Sacred Music Drama: Ordo virtutum
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 1 Tracks 18 & 19
When I was taking music history in college, about ten years ago now, it was with effort that women composers were included. I cannot recall if Hildegard of Bingen came up in those classes but she deserves more attention.
In this piece, the text is in three parts which are an introduction, quote, and prayer. The music, however, is a single idea. It is an upward leap of a fifth, 'E' to 'B,' followed by steps and thirds and a very occasional fourth. The music is beautiful because the listener follows the curves of the line always in reference to that fifth. When the piece extends up to its highest note, which it does twice, it leaps to that note from a high 'E.' The distance this note has from the opening 'E,' and its isolation in the upper register make the moments when it is used exceptional. This climax, and I think the piece on a whole, is also helped by the instrumental pedal tone.
What I like about this work is the awareness Hildegard has of her listener's attention. The piece is about four minutes total. The climax occurs about two-thirds of the way through. The work is generally restrained until the end where the word porrigat
is extended over more notes than any word previous. I suspect any lister, ancient or otherwise, is able to think about one thing for four minutes maximum. About two-thirds of the way through this duration any lister is going to be looking for some sort of revelation. And the listener, having given attention, deserves some clue indicating the home stretch.