This last week was a super one.
I went back to the Abtei-St. Hildegard to interview the nuns about their music making and their patron saint. Luckily for me, the sisters found a nun for me who spoke some English, so we conversed in half-German and half-English and were able to understand one another.
I’ll spare you the musicological details, partially due to my internet hourglass running down, but I now have a mission from the nuns, though I can’t begin to undertake it until I’m back in the states with English translations and the original Latin available to me. Schwester Lydia told me that if I want to understand what music meant to Hildegard, I should take the title of her collection of songs – Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum – and learn how she uses each of those words individually in her writings, what she means by each of them, and how she uses them in various combinations. Then, when I put Hildegard’s usage and meaning of these four words together, I’ll understand.
(…as if my curiosity would let me turn it down…)
Also, I acquired the Source of Sources.
It’s the latest critical edition of ALL of Hildegard’s musical works, complete with her morality play Ordo Virtutum. Basically, someone with a doctorate and several other degrees did what I was doing with my transcription project, but with ALL the extant manuscripts, combined them, edited them, and boiled them down into the complete edition I now possess. But wait, there’s more! It also has all the background information about all of the sources (such as where and when they were created, where they are now, their entire contents, etc.) and several indexes with important details about all of the pieces. Essentially, this wonderful book has everything I was trying to compile all together in one place in modern (square) chant notation, which makes performance easy while maintaining the original neume shapes as best as possible. JACKPOT.
There have been several days that I’ve literally flipped through this book and sung all day long.
Last Saturday, I went to Mainz for a fantastic evening of medieval music put on by Capella Antiqua Bambergensis, a magnificent group of musicologist-scholar-performers. They’re one of the few medieval ensembles I’ve interviewed who are all classically trained early music specialists. They also do such daring things as perform the Nibelungenlied and the Song of Roland how they may have been performed in a feast hall hundreds of years ago (I have a recording, it’s pretty exciting). Getting to hear them and then talk to them afterwards was incredibly inspiring. The two main bits of advice they had for me were 1) improvisation is the key to performing this music (we’ve only got small fragments of tunes, they’ve got to be elaborated upon, especially when playing in an ensemble), and 2) put together an ensemble and make music. Find some people and do it. The scholarship and research is all very important, yes, but music is fundamentally a living thing.
Oh, and their wind player makes all of his own instruments and they’re incredibly beautiful.
If you’re in Portland this summer and want to make some medieval music with me….
(also, if you’re trying to get in touch with me via email right now, I don’t have the ability to respond)