Hildegard von Bingen: Alleluia! O virga mediatrix
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.
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
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.
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. The atmospheres created add to the overall attractiveness of the work, with the mix of vocals creating importance for various parts of the verse.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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*This blog is part of the ‘German-Speaking Musical Greats Project’ 2019-20