In fact, for the most part the events were a secret to virtually everyone in the world except for a few trusted confidants. At 42, von Bingen records that she was instructed by heavenly forces to begin writing down the content of her visions but still refused to do so out of humility. In time, the overwhelming forces that directed her life demanded her compliance and she acquiesced. With the sanction of Pope Eugenius, von Bingen recorded detailed accounts of the visions. The writings of her visions are contained in the Book of Life's Merits and the Book of Divine Works and serve as the inspiration for many of her additional works.
One final inspiration that is worthy of note comes from the time that von Bingen spent in the anchorage studying under Jutta von Spanheim. The deeply reverent and focused experience no doubt led to von Bingen's music possessing an echoing and solemn quality. When the music is performed, it is not difficult to conjure up the images of young pious children studying at the feet of an anchoress who had dedicated her life to studying and contemplation. This experience served as a dual edged sword for von Bingen who had failed to fully master the Latin that she would eventually write in. Thus her deep and abiding religious zeal was tempered by a continual reliance on secretaries to assure that the work was recorded properly.
Musical Works von Bingen is perhaps best known for her musical contributions which have undergone a rebirth of sorts in recent years. Many recordings have been made of her amazingly complex texts set to music that were written in Latin. Some of the recordings have been made in the original language and some have been translated in hopes of reaching a wider audience. In 1998 a full recording of von Bingen's Play of Virtues was recorded and is available for purchase on CD and can be downloaded from commercial retailers for $.99 a song. In this release her work is reaching its widest audience ever.
The musical sounds and messages conveyed by von Bingen's work are designed to convey the joy and beauty of paradisiacal earth with all of the peace and spirituality that existed. She accomplishes these objectives through the plainchant tradition of writing a single line of melody that is accompanied by complex instrumental accompaniment. Her "music reflected practices of contemporaneous Gregorian chant, but she introduced innovative elements such as unusually large leaps in the melodic line and a remarkable thirteen note range that lend a particularly ethereal quality to her works."
Reichardt 165) von Bingen wrote significantly fewer instrumental works than she did texts set to music. This is no doubt the result of the significant importance she placed on conveying important information with her lyrics.
A von Bingen wrote metaphorically in both her text and her musical works using elegant language to communicate her message. In fact, the complexity of the information conveyed by her works is being researched today and is still found to be difficult to fully comprehend. Throughout the music created by von Bingen it is clear that she maintains relative orthodoxy but adds an exciting and exhilarating flare to the presentation of the information. The beauty of the message is only surpassed by its ability to teach through the use of symbols and metaphors. With the musical pieces she illustrates both the importance of various saints and religious figures as well as expounding on the personal importance of the lives of those mentioned to the congregations that heard the works.
The musical works for which von Bingen is best known are categorized in different ways. Many of the collected works of von Bingen have been assembled in the Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations. These works consist of "hymns and sequences...to be used in the daily services of the convent." (Emerson 69) Another of her independent works is an opera entitled Ordo Virtutum ("Play of Virtues"). These works and others represent the nature and power of von Bingen and fully illustrate the lasting and meaningful work of such an inspirational composer. The ultimate goals of the works were designed to express von Bingen's spirituality in the most powerful way she was capable of creating.
Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations
The symphony is actually a collection of various works that were used for different reasons. Nevertheless the music is compelling and the text is instructive. In the symphony "the explicit subject is, as we'd expect, more often Mary or a saint than Jesus. Yet, as we'd also expect, he is everpresent, in metaphor, as the meaning of their meaning." (Rosenthal 12) it is the use of metaphor and symbolism that is often similar to the manner in which Christ taught his parables with their meanings within meanings. One stanza when translated reads:
He is the light, the blossom, the dawn, that issued from Mary." In this one line, the nature of Christ, the purpose of Christ and meaning of Christ are all captured without having mentioned his name. von Bingen glorifies the virgin mother who is responsible for providing the salvation of the world. As the line is further considered one point that comes to mind is the description of Christ as the "dawn." This wording is potent as it communicates a renewing and a beginning that is embodied in the living God.
Other components of the Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations help to capture the crucifixion and the importance and horror of the event. The text from von Bingen that reads "put on vestments / woven of flesh / cut from a woman / born of Adam / to bleach the agony out of his clothes" speak directly to the heart of both believer and non-believer. For believers the text is almost crippling in its stark depiction of the events. The phrase "cut from a woman" reminds the listener of the mortal frame in which their savior was embodied and unable to escape the pain that he would willingly bear. Further, the imagery depicted by the line "to bleach the agony out of his clothes" reminds each believer of the debt that one whom they had never met was willing to pay on their behalf.
Other lines such as "Your flesh held joy / like the grass when the dew falls / and floods it with living green. / So it was in you also, / O Mother of all joy" help to reinforce and sustain the image of the Virgin Mary. (Fulton 395) as a metaphor, the lessons being taught are introduced to the mind with beauty and power. The instruction is dogmatic and forceful leaving little doubt about not only what should be thought but insisting on what must be thought.
Each of the pieces within the symphony is capable of conjuring up the import of the lives of saints, virgins and Jesus Christ but is capable of much more. Within the music lies a poetic transmission of subliminal effect that brings the images crafted during medieval times directly into the mind's eye. Stained glass images of fallen saints, cloisters appointed with paintings of martyred believers and dramatic scenes of unflinching belief in the face of unbelievable agony are as visible as if they were being shown in an auditorium. If this had been the only work of von Bingen it would have been sufficient for her continued renown but she was capable of still more.
The Ordo Virtutum ("Play of Virtues") "Unlike other moralities, it is set entirely to music, with the exception of the devil's speeches; as the spirit opposed to all harmony, he is incapable of song." (Bishop et al. 26) but this is just the beginning of its unique nature. The Play of Virtues is the first recorded morality play and is as powerful as it was revolutionary. The play was "the first "liturgical morality play, in its musical, theological, and drama-historical contexts." (Rust 215) No doubt this new type of musical presentation was as effective in its ability to draw listeners as it was to inspire them. In the play "various human vices are given demonic features in their ongoing battle with virtues for possession of the human soul." (Eigler and Kordet 87) to accomplish this, the play "Opposes the voices of women representing the various virtues twined together in harmony to the rough, raucous male voice of the devil, which disrupts the musical fabric." (McNamara 328) "The seven principal Virtues... are Humility, Charity, Fear of God and Obedience on the right, and Faith, Hope and Chastity... Humility is the queen of Virtues...but Charity is the most important and has the longest speech."
Bishop 40) Throughout the play, the Soul struggles "to overcome the temptations of the world with the assistance of the Virtues. As the Soul and Virtues are ultimately re-united in celestial harmony, the devil...is…