Hildegard von BINGEN. 11,000 Virgins / Anonymous 4
Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula

Harmonia Mundi HMU 90 7200


1. [8:51]
Auctori vite psalmis  antiphon
Venite exsultemus Domino  invitatory
Karlsruhe LX, 13th c.

2. Hildegard von BINGEN. O dulcissime amator  [9:23]

3. Jesu corona virginum  hymn  [2:48]
Ahrweil Antiphoner, 13th c.

4. Hildegard von BINGEN. Spiritui Sancto  responsory [6:51]

5. Specie tua  versicle [0:25]
Karlsruhe LX, 13th c.

6. Hildegard von BINGEN. Favus distillans  responsory  [6:51]

7. Benedicamus Domino  [0:54]
Engelberg 314, 14th c.


8. Hildegard von BINGEN. Studium divinitatis  antiphon  [1:12]

9. Psalm 92. Dominus regnavit / Studium divinitatis  [3:27]
Ahrweil Antiphoner, 13th c.

10. Hildegard von BINGEN. O Ecclesia  sequence  [10:09]

11. Benedicamus Domino  [0:53]
Engelberg 314, 14th c.


12. Domine Deus meus  chapter  [0:51]
Berlin 40046, 13th c.

13. Mirabilis Deus  brief responsory  [1:10]
Karlsruhe LX, 13th c..

14. Hildegard von BINGEN. Cum vox sanguinis  hymn  [8:09]

15. Hildegard von BINGEN. O rubor sanguinis  antiphon  [1:38]

16. Magnificat anima mea / O rubor sanguinis  canticle  [5:01]
Ahrweil Antiphoner, 13th c.

17. Te lucis ante terminum  hymn  [2:03]
Ahrweil Antiphoner, 13th c.

18. Benedicamus Domino   0:47]
Worcester F. 160, 13th c


Ruth Cunningham
Marsha Genensky
Susan Hellauer
Johanna Maria Rose

Front cover: St. Hildegard and the seasons.
Illumination from Latinum Codex 1942, folio 38r, by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).
Biblioteca Statale, Lucca, Italy. Scala / Art Resource, New York.
Page 4: Ecclesia holding monks and virgins.
Illumination from Scivias, vision 11.5, by Hildegard of Bingen
Reprinted from Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias (Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1954), by permission of the publisher.
Photo of Anonymous 4 (inside CD case): Christian Steiner
Commentary texts and translations © harmonia mundi usa
© 1997, 2003 harmonia mundi usa

Recorded: November 13-18, 1996, Campion Center, Weston, Massachusetts
Producer: Robina G. Young
Recording Engineer: Brad Michel
Editor: Paul E Witt
Design: Karin Elsener


Music of 11,000 VIRGINS • Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula

From my early childhood, before my bones, nerves, and veins were fully strengthened, I have always seen this vision in my soul, even to the present time, when I am more than seventy years old. ...The light that I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud that carries the sun. . . . and I call it “the reflection of the living Light”. . . and I see, hear, and know all at once, and as if in an instant I learn what I know. But what I do not see, I do not know, for I am not educated, but I have simply been taught how to read. And what I write is what I see and hear in the vision. . . . And the words in this vision are not like words uttered by the mouth of man, but like a shimmering flame, or a cloud floating in a clear sky.

letter to Guibert of Gembloux (1175)1

Of the innumerable composers of sacred music before the fourteenth century, only a handful of names have come down to us. It is no small irony, then, that one of the most important is a “poor little woman” (as she called herself), untutored in music, and for whom musical composition was only one small part of a life of mystical experience and miraculous creativity.

From her memoirs and voluminous correspondence, we know a good deal about Hildegard's life. She was born to noble parents in 1098 in Bermersheim, near Mainz, Germany. She was their tenth child and was dedicated to the church as a tithe — a decision influenced, perhaps, by her poor health and strange visions. At the age of eight she entered a small convent associated with the monastery of St. Disibod near Bingen on the Rhine; and there, under the tutelage of the anchoress Jutta of Spanheim, in her mid-teens, she took her vows. The little convent grew and flourished under Benedictine rule, and when Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as magistra, or leader. It was five years later, at the age of forty-three, that Hildegard saw a vision of tongues of flame, signifying to her that she should write down and share her spiritual experiences, thus beginning her career as mystic, writer, and poet-composer.

In 1147, her first writings, describing her visions, came to the attention of the Benedictine reformer and preacher Bernard of Clairvaux and his friend, Pope Eugenius III, both of whom affirmed her gift as prophetess and mystic. Her fame increased, and with it the number of postulants at the convent of St. Disibod. Hildegard proposed to found a new convent at Rupertsberg, a little distance away. The monks of St. Disibod were reluctant to lose the famous Hildegard and her sisters, and Hildegard struggled through numerous difficulties —including a paralyzing illness— before the issue was resolved and the new convent completed in 1150. By 1165, the Rupertsberg convent had so prospered that Hildegard founded a daughter house at Eibingen, just across the Rhine.

In the meantime, with the help of her teacher and confidant, the monk Volmar, Hildegard finished her first visionary work, Scivias, in 1151, and began her scientific encyclopedia in two parts: a book of herbal medicine, called Physica, and a book of compound medicine, Causae et curae. Hildegard was well-known in her day as an herbalist and healer, and her knowledge and veneration of the natural world are evident in her poetry, with its frequent symbolic use of plants, animals, and gems.

Between 1150 and 1160, Hildegard also composed and edited her collection of poetical-musical works, the Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations). Two more books eventually followed in this trilogy of visions, as well as hundreds of letters, exegetical works, homilies, saints' lives, and a glossary of a secret language (her Lingua ignota). Amid all this she found the time and strength, after the age of sixty, to travel and preach throughout Germany. Her long life was filled with controversy and struggle, ending only with her death at Rupertsberg on 17 September 1179 at the age of eighty-one. Although attempts to have her canonized in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were unsuccessful, she is nevertheless honored as a saint in the Roman martyrology.

The Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum consists of seventy-seven poems with monophonic music, making up a liturgical cycle for specific feasts or feast classes. There are thirty-four antiphons, fourteen responsories, and three hymns for use in the daily round of psalm and prayer called the Divine Office. There are also five sequences, a Kyrie and an Alleluia verse for the Mass, and several other devotional works. The Symphonia was no doubt intended for the nuns of her convent, though some of its works were commissioned by or sent to monastic men as well. Hildegard claimed to have received these pieces directly in her visions, declaring herself to be a mere vessel or mouthpiece for the divine word. But no matter how they were generated, the absolutely integral relationship of text and music in all these works, their daring use of imagery, and the artful freedom of melodic formula and gesture are truly inspired and are a testament to her genius.

Hildegard was not “learned” in the manner of her scholarly brethren, bred on logic and patristic writings. Her intellect fed on the Bible —especially the Psalms and the Song of Songs— and on liturgical language; from these she drew her boldly juxtaposed images and rhapsodic style. In an age of regularly scanned and rhymed religious verse, Hildegard's poetry is unfettered and unpredictable with melodies characterized by wide, unprepared leaps, ornate melismas, and modal irregularities. Certain typical melodic formulas recur again and again, but the strong bond between text and music —as well as ingenious (or inspired) variation and recombination— transforms these formulas into a hypnotic web of sound. Although scholars have found some similarities to the works of earlier poet-musicians, Hildegard's style is truly individual and had no direct ancestors or descendants.


We have built our program around the feast of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (21 October), for which Hildegard wrote several liturgical works. This feast was probably celebrated with high solemnity at Hildegard's convent, which possessed some relics of the saint and her handmaidens from the site of their legendary martyrdom in nearby Cologne. Although these works were collected as a group, they were meant to be heard in the context of the standard liturgy. We have used as a framework portions of the three main services of the Divine Office —the midnight Vigil (later called Matins), Lauds (sunrise), and Vespers (evening)— and have included other liturgical chants and psalmody along with Hildegard's compositions. We believe that hearing Hildegard's works in this setting is an effective way to recreate the powerful impression they made on their first audience, both as evocations of the spiritual events they commemorate and as pure works of art.

In our performances we have occasionally added vocal drones to Hildegard's chants, and (where noted) polyphonic embellishment to some of the liturgical psalmody and to the final Benedicamus domino.


With the exception of a few fragments, there are two extant musical sources for the Symphonia. We have used as our main source the earliest surviving version (Dendermonde, St.-Pieters-&-Paulusabdij, Cod. 9), collected around 1170 at Rupertsberg, probably under Hildegard's supervision, and sent as a gift to the Cistercian monastery of Villers in Brabant (now Belgium). We have also consulted the later source (Wiesbaden Riesenkodex, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Cod. 2), which was prepared shortly after Hildegard's death, also at or near her home. It contains pieces missing from the somewhat defective Dendermonde manuscript, as well as compositions written after the first collection was made. It also includes Hildegard's morality play, Ordo virtutum (Play of the Virtues), a work of astonishing force and originality.

The chant and psalmody in our program are taken from roughly contemporary liturgical manuscripts from Germany and Switzerland, except for the final Benedicamus domino, from a British antiphoner of the early thirteenth century.


1 from , trans. and ed. Barbara Newman (Berkeley: Unnversioty of California Pres, 1987), by permisson of the publihser. © by The Regents of the University of California.


In the church of St. Ursula at Cologne is found an ancient inscription carved in stone, stating that a ruined church was restored in honor of some local virgin martyrs. This inscription is the earliest basis for the legend of St. Ursula and her virgin companions. Since the date and circumstances of their martyrdom were not recorded, it is still not known exactly who she was, when she was martyred (possibly as late as the fifth century), or how many women perished along with her.

The legend of Ursula and her virgin companions was not documented again until the eighth century. In early accounts Ursula's name was recorded along with five, eight, and eleven other virgin martyrs, but by the tenth century, the number of her companions had expanded to eleven thousand.

In the twelfth century, accounts of Ursula and her virgin army not only inspired Hildegard to write the ecstatic chants included in this program, but they also may have kindled certain visions of the mystic Elisabeth of Schönau, as related in her book, Revelations Concerning the Sacred Army of Virgins of Cologne. Her visions added vivid details to the legend and engendered many further accounts of the story, including a version found in Jacobus de Voragine's still-famous thirteenth-century collection, The Golden Legende, and a particularly lovely fifteenth-century English rendering in Osbern Bokenham's Legendys of hooly wummen.

According to the legend as it was eventually told, Ursula was the daughter of a British Christian king. Against her will she was betrothed to a pagan prince. She received permission to delay her marriage, saying that she wanted to make pilgrimage, but really intending to remain a virgin and dedicate herself to god. For three years she sailed in a ship bearing a thousand companion virgins; they were accompanied by ten noble virgins, each of whom travelled in her own ship bearing a thousand companion virgins. They went on pilgrimage to Rome; on their way back to Britain, they stopped in Cologne. It was there that Ursula and her companions were martyred by the Huns after Ursula refused to marry their chief. They were buried in Cologne, and later, a church was built in their honor.



Auctori vite psalmis
Venite exsultemus Domino

The origins of the Divine Office, as well as the use of Psalm 94 (Vulgate) to open the day's worship, lie in ancient Jewish psalm singing and prayer ritual. The invitatory psalm is sung to one of several specially adapted psalm tones chosen to match the antiphon (typically a short chant setting a verse or two of scripture). The invitatory antiphon, Auctori vite psalmis, is proper to the feast of St. Ursula and recurs in full or in part after each section of the psalm.

O dulcissime amator
Hildegard wrote two devotional works entitled symphonia: Symphonia virginum (Symphony of Virgins) and Symphonia viduarum (Symphony of Widows), for the two kinds of women who became nuns. The Symphonia virginum is full of imagery from the biblical Song of Songs, often erotic in vocabulary, but directed toward Jesus as bridegroom and lover of the virgin soul. Hildegard's musical setting of this text (as well as that of its companion, Symphonia viduarum) is intense but relatively contained, with large leaps and florid runs reserved for a few special effects.
O dulcissime amator appears to have been copied defectively in the two surviving manuscripts. Our transcription is based on a collation of both sources, emended so that each phrase remains in the same mode, or tone. .

Jesu corona virginum
Although many modern Christians think of them as part of the Mass or Communion liturgy, hymns were originally part of the Divine Office. The hymn Jesu corona virginum is from the liturgy of the Common of Virgins and would have been sung several times on the feast of St. Ursula, wherever a hymn proper to Ursula did not exist.

Spiritui Sancto
Specie tua

Responsories make up the bulk of the musical material of the Vigil (or Matins) service. Responsorial form (alternating choral and solo sections) grew out of the ancient Jewish practice of psalm singing with choral refrains. Spiritui Sancto is filled with the upward-leaping gestures associated so readily with Hildegard's style, but in a curious reversal of normal practice, the Verse, to be sung by the soloist(s), is somewhat lower in range and less florid than the choral Respond.
Versicles (simple statements and responses) are found throughout the structure of the Office and act as transitions and links between the many liturgical sections.

Favus distillans
Benedicamus Domino

In this Matins responsory, Hildegard has painted Ursula as the yearning lover using the ripe, erotic imagery of the Song of Songs. As in the responsory Spiritui Sancto, the Verse is lower and less ornate than the Respond, a reversal of the usual practice.
Similar to its counterpart, Ite missa est. Deo gratias (which ends the Mass), the response Benedicamus Domino. Deo gratias concludes each of the eight hours of the Office liturgy. We sing first the lower voice, then both parts, of this polyphonic setting.


Studium divinitatis
Psalm 92: Dominus regnavit

Among Hildegard's compositions for the feast of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins are eight antiphons to accompany psalms for the morning liturgy of Lauds. We perform the first of these antiphons with Psalm 92 (Vulgate), the first psalm of Lauds on feast days. Hildegard's poetic language was often inspired by the language of psalmody. In O Ecclesia, Hildegard borrows the powerful image of "many waters" ("aquarum multarum") and applies it to Ecclesia, the female personification of the living church.
We have added polyphonic embellishment to the psalm tone, following models of medieval lections (intoned Office and Mass readings) for solemn feasts. This type of note-against-note polyphony (called "archaic organum" by some scholars) is found in manuscripts throughout Germany, Bohemia, and Austria-Hungary and probably sets down a type of improvised counterpoint common to German-speaking lands.

O Ecclesia
Benedicamus Domino

This astonishing masterwork of poetry and music recounts the martyrdom of St. Ursula in mystically veiled but powerful language. Ecclesia is the female image for the universal church, her form and features as imposing as the earth itself. As Ursula faces her fate (her "fiery burden"), she merges with Ecclesia on a cosmic scale. In its source manuscript, O Ecclesia is called a sequence (an item of the Proper of the Mass consisting of paired poetic versicles, each pair sung to its own repeated musical phrase). But here the bounds of the form, already well-established by her time, are blurred or ignored by Hildegard to the point where the work resembles the free-form Symphonia as much as anything else. Because of this formal ambiguity we use O Ecclesia in place of a hymn at Lauds.
The Benedicamus Domino used here is the one that follows Spiritui sancto, sung entirely in its polyphonic form. Its counterpoint is of the "archaic organum" type used in Germanic lectionary improvisation, adapted by us in the Dominus regnavit and the Magnificat.


Domine Deus meus
Mirabilis Deus

We open Vespers with a chapter (a short scripture reading proper to the feast day, chanted to a prayer tone). This is followed by a brief responsory from the Common of Martyrs, specified for the feast of St. Ursula in its manuscript source. Its formal structure is essentially the same as in the Matins responsories Spiritui Sancto and Favus distillans, but in an extremely abbreviated form.

Cum vox sanguinis
Although it is labeled a hymn in its manuscript source, Cum vox sanguinis, like O Ecclesia, is unusual both musically and poetically. Nine of the ten stanzas begin with an upward leap of a fifth, but otherwise the music for each verse is quite different, and the poetic strophes themselves are thoroughly irregular. The sequence O Ecclesia recounts (in symbolic language) Ursula's yearnings and her ordeal on earth; unfolding from this, Cum vox sanguinis tells of her entry into paradise, in the company of the patriarchs and prophets, immediately after her martyrdom. In stanza seven ("et dixerunt: O nobilissima turba . . ."), which also contains textual references to Spiritui Sancto and Favus distillans, the apotheosis is symbolized by changing her earthly name, Ursula (little bear), to a heavenly one, Columba (dove) - symbol of purity, wisdom, and peace.

O rubor sanguinis
Magnificat anima mea

The antiphon O rubor sanguinis is labeled "In evangelium" in the manuscript source, meaning that it was intended to be sung with either the Benedictus at Lauds or the Magnificat at Vespers. We have placed it here at Vespers because its poetic imagery goes a step beyond both the earthly turmoil of O Ecclesia and the heavenly tumult of Cum vox sanguinis to a state of transcendent peace.
The Magnificat (or Canticle of Mary) is set to tone 1, to match the antiphon O rubor sanguinis, with counterpoint derived from a thirteenth-century German Christmas lection. The Magnificat is always sung to a special canticle tone in which the opening intonation figure is repeated for each verse instead of being heard only once at the beginning, as in a psalm.

Te lucis ante terminum
Benedicamus Domino

There are probably few hymns with more surviving melodies than the evening prayer Te lucis ante terminum. It is used today primarily for Compline, the liturgical day's last service, but it was also used for Vespers in the Middle Ages.
The Benedicamus Domino was a favorite vehicle for tropes, or additional text. This setting adds the simplest and most common trope of all: Alleluia.