Hildegard von Bingen encounters the Oriental World

O cruor sanguinis – Hildegard von Bingen

The music of Hildegard and that of the Orient seem at first to have nothing to do with each other. But our western music on the Gregorian chant originates just as much from the Mediterranean as the oriental music, i.e. they have the same roots, which can still be heard in the oldest Gregorian chants. This music is based on scales: the modes in the West and makams in the East. From these, the major and minor scales developed over the centuries. At the time of Hildegard, the modes and monophonic singing were still common in our latitudes. Later, however, the West decided on a different path: polyphony. The Orient, on the other hand, stuck to the "cantus planus" and refined it over the centuries. Complicated scales with eighths, sevenths and quarter tones developed.

Hildegard (1098-1179) von Bingen was one of the most extraordinary women of her time. The Rhenish abbess wrote a vast number of works dealing with questions of theology, her own visions, music, nature and medicine. Hildegard was the first German naturalist, the first writing physician and healer, composer, painter, theologian and abbess of the Benedictine monasteries she founded on the Rhine. As the spiritual leader of her time, she gave advice and instructions to popes and emperors and did not shy away from criticising their decisions. She was already called "Prophetissa teutonica" during her lifetime, a Sybille of the Rhine.

Hildegard's compositional skills – creations from her visions – had been known since the late 1140s. In the 12th century, a time when most works were by anonymous authors, Hildegard left behind the largest body of clearly attributable music: liturgical chants that were part of the daily hourly prayers in the monastic community and which were later combined into a cycle under the title "Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum" (Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelation).

Im Gesang erkennt Hildegard eine Möglichkeit, die seelischen und emotionalen Kräfte des Menschen zu wecken und auf sie einzuwirken, denn die Seele des Menschen ist nach göttlichem Abbild klingend gestaltet und damit „symphonisch“ gestimmt. Sie ist Abbild des gewaltigen Kosmos, einer "musica mundana", der Harmonie aller Sphären: "Und so hat jedes Element seinen eigenen Klang, einen Urklang aus der Ordnung Gottes." Auch des Menschen Seele hat "tief in sich diesen schön geordneten Urklang, und sie ist selber die Melodie des so schönen Klanges".

With her compositions in the 12th century, Hildegard stands precisely at the European crossroads to polyphony: she is one of the last to compose in the cantus planus, to refine and expand it, to seek and find new sound spaces. She experimented with the means of her time. Here, one could also imagine a European development towards scales similar to those we still find today in oriental music.

In this way, the music of the Middle Ages becomes a bridge to Oriental music. This creates a dialogue not only between cultures but also between past and present.


O eterne Deus – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
O eternal God, draw near to us, glow with that love, that we may become living members, formed in the same love from which you begat your Son in the first dawn before all creatures. Look upon our afflictions which come upon us, and take them away from us for the sake of thy Son, and lead us into the joy of blessedness.

Karitas – Hildegard von Bingen / Dominik Schneider
From love to the stars, love floods the universe. It is lovingly devoted to all, since it gave the king the highest the kiss of peace.

Psalm 121
I lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: from whence cometh my help? Help comes to me from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The Lord keep thee from all evil, he keep thy life. The Lord preserve thy going and thy coming from henceforth for ever.

Djozz – Bassem Hawar

O rubor sanguinis – Hildegard von Bingen
You red blood that flowed down from the height that touched the Godhead. You are the flower that cannot be harmed by the ice-cold hiss of the serpent.

Psalm 114 – Tonus peregrinus
When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob out of the people of a foreign language, Judah became its sanctuary, Israel its dominion.

Cum erubuerint – Hildegard von Bingen
When shame overtakes us, always on the path of sin, like stumbled pilgrims: then you call them, with a high voice and help us up, us humans, after the treacherous fall.

Psalm 147
Jerusalem, praise the LORD; praise, O Sion, thy God. He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates, and blessed thy sons that are within thee. He hath granted peace unto thy borders; with the strength of waters he hath satisfied thee.

O Jerusalem – Hildegard von Bingen
O Jerulsaem, you golden city, adorned with the purple of the King! You are adorned with the dawn, shining forth in the glow of the sun! Your towers shine as clear as gold and shine brightly with the radiance of purple!

Lami – Bassem Hawar

O cruor sanguinis – Hildegard von Bingen
O cruel deed of blood, which cried to heaven, which set all the elements in an uproar: full of terror they cried out wailing, because the blood of the Creator wetted them even. So heal us from our gloom and exhaustion!

Arabi – Bassem Hawar

Psalm 91
He who may dwell in the shelter of the Most High rests in the shadow of the Almighty. A shield and a rampart is his faithfulness. You need not fear the terror of the night.

O tu illustrata – Hildegard von Bingen
O you, enlightened by the divine light, you bright Virgin Mary, flooded by the Word of God, your womb blossomed, as God's Spirit entered you and breathed through you, and sucked into you that which Eve threw away from herself, who lost purity through sinful touch from diabolical List.