Hildegard von Bingen: Cum erubuerint
Hildegard von Bingen’s haunting choral work Cum erubuerint is a companion piece to her other antiphon Cum processit factura. Between these two works the story of Adam and Eve’s naive fall into deception and how the Virgin Mary and her Son graced the world for the first time.
Latin and English translation
Cum erubuerint infelices / While downcast parents blushed,
in progenie sua, / ashamed to see their offspring
procedentes in peregrinatione casus, / wand’ring off into the fallen exile’s pilgramige,
tune tu clamas clara voce, / you cried aloud with crystal clear voice,
hoc modo homines elevans / to lift up humankind
de isto malicioso casu. / from that malicious fall.
Based around the mode of E, Cum erubuerint is largely neumatic – meaning most syllables are sung between two and four notes. Bingen cleverly places melismatic movement on key phrases and words throughout the antiphon. This antiphon is short, but Bingen is able to crush in lots of musical and textural delights.
The lines ‘You cried aloud with crystal voice, to life up mankind, from that malicious fall’ depicts the birth of Jesus, and how he has saved mankind from the troubles made by Adam and Eve. ‘Clara voce’ or ‘Crystal clear voice’ is highly melismatic, placing emphasis on the way that the Son came into the world and the impact he would have.
The use of B mode against the E mode is also used to emphasise various ideas such as Mary’s actions and her importance in this divine story. The highest pitch of the piece is heard whilst the importance of Mary is being proclaimed, which also leads to the vocal climax of the antiphon.
The last word of the antiphon ‘casu’ (‘fall’) begins on the lowest pitch of the piece. To follow it is the longest melismatic phrase of the work. Beginning on a low B and crawling up to an E and then back down again emphasises the importance of this word in the text.
Cum erubuerint has a haunting atmosphere, yet it is hopeful in its message. Speaking of hope and salvation after previous mistakes, the text highlights the importance of the Virgin Mary in this story. Bingen’s clever use of melismatic movement and different modes creates a wonderfully rich antiphon.
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