Sunday, May 7, 2023

Hildegard of Bingen

The appropriately named series "Music Before 1800" brings early music to New York City in the fitting venue of Corpus Christi Church on the West Side.

In February, I went there for a concert of music by the opera composer Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Today, however, they featured pieces by a much earlier composer of music drama, the 12th-century nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard essentially invented the morality play with The Order of the Virtues. The piece featured a cast of singing women portraying virtues including Humility, Charity, and Fear of God, and a single man (originally played by Hildegard's secretary) who played the devil. The devil was also the only one who did not sing, since apparently the holiness of music was beyond him.

The Tiburtina Ensemble who performed today did not enact The Order of the Virtues, but they did sing some of Hildegard's most famous hits, including "Ave generosa," "De patria," and my personal favorite, "O Ecclesia." That last one is a sequence recalling the story of St. Ursula, who was martyred along with a number of maidens she was leading in their quest to follow God. 

You can hear the Tiburtina Ensemble perform part of another medieval music drama, Visitatio Sepulchri, here.