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The Medieval Muse

The Medieval Muse

Ref: CDG1259

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Ancient music for voices & harp

Haunting and sensuous songs from the first millennium and the early Middle Ages include the uplifting visions expressed in music by the first known woman composer, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, the voice of the ninth-century lyric poet Notker and the magnificent tenth-century 'Song of the Sybil'.

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The Medieval Muse
Ancient music for voices & harp

Haunting and sensuous songs from the first millennium and the early Middle Ages include the uplifting visions expressed in music by the first known woman composer, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, the voice of the ninth-century lyric poet Notker and the magnificent tenth-century 'Song of the Sybil'.

1 Ricercar Francesco Spinacino c.1507
2 O viridissima virga Hildegard of Bingen
3 Missus Gabriel late 13th century
4 Columba aspexit Hildegard of Bingen
5 Dies Irae 13th century
6 Ricercar Joan Ambrosio Dalza c.1508
7 O Ecclesia Hildegard of Bingen
8 Audi mirabilia late 13th century
9 Veni sancte spiritus 16th century
10 Quid tu virgo Notker of Gall c.840-912
11 Song of the Sibyl 10th century

Serendipity directed by Simon Heighes

CCL CDG1259
Cover image: Sempronia the musician manuscript Muliris Claris Noble Women of Giovanni Boccacio Mary Evans/Rue des Archives/Tallandier
Made in Great Britain



The Medieval Muse
Ancient music for voices & harp


One of the greatest of all musical visionaries was Hildegard of Bingen, born 900 years ago in the little village of Bemersheim, near Alzey, in western Germany. As a nun, playwright, poetess, herbalist, naturalist and composer, she was one of the most extraordinary creative personalities of the Middle Ages. From her youth she experienced mystical visions of such power that their vivid imagery and musical overtones transcend the centuries between her time and our own. Known as the 'Sibyl of the Rhine' she recounted her visions in a book she called 'Scivias' ('Know the Ways'), and her inspired songs were collected in a work entitled 'The symphony of the harmony of celestial revelations'.

'In the third year of my life I saw so great a brightness that my soul trembled ... I kept seeing this way until my fortieth year when I was forced by a great pressure of pains to write about the visions I had seen and heard. I brought forth songs with their melody, in praise of God and the saints, without being taught by anyone, and I sang them too, even though I had never learned either musical notation or any kind of singing'. Hildegard was responsible for both the texts and melodies of her songs. 'When the words come', she wrote, 'they are merely empty shells without the music. They live as they are sung, for the words are the body and the music the spirit'. Both the music and lyrics are extraordinary free. 'My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God'.

One of the most important influences on Hildegard's poetic style was the lyric verse of the monk Notker (c.840-912) sometimes known as Balbulus ('the stammerer'). He wrote exquisite new texts which were fitted to existing plainsong melodies, resulting in works which then took on a new life of their own. In 'Quid tu virgo' Rachel is asked why she weeps, and replies that she has lost her beloved son; but she receives comfort through the prophecy of the coming of the kingdom of God: 'Is he, then, to be lamented who has gained the heavenly kingdom?'

The remainder of the programme consists of anonymous medieval music and concludes with the epic and hypnotic 'Song of the Sybil'.


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