From Bingen to Baghdad

IMG_2491The Music of Hildegard of Bingen in Dialogue with the Oriental World

Hildegard’s music and that of the Orient at first seem to have nothing in common. Yet our western music as well as oriental music comes from the Mediterranean region, that is to say, they have the same roots, which is also be clearly heard in the oldest Gregorian chants. This music is based on scales: on the modes in the West, and the maqams in the East. Over the course of the centuries, the major and minor keys developed out of them. In Hildegard’s time, the modes and monophonic singing were still common. The West, however, later decided on another path: the polyphony. The Orient, on the other hand, remained with the “cantus planus” and refined it over the centuries. Complicated scales with eighth, seventh, and quarter tones came into being.

Hildgard of Bingen (1098–1179) was one of the most extraordinary women of her time. The Rhenish abbess wrote vast amounts of works that dealt with questions of theology, with her own visions, with music, nature, and medicine. Hildegard was the first German naturalist, the first female physician and healer, composer, painter, theologist, and abbess of the Benedictine abbeys founded by her along the Rhine. As a spiritual leader of her time, she gave popes and emperors advice and instructions, and also did not spare with criticism of their decisions. Already during her lifetime she was called “Prophetissa teutonica,” a sibyl of the Rhine.

IMG_2506Hildegard’s compositional skills – creations from her visions – were known since the late 1140s. In the twelfth century, a period in which most works came from anonymous composers, Hildegard left behind the largest collection of unequivocally attributable music: liturgical hymns that were a part of the daily prayers in the monastic communities, and that were later subsumed into a cycle under the title “Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum” (symphony of the harmony of the heavenly revelation).

In song, Hildegard recognized a possibility to awaken the human being’s spiritual and emotional powers and to influence them, for the soul of the human being is fashioned after the divine image in sound and thereby “symphonically” atuned. It is a reflection of the vast cosmos, a “musica mundana,” the harmony of the spheres: “And thus each element has its own sound, an original sound from God’s order.” Also the soul of the human being has “deep within itself this beautifully ordered original sound, and it is itself the melody of the so beautiful sound.”

With her compositions, Hildegard stood in the twelfth century at the European crossroads to poylphony: she was one of the last to compose cantus plenus, to refine it, to expand it, to search for and find new sound spaces. She experimented with the means of her time. IMG_2492Here one could also imagine a European development toward scales similar to those we find today in oriental music.

In this way, the music of the Middle Ages becomes a bridge to oriental music. A dialogue is established not only between the cultures, but also between the past and the present.


You will find an audio from a concert of this program in the mediathek!



O eterne Deus – Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

O eternal God, incline yourself to us, glow in that love so that we become lively members, formed in the same love from which you begot your Son in the first dawn before all creatures. Look upon our distress that comes over us, and take it away from us for the sake of your Son, and lead us into the joys of blessedness.


– Karitas (instrumental) – Hildegard of Bingen / Dominik Schneider

– Karitas (vocal) – Hildegard of Bingen

From the love up to the stars, love floods the universe. It is lovingly devoted to all, since it gave the highest King the kiss of peace.

– Psalm 121

I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me. My help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. May he not suffer thy foot to be moved: neither let him slumber that keepeth thee. The Lord is thy keeper, the Lord is thy protection upon thy right hand. May the Lord keep thy coming in and thy going out; from henceforth now and for ever.


– O orzchis – Hildegard of Bingen

O immeasurably broad church, girded with devine weapons, adorned with hyacinth. O fragrance, issuing from the wounds of the peoples, you city of the knowledge! O, you too are anointed with strong sound, you sparkling gem.

– Psalm 109

The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.

He shall judge among nations, he shall fill ruins: he shall crush the heads in the land of the many. He shall drink of the torrent in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

– Djozz – Bassem Hawar

– O felix apparitio – Hildegard of Bingen

O what happy picture! In God’s friend Rupert, the flame of life has blazed up such that God’s love, which surrounds the fear of the Lord, flows through his heart. And thus his fame has blossomed in all citizens of heaven.

– Psalm 112

Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth now and for ever. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.

– Djozz – Bassem Hawar

– Cum erubuerint – Hildegard of Bingen

These wretches, full of shame, they crawl along from generation to generation on the pilgrimage path of their disaffection. But you call with a clear voice and raises him up, the human being from his deep fall.

– Psalm 147

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion. Because he hath strengthened the bolts of thy gates, he hath blessed thy children within thee. Who hath placed peace in thy borders: and filleth thee with the fat of corn.

– O virtus sapientie (instrumental) – Hildegard of Bingen / Dominik Schneider

– O Euchari – Hildegard of Bingen

O Eucharius, the dove has given you his power under miraculous signs, which once called incessantly called in the midst of the circle of the world. You have never seen it incarnate, and yet you work miracles in its shadow. And thus you shine on his heart and have taken form in the circle of the cherubim.


– Pastor animarum (instrumental) – Hildegard of Bingen / Dominik Schneider

– O virga ac diadema – Hildegard of Bingen

O twig and diadem in the purple of the king, you are closed like a well. You green and blossom in an entirely new way. Hail, hail! From your body a new life emerged. O you blossom, the glory of the Godhead awakened you from a noble twig. O twig, God looked ahead to your blossoming on the first day of his creation. Therefore the heaven resounds, the whole earth marvels, Mary, all praise to you. Oh, what pain, O what tragedy, when through the serpent’s guile sin’s distress befell the woman. But then, O dawn, from your womb ascended the new sun that redeemed all of Eve’s guilt. The blessing flows through you rich and richer than the harm that Eve once brought upon humankind. O you savior, you have given the people of this world the new light, so gather your Son’s following to the harmony of the heavenly choirs.


– O cruor sanguinis – Hildegard of Bingen

O cruel bloody deed, which cries to heaven, which puts all elements into turmoil: full of horror they cry out plantively, because the blood of the creator moistens them.

So heal us from our melancholy and exhaustion!

– Arabi – Bassem Hawar

– Psalm 91

He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob. He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector, and my refuge: my God, in him will I trust. For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters: and from the sharp word. He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust. His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night. Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee. But thou shalt consider with thy eyes: and shalt see the reward of the wicked.


– O tu illustrata (instrumental) – Hildegard of Bingen / Dominik Schneider

– O tu illustrata – Hildegard of Bingen / Maria Jonas

O you, illuminated by the divine light, you bright Virgin Mary, suffused by God’s word, your womb blossomed, since God’s spirit entered you, who pervaded you, and absorbed into you that which Eve threw from herself, who lost the purity through the sinful touch of devilish guile.