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Hildegard von Bingen's (1098 - 1179)
- ORDO VIRTUTUM
Our Opera mini-series began in 2007 with a semi-staged performance of William Boyce's (1711-1778) Solomon that was heralded by San Francisco Classical Voice as "often exciting & even eye-opening" (click the "Reviews" bar on the right of this page), & a performance that "offered a peek at the technically dazzling side of Boyce that other ensembles struggle to produce on record."
In 2008 we explore music from the Middle Ages for this series with Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum (The Ritual of The Virtues). Hildegard, a visionary, mystic nun was nothing less than extraordinary; her many accomplishments include physician, artist, author, herbalist, advisor to popes & kings, & composer of this, what is considered by many to be the first opera. By the age of 5 she had demonstrated extraordinary visionary powers & her parents dedicated her to religious life at age 8. Many of her visions are recorded in her writings & Ordo Virtutum is a short version of her literary work Scivias, set to music. Over 80 of her compositions survive, one of the largest repertoires among Medieval composers.
Hildegard probably created Ordo Virtutum (c 1150) for the dedication of the convent she established at Rupertsberg, near Bingen on the Rhine River in Germany. Preserved in the Riesencodex, a manuscript weighing about 25 pounds, the work was probably performed by 16 of the 50 women living in the cloister, with the role of The Devil spoken by the monk Volmar.
The part of The Devil is spoken because Hildegard felt music to be of such divine inspiration that it would be impossible for The Devil to make music. The other parts of the piece are monophony, that is, sung plain-chant, and are all for women's voices; a rare, if not unique, piece in this regard during this time period. The music for Ordo Virtutum is closely connected with the Latin text & is notated in neumes, symbols above the text showing the melodic pattern. One of the characteristics of Hildegard's music is a rising fifth followed by a rise to the octave. The music closely follows Hildegard's perception that different tones & melodic treatments represent the different virtues & vices. Her music is highly original, ethereal in beauty, & there is a vibrant connection between the emotional imagery & the expressive melodies, consistent in style, but infinitely varied.
The piece is in allegorical form, with the soul, Anima, as the 'heroine'. Initially she is happy & looking forward to the life promised by The Virtues. However, jaded, fatigued by the "cloak" of the life she must lead & tempted by The Devil, she decides to enjoy the pleasures the world has to offer. At this point, The Virtues introduce themselves. The many virtues, led by their queen, Humility, each provide some weapon to help subdue "the ancient snake." As the title suggests, eventually The Virtues triumph and Anima is rescued.
We hope you can join us for our performances of this exciting & rarely-performed piece of music.