Hildegard von Bingen: Alleluia! O virga mediatrix

Context

This verse is meant to accompany the singing of the Gospel at Mass. Alleluia! O virga mediatrix is one of Hildegard von Bingen’s musical depictions of the Virgin Mary’s role in salvation history. The text speaks of feminity and fertility, with the fruit of the Virgin Mary’s womb bursting out into the world to redeem it.  

The Text

Latin to English translation:  

Alleluia! / Alleluia!

O virga mediatrix, / O branch and mediatrix,

sancta viscera tua / your sacred flesh

moretm superverunt / has conquered death,

et venter tuus omnes creaturas / your womb all creatures

illuminavit / illumined

in pulchro flore de suavissima / in beauty’s bloom from that

integritate / exquisite purity

clausi pudoris tui / of your enclosed modesty

orto / sprung forth

 

The Music

Sung in the E mode, the setting of this verse is highly melismatic and neumatic. With each syllable being sung on two-four notes, the music is wholly made up of this stepwise movement. The work starts with an extensive melisma on Alleluia, which is outlined and supported by the E modality. The lines sancta viscera tua mortem superaverunt, et venter tuus omnes creaturas illiminavit are given much more extensive melismatic movement to highlight their importance in the verse. The emphatic treatment of these lines are opposed to the line after – in pulchro flore, which is strictly syllabic. This idea is quite typical of Bingen, as she often implores salvific significance to Mary. The text is wholly intertwined with the music, making Bingen’s subtle movements all the more impressive.  

Final Thoughts

Composed some time during the 12th century, Alleluia! O virga mediatrix is an atmospheric vocal work that although sounds complex through the melismatic movement, is actually a quite straightforward verse from Bingen.


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