Music Memes: Sacred Music Expanding

31 Aug

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was born in the Rhine region of modern day Germany. Famous for mystical visions, she toured Europe, founded her own monastery, and had frequent written correspondence with Emperors, Kings and Popes. Her reputation as a woman in direct communication with the Divine, coupled with her position as Abbess of her own Convent, allowed her a voice, even when women were excluded from the priesthood and the choir. With her reputation she was able to compose music as well as texts on science, theology and medicine. She was able to continue these practices throughout her lifetime, opening the way to the beginnings of music separate and distinct from the direct control of the church.

Ordo Virtutum is Bingen’s most famous musical work. It is the earliest morality play, an allegorical drama not attached to the official liturgy. She was familiar with Boethius’s texts on music and she believed music was an essential unifying element of the human soul. Ordo Virtutum is translated from the Latin “The Virtues” and is one of the earliest European examples of a new genre of music.  Bingen personifies an era of continued musical evolution. Even though she wrote mainly monophonic compositions, she was a forebear of the musical innovation that appeared during the Ars Antigua and Ars Nova periods.