Antiphons, sequences, hymns, oh my!

For the most part, Hildegard’s music fits into four categories: antiphons, sequences, responsories, and hymns.

Antiphon – a relatively short chant which can be sung before, after, and/or between verses of Psalms in both the Mass and the Divine Office (more on the Divine Office coming in a later post).  Hildegard wrote a whopping 43 of these on a variety of topics.  (Some historically questionable things happen during the last part of this recording, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.)

[Charity / abounds toward all, / most exalted from the depths / above the stars, / and most loving / toward all, / for she has given / the High King the kiss of peace. (trans. Barbara Newman)]

Sequence – these relatively long chants appear between the Alleluia and the Gospel in the Mass.  Their texts are generally new (not directly from scripture), and for the most part made up of couplets expanding on one story or idea.  Hildegard wrote seven.  This is perhaps my favorite, and I just finished transcribing it earlier today.

[O fire of the Spirit, the Comforter, / life of the life of all creation, / holy are you, giving life to the Forms. / Holy are you, anointing / the dangerously broken; / holy are you, cleansing / the fetid wounds. / O breath of sanctity, / O fire of charity, / O sweet savor in the breast / and balm flooding hearts / with the fragrance of virtues. / O limpid fountain, / in which it is seen / how God gathers the strays / and seeks out the lost: / O breastplate of life / and hope of the bodily frame, / O sword-belt of honor: / save the blessed! / Guard those imprisoned / by the foe, / free those in fetters / whom divine force wishes to save. / O mighty course / that penetrated all, / in the heights, upon the earth, / and in all abysses: / you bind and gather all people together. / From you clouds overflow, / winds take wing, / stones store up moisture, / waters well forth in streams – / and the earth swells with living green. / You are ever teaching the learned, / made joyful by the breath / of Wisdom. / Praise then be yours! / You are the song of praise, / the delight of life, / a hope and a potent honor, / granting rewards of light.  (trans. Barbara Newman)]

Responsory – these are usually a sort of call-and-response chant consisting of a verse and then a repeated line.  Due to their floridness, Hildegard’s responsories are generally considered “Great Responsories”, meaning they would follow Lessons in a Matins service.  There’s also a spot between readings in the first half of the Mass for a responsory.  Their complexity suggests that Hildegard’s convent was quite musically adept.

[O most noble greenness, / you are rooted in the sun, / and you shine in bright serenity / in a sphere / no earthly eminence / attains. / You are enfolded / in the embraces of divine / ministries. / You blush like the dawn / and burn like a flame of the sun. (trans. Barbara Newman)]

Hymn – perhaps the oldest form of chant.  Not a regular part of the Mass, but they would appear during the Divine Office and on special occasions.  As with much of her other work, Hildegard’s five hymns don’t fit the traditional poetic meter associated with the hymn.  They also tend to be quite long.  (This recording makes use of some very *ahem* interesting vocal ornamentation.)

[This text is very very long, but it uses elaborate metaphors to connect St. Ursula’s martyrdom with the story of Moses and sacrificial animals.]

She also wrote a Kyrie and an Alleluia, which fit in their usual spots in the Mass.

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