In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hildegard of Bingen

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Monographs
  • Bibliography, Research Reports, and Iconography
  • Essay Collections
  • Biography
  • Facsimiles and Online Reproductions
  • Music Editions
  • Text Editions and Translations
  • Sources, Notation, and Editing
  • Symphonia
  • Poetry
  • Theology
  • Analysis
  • Mode
  • Genres
  • Subject Matter
  • Plainchant Context
  • Performance Practice
  • Authenticity
  • Reception
  • Sexuality

Music Hildegard of Bingen
Honey Meconi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0129


Hildegard of Bingen (b. 1098–d. 1179), Benedictine nun and founder of a religious community, is highly unusual in being not merely a woman composer in the Middle Ages, but a named composer of a substantial body of plainchant (seventy-seven songs commonly known as the Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum [Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations] and a Latin sacred drama, Ordo Virtutum, survive) who normally wrote her own texts and whose music was transmitted in manuscripts likely compiled under her direct supervision. She is further noteworthy in that her compositional activity was merely one aspect of her self-proclaimed identity as a vessel through whom God spoke, better noted in her time for a trio of lengthy theological treatises recounting her visions; an extensive correspondence with both ecclesiastical and secular figures; and various other creations, including scientific writings, shorter theological works, and an invented language and alphabet. Her work is holistic, which means that understanding of her music requires knowledge of her nonmusical output as well. Interest in Hildegard’s prose writings has been sustained since her death, but little evidence survives for posthumous concern with music until the mid-19th century, with, until recently, the greatest activity coming from the nuns of her reconstituted abbey. Burgeoning activity in all areas of Hildegard research has led, since the 1980s, to a dramatic increase in performances and recordings of her compositions as well as more in-depth and critical musicological attention. Major ongoing issues include the challenges posed by the available editions; the question of whether her music was created for liturgical use, and if so in what way; the interconnections among the different notated versions of her music and its text-only sources, including questions of precedence and intent; understanding of the music’s modal structure; determination of the individuality of her style within the context of contemporary chant and reliance on earlier models; and the perennial problem of chant performance.

General Overviews

Readers needing an article-length introduction to Hildegard’s music have many choices. Bent and Pfau 2010 and McGrade 2002 provide ready summaries in English and German, respectively. Ritscher 1967 presents the traditional and still-influential reading of her compositions. Pfau 1996 and Pfau 1998 are informed by the author’s important analytical researches, the former using the lens of a single composition and the latter spreading a broader net. The author of Fassler 1998, coming to Hildegard after extensive work in other areas of medieval music, uses that expertise to ground Hildegard contextually. Kreutziger-Herr 1998 confronts the assumptions on which much work has been based. Leigh-Choate, et al. 2014 includes an extensive overview of bibliography as the contributors position Hildegard’s music within the monastic community, contemporary theory, and biblical imagery.

  • Bent, Ian D., and Marianne Pfau. “Hildegard of Bingen.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    The standard musicological reference work in English, with the original article by Bent updated by Pfau. The bibliography was expanded from the second edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001). Available online by subscription.

  • Fassler, Margot. “Composer and Dramatist: ‘Melodious Singing and the Freshness of Remorse.’” In Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World. Edited by Barbara Newman, 149–175 and 241–251. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    Places Hildegard’s music in liturgical context and identifies specific plainchant models. Concentrates on the Scivias songs (suggested as composed for All Saints Day) and Ordo Virtutum (possibly for the end of Matins, and considered a new Ordo prophetarum), and connects both to the image of the Jesse tree.

  • Kreutziger-Herr, Annette. “Zur Musik der Hildegard von Bingen.” In Europäische Mystik vom Hochmittelalter zum Barock: Eine Schlüsselepoche in der europäische Mentalitäts-, Spiritualitäts- und Individuationsentwicklung; Beiträge der Tagung 1996 und 1997 der Evangelischen Akademie Nordelbien in Bad Segeberg. Edited by Wolfgang Beutin and Thomas Bütow, 67–94. Bremer Beiträge zur Literatur- und Ideengeschichte 21. Paris and Vienna: Peter Lang, 1998.

    An introduction to Hildegard’s music and musical thought in the context of a sophisticated examination of the problems surrounding research. Includes summary of previous scholarship and identification of various lacunae. Provides some comparison with contemporary chant and claims that none of Hildegard’s music was for liturgical use.

  • Leigh-Choate, Tova, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler. “Hearing the Heavenly Symphony: An Overview of Hildegard’s Musical Oeuvre with Case Studies.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Edited by Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Debra L. Stoudt, and George Ferzoco, 163–192. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition 45. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    In this overview of Hildegard’s music, the authors argue that “Hildegard’s songs reflect and inform the monastic cycle of worship . . . [and] derive meaning from and impart it to her other theological and exegetical works” (p. 192). Case studies position her O vos angeli within contemporary German theoretical tradition and interpret Ordo virtutum as a “sonic tree of Jesse.” A bibliographical review is included.

  • McGrade, Michael. “Hildegard von Bingen.” In Personenteil: Gri–Hil. Vol. 8 of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, cols. 1534–1542. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2002.

    The standard musicological reference work in German. Replaces the article by Joseph Schmidt-Görg in the first edition.

  • Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1178 [sic]).” In Annäherung an sieben Komponistinnen mit Berichten, Interviews und Selbstdarstellungen: VII. Edited by Brunhilde Sonntag, Renate Matthei, and Clara Mayer, 6–22. Kassel, Germany: Furore, 1996.

    Provides an overview of Hildegard’s biography, musical background, conception of music, and content of Symphonia, with an exploration of her musical style through analysis of her responsory for Virgins, O nobilissima viriditas, including edition and translation. Includes bibliography and detailed list of musical compositions.

  • Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Zur Musik der Hildegard von Bingen.” Musik und Kirche 68 (1998): 3–13.

    A general introduction to Hildegard’s musical style, with introductory material on her musical philosophy and liturgical use of the songs. Pfau uses eight compositions, of various genres, to illustrate typical aspects of Hildegard’s texts, modal practice, formal structures, choice of range, and text-music relationships, especially the treatment of melisma.

  • Ritscher, M. Immaculata. “Zur Musik der heiligen Hildegard.” In Colloquium amicorum: Joseph Schmidt-Görg zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Siegfried Kross and Hans Schmidt, 309–326. Bonn, Germany: Beethovenhaus, 1967.

    Basic coverage of Hildegard’s music vis-à-vis contemporary references to her compositional activity; the music’s function, sources, themes, notation, general formal structure, and style; its departure from norms of Gregorian chant; and its function as an expression of her charismatic gift.

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