Hildegard von Bingen: O virga ac diadema

The Text

1 – O virga ac diadema purpure regis / O branch and diadem in royal purple clad, que es in clausura tua sicut lorica: / who like a shield stand in your cloister strong.

2 – Tu frondens flouristi in alia vicissitudine / You burst forth blooming but with buds quite different quam Adam omne genus humanum produceret. / than Adam’s progeny – th’ entire human race.

3 – Ave, ave, de tuo ventre alia vita processit / Hail, o Hail! For from your womb came forth another life, qua Adam filios suos denudaverat. / that had been stripped by Adam from his sons.

4 – O flos, tu non germinasti de rore / O bloom, you did not spring from dew nec de guttis pluvie / nor from the drops of rain, nec aer desuper te volavit sed divina / nor has the windy air flown over you; but radiance divine claritas in nobilissima virga te produxit. / has brought you forth upon that noblest bough.

5 – O virga, floriditatem tuam Deus in prima die / O branch, your blossoming God had forseen creature sue previderat. / within the first day of his own creation.

6 – Et te Verbo suo auream materiam, / And by his Word he made of you a golden matrix, o laudabilis Virgo, fecit. / O Virgin, worthy of our praise.

7 – O quam magnum est in viribus suis latus viri, / O, how great in power is that side of man, de quo deus formam mulieris produxit, / from which God brought the form of woman forth, quam fecit speculum / a mirror made omnis ornamneti sui et amplexionem / of all his ornament and an embrace omnis creature sue. / of all his own creation.

8 – Inde concinunt celestia organa et miratur / The heavens’ symphony resounds, in wonder stands Omnis terra, o laudabilis Maria, / all earth, O Mary, worthy of our praise, quia Deus te valde amavit. / for God has loved you more than all.

9 – O quam valde plangendum et lugendum / O cry and weep! How deep the woe! est quod tristicia in crimine / what sorrow seeped wirth guilt per consilium serpentis in mulierem fluxit. / in womanhood because the serpent hissed his wicked plan!

10 – Nam ipsa mulier, quam Deus matrem omnium / That woman, whom God made to be the mother of the world Posuit, viscera sua / has pricked her womb cum vulneribus ignorantie decerpsit, et plenum dolorem / with wounds of ignorance, the full inheritance of grief generi suo protulit. / she offered to her offspring.

11 – Sed, o aurora, de ventre tuo novus sol processit, / But from your womb, O dawn, has come the sun anew; qui omnia criminia Eve abstersit / the guilt of Eve he’s washed away et maiorem benedictionem per te protulit / and through you offered humankind a blessing quam Eva hominibus nocuisset. / even greater than the harm that Eve bestowed.

12 – Under, o Salvatrix, que novum lumen humano generi / O Lady Saviour, who has ofered to the human race Protulisti: colliege membra Filii tui / a new and brighter light: together join the members of your Son ad celestem armoniam. / into the heavens’ harmony.


The Music

Based around the A mode, the setting of this verse is entirely syllabic, unlike many of Hildegard von Bingen’s vocal works. Important words from the text are highlighted by neumatic phrasing, Bingen unusually uses no melismatic movement in this choral work. This work shows Bingen celebrating Mary’s recovery of the glory of the feminine.

The text takes you on a journey through the mistakes made by Adam and Eve, to the birth of Jesus Christ. Eve’s character is questioned in this piece, with the text saying that she placed trust in the wrong person (the serpent), however she was not malicious in her intentions. This idea is emphasised musically by Bingen, with consecutive jumping intervals and a moving modal melody line that accentuates this idea.

The text is set in a ring cycle, with the celebration of Mary starting and ending this piece. Bingen utilises much more musical freedom in this piece in comparison to some of her others. In particular the way she uses phrasing to create multifaceted messages. For example, she moves a phrase of both melodically and rhythmically on the word ‘claritas’ (radiance), which is a curious word to move on.

It is often reminded that the concept of ‘salvation’ made its roots in physical health, not necessarily the traditional reading of deliverance from sins. Therefore the title ‘Salvatrix’ takes us to a place where the Virgin Mary’s role is that of a healer. By the end of the piece, the Virgin Mary is seen gathering everybody together ‘into the heaven’ harmony’ – safe from harm and now at peace.

Final Thoughts

O virga ac diadema is one of Hildegard von Bingen’s longer choral works, with the extensive reams of text taking the listener on a journey of healing and celebration.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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