn't mind listening to the song again.

From the CD entitled Illumination: Hildegard von Bingen: The Fire of the Spirit. 

Kyrie (3:59)

This piece was done with keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, cello, and vocals.

Sophia thought: They sing this at church sometimes. I like this song. I would like to listen to this while doing homework. Could you put this on my iPod?

Olivia thought: I like this one. I could listen to this while doing something to...not something I need to focus on, though.

The Fire of the Spirit (4:44)

This piece is done with keyboards, synthesizers, cello, low whistles, acoustic drums, djembe, and Native American tree, and vocals.

Sophia thought: It reminds me of a little bit of a Native American song. Or a song from Narnia - like the song that Tumnus was going to kidnap Lucy.

Olivia thought: It sounds like a song that you'd hear around a fire. Also, it sounds like music from Narnia - from different parts of the movie - like when Lucy was at Tumnus' house and he was playing his instruments.

Tree of Wonders (5:05)

This song also has keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, and vocals. It also has breath effects.

Sophia thought: The beginning - like 5 seconds - sounded like it was from the "12 Dancing Princesses." The middle section sounds like music from "The Titanic."

Olivia thought: The middle part sounded like "The Secret Garden" - when Mary Lennox was still in India.

Beata Nobis Gaudia (2:47)

As we scrolled through the songs on the CD The Origin of Fire - Music and Visions of Hildegard Von Bingen, both Sophia and Olivia commented that the songs sounded the same.  All the songs ae sung by four women who are part of the group Anonymous 4. 

We listened to the 17th track on the CD and they laughed when it started. "It sounds like how the other ones started."

Sophia thought: It's kind of the same as the other ones that are on this CD. It's something I would listen to; but if I listened to this entire CD it wouldn't be a song I could pick out from the other ones.

Olivia thought: It sounds like the same thing for the entire song. I like it, but it's not as good as the ones on the other CD (Illumination).

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