Hildegard von Bingen: Celestial Hierarchy
The 1984 Gothic Voices album A Feather on the Breath of God (Hyperion) brought Hildegard to wide public notice, and there have been other fine recordings of her music, notably by Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi), but it is Sequentia’s series of gorgeous CDs that stands as the definitive canon. Begun more than three decades ago under the direction of Barbara Thornton (1950-1998), the project stalled after her death, but is now brought to completion by her colleague, Benjamin Bagby. The personnel has changed completely since the first recordings, but he celestial purity tempered by human warmth remain as exemplary as ever.
Hildegard (1098-1179) was known as The Sibyl of the Rhine. Even ignoring her music and poetry, she was a remarkable woman: her interests and skills extended from diplomacy to botany and medicine, and she was a pioneer in the use of empirical research methods. Her scientific work has been superseded, but her music lives outside time: her melodic lines hover, dip and glide like some supernaturally graceful bird, and those vertiginous swoops in pitch, executed to perfection by the seven-voice female choir, never fail to thrill.