When I was a student at Mozarteum I would pop into the sheetmusic store at Theatergasse “Mayrische Buchhandlung” at regular intervals and go through the piles on the shelves, always on the look for interesting or challenging music. One day my eye fell onto that edition of the chants of Hildegard von Bingen, edited by Marianne Richert Pfau, a small brochure of songs. Back then I was really into medieval music, and yet I found it impossible to deal with any of the songs but “O pastor animarum”, which seemed manageable in length and ambitus. Somehow Hildegard denied access to her more substantial chants – only to thrust that door wide open more than 10 years later .
What was really bothering me from the beginning – does the “traditional” approach of gregorian chant performance practice in its serene attitude bare of emotional language interpretation impose limitations onto the chants of Hildegard… what kind of personality was she… putting into consideration the vast amount of literary output of that great visionary woman of medieval spirituality and the many extraordinary insights revealed therein, we have reason to believe, that her musical output equals her literary works … equally extraordinary, daring, beyond any norm and of course highly emotional.
No, Hildegard was not hysterical, life itself and lifestyle in those days certainly prevented that. But her phrasing and the stunning range of most chants across two octaves show a strong personality, who certainly did not delve in shallow waters of the spirit. She must have been searching for the sound supreme, and her voice must have been and her compositional output WAS and IS a testimony of that fact. Having studied the transcendental aspects of the human voice for so many years I deeply feel the nature of Hildegards compositions as pure transcendental music. Transcending the sphere of human nature and pointing towards the supreme power.
One of the most delightful facets of working on Hildegards songs is the way the great visionary obviously succeeds in putting spiritual meaning and relevant content into musical phrases, that pertain their perceivability up to the present day. What a stunning revelation, don `t you think ?