One month down, one month to go. Today, I took stock of where I’m at, formulated a strategy for my remaining time, and narrowed down my repertoire choices. I want to present a vocal program that is a good representative sampling of Hildegard’s work, so I’ll perform at least one of each type of chant. My bare-bones set list is as follows:
Antiphon – O virtus Sapientie (memorized and ready to go), O rubor sanguinis (almost memorized)
Sequence – O ignis Spiritus Paracliti (analyzed, memorization started)
Responsory – O vos felices radices (still need to transcribe)
Hymn – to be decided. All of Hildegard’s hymns are long, intricate, and vocally challenging, which means this decision needs to be made carefully and I’m not yet sure which hymn best suits my voice and interests.
I’ll probably add a few more antiphons. They’re generally compact and more straightforward than the other chant types, which means I can show a more varied selection. Hildegard’s sequences and responsories are often quite long (which is true for the ones I’m performing), and while they’re wonderful, I think more than one of each would imbalance the program and risk tiring my listeners out.
Hildegard also wrote a morality play, Ordo virtutum, but I won’t be performing any of the music from it. I think it would be odd to present sections of Ordo without the entire context, and the songs in the Symphonia will be quite sufficient to do justice to Hildegard’s oeuvre.
Where do I go from here? My primary source readings are as complete as they’re going to be in German, and I could amass secondary sources until the end of time. I recently read an article about applying ethnomusicology techniques to early music, essentially seeking out the living musical descendants of the repertoire you’re trying to recreate and learning from them. I already have this partially factored in to my project with the Benedikterinnen Abtei St. Hildegard, but I’m seeking out more opportunities to experience chant while I’m over here.
On the broader topic of performance practice, I’m extremely curious how different ensembles make their musical choices – and there are medieval festivals abound in Germany during the early summer. I’ve found a couple not too far from Bingen in the next few weeks that have quite a range of performers (from the obviously scholar-historian sort to the (ahem) perhaps less historically informed) and my plan at this point is to go observe them, talk to them, learn why they do things the way they do, and get a feel for current trends in medieval performance.
It seems strange to me that there can be such a thing as a ‘current trend’ for a historically-based artform… but the early musicology articles I’ve read so far present a huge spectrum of opinions and ideas seem to come and go in waves of popularity. I’m very excited to hear what the living practitioners of this music have to say about their methods.
And, of course, I still have to study and prepare the chants myself. 🙂
It is likely that my posts will get more frequent and far more interesting in the near future. I’ve done my best to avoid tossing out somewhat boring updates such as “only 1000 pages to go!” or summarizing the most recent article I’ve read. Fear not – more fieldwork is on its way!