Hildegard of Bingen
Woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman.
-Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen is one of the earliest composers we know something about in music history. We know that she was born in Germany in the year 1098. We know that she was a nun and eventually named abbess by her fellow nuns in the convent. We know that she was a trailblazer; she did things most women couldn’t do during the Middle Ages like learning to read and write. She eventually wrote important books about science, botany, medicine and theology. We also know that she was a poet, a mystic, and a visionary whose premonitions were believed and supported by the Pope and the Church. In 2012, the Roman Catholic Church officially canonized her as Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Her Feast Day is September 17th.
As a composer, Hildegard wrote some of the most beautiful music of the Middle Ages. (Recent recordings by Anonymous 4 and other ensembles were surprising commercial successes.) She also did something unheard of for her time; she wrote music for women to sing in church. At that time in history, music in the Catholic Church was sung by men only. Her magnum opus is Ordo Virtutum (Order of the Virtues) - an allegorical morality play that resembles what we now would call “opera.” The story centers on the Soul, the Eleven Virtues, and the Devil. To celebrate the 900th anniversary of Hildegard’s birth in 1998, Opera Sacra, a legendary musical organization in WNY, launched a production of Ordo Virtutum to sell-out crowds at Buffalo’s St. Joseph’s University Church. Frank Scinta directed, and Roland E. Martin conducted. Robert Aubry Davis has also included a great deal of Hildegard’s music on his weekly early music program, Millennium of Music which airs Sunday nights at 11:00 on WNED-Classical.