Antiphon by Hildegard, 8 March 2015

Illumination from the ‘Liber Scivias’, Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) shines as a beacon from the past, standing for the validity of a feminine voice and interpretation in a world where men wrote the rules and the history.

Unlike many, Hildegard achieved a degree of recognition in her own times, and even more unusually left a significant body of work in thought, art, theology, visions and music that still inspires across the centuries.

One of the first posts in this blog was occasioned by Hildegard’s saints’ day on 17 September 2013, the anniversary of her death. Accompanied by hurdy-gurdy and percussion, women and girls sang her Spiritui sancto from the story of Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. We have also enjoyed O rubor sanguini in years gone by.

This week as International Women’s Day approaches we turn to one of her poems used as an antiphon for the set psalm, rather than the psalm itself (Psalm 19):

O frondens virga,
in tua nobilitate stans
sicut aurora procedit:
nunc gaude et letare
et nos debiles dignare
a mala consuetudine liberare
atque manum tuam porrige
ad erigendum nos.
O blooming branch,
you stand upright in your nobility,
as breaks the dawn on high:
Rejoice now and be glad,
and deign to free us, frail and weakened,
from the wicked habits of our age;
stretch forth your hand
to lift us up aright.

Whatever wicked habits of the age she had in mind, ours are probably no less grievous. Hildegard’s prayer remains valid. One commentator has written:

‘O frondens virga’ recalls the elemental association of the divine feminine with earthly fertility. Mary is addressed as “O blooming branch,” and she is described as standing in her nobility. The image of dawn and its radiance is also invoked. As in ‘Cum erubuerint’, Mary’s salvific actions take on a hint of independent agency: “deign to set us frail ones free” and “stretch out your hand to lift us up.”

– N M Campbell, Hildegard of Bingen Society

Irrespective of various viewpoints on Marian intercession, Hildegard’s inspirational value is undeniable. Gwenda will lead us in a reflection on the place of influential women in our lives and faith.

Manuscript of Hildegard chant,
Manuscript of Hildegard chant, click to enlarge.


Exactly how this antiphon would have been performed in the 12th century is a matter for speculation. It would have been written in neumes as shown in the manuscript at left, accessed on one of the many web resources available on Hildegard.

These dots and dashes indicate the pitch of the notes but not the length or duration, which probably depended on the flow of the text and local practices of the nunnery or monastery in which they were taught and sung.

In any case, length and complexity preclude the performance of the full work with any pretence of authenticity and accuracy. We therefore hear extracts transcribed into modern musical notation, adapted for ease of learning and interpretation.

O Frondens extract

So it won’t necessarily sound quite like this youtube clip> — but it’s recognisable and nice, and shows that Hildegard’s creativity is fruitful soil for modern interpretation. The spirit of Hildegard’s feather is more important than literal detail.Feather

The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus I am a feather on the breath of God.

– Hildegard of Bingen

Our women and girls gather for this rendition of the lilting poetry and chant. We are blessed that Talitha will again accompany the women’s voices on her hurdy-gurdy, a mechanical violin-like instrument which evolved before the time of Hildegard and was often used to support the monophonic melody of those times.

Historically informed, constantly relevant.More detail  Continue reading “Antiphon by Hildegard, 8 March 2015”

Psalm 22, 1 March 2015

Feeling forsaken
Feeling forsaken

What was Psalm 22 thinking? Here it is popping up well before Good Friday where, as happened last year, it seems permanently consigned by virtue of Jesus’ quoting it on the cross:

‘Why have you forsaken me?’

Ah, I see. We draw this week on verses 23 to 31 (click here for lectionary readings), a selection which has enough hair-shirt to qualify for Lent but does not include the ‘why hast thou forsaken me?’ lament from verse 1. It just shows how we can remember one good line in a passage and forget the rest.

In this selection there is much more, and more positive stuff — spirited reverence for divine sway over the creation and all nations, yet at the same time a call to praise, not only for this understanding but also that this is the same God who:

… did not despise the suffering of the afflicted one (or the poverty of the poor); nor turn away from me, but heard when I cried (v. 24)

This is part of the answer to that lament question when feeling forsaken.


For this reason, and to look forward to Good Friday during Lent, we include in the incidental music a setting by John Blow (1648 – 1708) which begins ‘My God, look upon me, why …?’ from verse 1.

However, the full reading for the week is encapsulated in sung verses and a refrain from Psalms for all seasons 22D (the alternate refrain and tone). This one does not use verse 1 and the famous forsaken feeling. Instead, in response to the comfort expressed in verse 24 above, we sing:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. (v. 27)

Music by Hildegard written in neumes.

Hildegard and Women’s Day

Women and girls are also invited to join preparations for International Women’s Day in March.

Amongst other dimensions to this important observance on 8 March under Gwenda’s guidance, they will sing extracts from O frondens virga by Hildegard of Bingen.

Historically informed, constantly relevant.
The psalms: historically informed, constantly relevant.

We are thrilled to welcome back to our company a cherished friend with her authentic hurdy-gurdy.

The feather will fly once more.

Psalm 112, 9 Feb 2014

Light rises in darkness

Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.

This is the antiphon from our chosen setting of Psalm 112 in Together in Song number 69; it’s a paraphrase based on verse 4.

It contains a powerful message – although just what ‘justice’ might mean in our daily lives is open to question.

As usual, it is worth looking at different translations as they often give us different ideas. NRSV says:

Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

For me, the New International Version wins:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

Singer, Sans Souci Potsdam

The music for the opening phrase of the response rises step by step, like the sun rising from dark hills, preparing for the final call to a life of justice and faith.

A group of women will lead in the singing of this antiphon and, for our consideration and edification, the first nine verses of the psalm. 

The verses will be sung freely to the tone (a short chant tune with harmony) in the hymn book, with Brian’s delightful guitar accompaniment.

For more information on how to sing tones:

Continue reading “Psalm 112, 9 Feb 2014”