Hildegard Of Bingen: The Origin of Fire: hymns & sequences

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COMPOSERS: Hildegard Of Bingen
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Hildegard of Bingen
WORKS: The Origin of Fire: hymns & sequences
PERFORMER: Anonymous 4
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907327
It is seven years since the female

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vocalists of Anonymous 4 last

explored the music of Hildegard

of Bingen (1098-1179). On that

occasion they reconstructed a service

of her music in honour of St Ursula

(reviewed November 1997), but now

they have gone for a freer meditation

on spiritual fire, drawing upon

readings from Hildegard’s letters and

treatises, together with Pentecost

chants and other plainsongs.

All the usual hallmarks of

Anonymous 4’s musical approach

are here to delight their fans – the

soothing ooziness of the phrasing (in

‘O eterne’), the discreet addition of

drones (‘O felix anima’), the tiniest

unruffled moments of ornamentation

(‘O quam mirabilis’) and the

spacious, ‘churchy’ acoustic. There is

also something new: a presentation

of extracts from Hildegard’s visionary

prose writings (on Creation,

Wisdom, Spirit and Love) which

are intoned to simple chants usually

reserved for the greetings at services

and bible readings. These retain the

overall atmosphere, but destroy any

sense of ecstasy or awe in these words.

Much of the music on this disc is

also available in more meaningful

performances by Sequentia

(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi). Try those if you want a truer access to the

past – not just ‘atmosphere’ – from

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your medieval music. Anthony Pryer