After all that Baroque and Renaissance music, it’s surely time for something a bit older – and it’s definitely time for some good, old-fashioned, medieval theology, and a glimpse of Mary. (You’ll be seeing a lot of her this month. I tend to think that Advent is all about Mary, and nobody has managed to convince me otherwise so far).
After all that heavy, fugal Bach, one needs something simple as a palate cleanser. At least, I do. And what could be simpler than plainchant?
Hildegard of Bingen has been a favourite of mine for quite some years, just because she was so interested and involved in everything – music, poetry, art, politics, and more – and so fearless and certain in her faith and her visions. She had absolutely no problem writing to Dukes, Kings and even Popes to tell them where they were going wrong. Irresistible, at least to me.
Hildegard’s monastery at Eibingen is, if I recall correctly, a reconstruction of the original building. It doesn’t have the soaring architecture of the gothic cathedrals and churches, being more Roman in character, and it is relatively dark and small, though the walls are painted with images from the bible. It would have, I think, a wonderful acoustic for female voices.
This is the first of many Maryish pieces that will be heard in my musical Advent Calendar. My knowledge of Advent theology and texts is shaky, but this, to me, is Mary’s season – if Advent is about expecting the birth of Jesus, surely his mother is the most expectant of all?
And this piece of music, like most of Hildegard’s work, is wonderfully serene, and beautifully sung.
Lyrics in English are:
I behold you,
noble, glorious and whole woman,
the pupil of purity.
You are the sacred matrix
in which God takes great pleasure.
The essences of Heaven flooded into you,
and the Great Word of God dressed itself in flesh.
You appeared as a shining white lily,
as God looked upon you before all of Creation.
O lovely and tender one,
how greatly has God delighted in you.
For He has placed His passionate embrace within you,
so that His Son might nurse at your breast.
Your womb held joy,
with all the celestial symphony sounding through you,
Virgin, who bore the Son of God,
when your purity became luminous in God.
Your flesh held joy,
like grass upon which dew falls,
pouring its life-green into it,
and so it is true in you also,
o Mother of all delight.
Now let all Ecclesia shine in joy
and sound in symphony
praising the most tender woman,
Mary, the bequeather/seed-source of God.