Hildegard of Bingen

Composer Hildegard of Bingen

An 11th-century composer, author, and political and spiritual advisor, known for her liturgical works and credited with writing the first morality play.

Vital Statistics
1098, in Bermersheim, near Alzey (modern Germany)
September 17, 1179, in Rupertsberg, near Bingen
During Lifetime:
European armies conquer Jerusalem in the First Crusade. Pope Innocent II is accused of being an antipope, and convinces the German King Lothair III to march on Rome (1133). In 1145, a second Holy Crusade begins.
Biographical Outline
  • Noble birth: Born into a family of free nobles, Hildegard was sent by her parents to a monastery at the age of 14.
  • 1136-1158: Serves as prioress of the Benedictine monastery in Disibodenberg, and by 1158 starts her own convent in Rupertsberg.
  • Ahead of her time: Composes the first-known morality play nearly a century before anyone else writes one. Titled Ordo virtutum (Order of the virtues, circa 1150), it is an allegorical work in which the virtues fight the devil for Anima, the human soul.
  • Publications: A total of 77 of Hildegard’s songs, composed between approximately 1163 and 1190, are anthologized as a liturgical cycle in the published collection Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Harmonic sounds of celestial revelation).
Fun Facts
  • Friends in high places: Hildegard, sometimes called the Sybil of the Rhine, was often consulted by popes, emperors, and statesmen because of her numerous prophesies and miracles. As a result, she gained a level of political influence that was highly unusual for a woman of her time.
  • Teacher: Between 1160 and 1170, Hildegard made four missionary tours around Germany, even though it was not common for women to teach.
  • Writer: She also wrote biographies of various saints, works on medicine and natural science, and a large collection of prophetic articles. Many of these works, such as Scivias, are more famous than her music.
  • St. Hildy?: Many considered Hildegard to be a saint, but she was never canonized by the church.
Recommended Biography
Explore the Music
  • Chant: Most of Hildegard’s musical works are settings of the liturgy, or of her own poems and visions.
  • Text: The relationship between her music and text is critically important, and is meant to uncover deeper spiritual meaning. While many medieval compositions were based on liturgical plainchant, Hildegard’s music is original: Some of her songs use a single note per syllable, while others are extremely florid and go through as many as 75 notes between syllables.
  • Recent Boom: In the 1990s, along with other medieval chant, there was a resurgence of interest in Hildegard’s music — winning her appreciation 800 years after her death.
Recommended Websites
  • The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen. Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi, USA, 2005).
  • Celestial Harmonies. Oxford Camerata (Naxos, 2008).
  • Ordo virtutum. Sequentia (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1998, 2 CDs).