By James Stovall
No figure in the history of music blends musicology with faith as poignantly as Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179), sometimes known as Sibyl of the Rhine.
She was a twelfth century German Benedictine Nun who defies all modern preconceptions of the stereotypical religious of the Middle Ages.
In 2012 she was formally canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and was named Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. A Doctor of the Church is a status given to only thirty-five of the thousands of revered saints in the Catholic tradition. She is the fourth woman to hold this honor.
What was so special about her, you ask?
St. Hildegard Von Bingen was a polymath.
As we all know, geniuses are common in many fields. What is less common is for one to be a genius in many different fields. Such a person is known as a polymath.
She was a proverbial Jack-of-All-Trades: Master-of-them-all. Among her fields of expertise were musical composition, linguistics, nutrition, theology, botany, medicine, poetry, and the creation of illuminated texts (the really pretty, ornate documents of the Middle-Ages).
She was also purported to be a visionary, one who has had visions of supernatural phenomenon.
Her musical contribution is enormous!
Additionally, she is the earliest female composer whose compositions are regularly discussed in college level music classes.
One of her most influential compositions is the Ordo Virtutum, the first example of a liturgical drama (musical church play) dating nearly a century before any other.
The plot revolves around the battle for a soul between the personified virtues and the devil. It was performed by the nuns in the convent. The role of the devil is spoken, not sung.
She has become quite popular in the modern era. New agers and health gurus revere her because of her writings on holistic nutrition and the therapeutic use of crystals and music in healing.
Her music has an ethereal quality that is found particularly attractive to those who enjoy meditation or contemplative prayer.
Even the field of astronomy is not ignorant of St. Hildegard as a minor planet in our solar system is named for her.
Enjoy the selection linked below.