When we think about prominent classical composers of the Middle Ages, few musicians can compare to German poet, herbalist, and composer St. Hildegard von Bingen. According to the Fordham University sourcebook “The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen,” her best known works include the morality play Ordo Virtutum, or the Play of Virtues, and the liturgical vocal compositions. Typical of the time period, Hildegard von Bingen’s works were simple compared to the complex contrapuntal lines of Bach in the Baroque Era or the perfectly mathematical harmonies of Mozart during the Classical Period. Much of the music that von Bingen wrote was spiritual in nature, as was common during the period of Gregorian Chant. As a university music and media professor for the past ten years, I have often found von Bingen to be an exemplary and unusual composer as diverse as the visual artist Leonardo da Vinci.
The Visions of Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen’s music may have had a higher calling. During her entire life she had spiritual visions that influenced both her music and her writings. Her spiritual gifts blossomed at an early age, when she was sent by her parents to accompany Count Stephan’s daughter. In a period of mass illiteracy, here Hildegard von Bingen learned to read and write, eventually writing the Liber Divinorum Operum, or Book of the Divine Works and Scivias, which had a series of visions carefully translated by Hildegard von Bingen. Her visions were so vivid that according to the Huffington Post May 12, 2012 article “Hildegard von Bingen Officially Declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XVI” the Catholic Church canonized her as a saint and prophetess, this despite her criticism of the religious leaders of her day.
A Renaissance Woman of the Middle Ages
Hildegard von Bingen’s talents extended into the medicinal arts and drama, as she wrote extensive works that touched on healing arts, poetry, and plays. Hildegard von Bingen’s impact on the world of music did not compare to her impact on the church, as she lived an atypical life for the woman of the Middle Ages. In fact, her myriad abilities made her extraordinary in her time, with some music scholars like myself comparing her to the concept of the Renaissance Man. Whether in music, spiritual matters, the healing arts, or theater, Hildegard von Bingen remains one of the bastions of the arts.
“The Life and Times of Hlidegard von Bingen” – Fordham University Sourcebook