At first, there is absolute silence, then suddenly, a woman's voice, clear as a bell, begins to trace an exquisite melody that wends its way through the church. Other voices join her, taking turns at prominence, then graciously receding to give others their turn, allowing each other the chance to unfold. Sounds of the harp or dulcimer join the voices, criss-crossing the tonal space, gently passing over the steps, like the vocals.
The members of the VocaMe ensemble are convinced that inspired music like this needs to be revitalized with inspiration. Their CD featuring music by the Byzantine composer Abbess Kassia caused quite a stir. Hildegard von Bingen herself spoke of being a non-scholar ("indocta") and having experienced auditiones ("recitals", of other-worldly music). This may help to explain the extraordinary significance of her music, which "seemed to emerge from nowhere and to disappear in similar manner", as Michael Popp, artistic director of VocaMe, puts it in the introduction to the CD. He is clearly persuaded "that notwithstanding the necessity of using modern methods of analysis … the intuitive, and by definition, artistic-creative approach is essential and ultimately 'more authentic' than the modern method of providing a rational explanation for everything." His resulting approach, which admittedly takes liberties, can be expressed thus: "Without wishing to compare ourselves with such a lofty figure as Hildegard, we would like the recording to have an inspiring and creative effect. In addition to conveying the genius of the original works, we hope that our performance will communicate in small measure our individual involvement with the work, giving it a new sound for our audience to enjoy," explains Popp.
The Roman Catholic church spectacularly acknowledged Hildegard von Bingen's significance this year, through her canonization, elevating her to the ranks of a Doctor of the Church. This title has only been bestowed upon 33 people throughout history, thereby highlighting this unique woman to the entire world. Hildegard von Bingen hardly needs "reviving", but this new interest can certainly serve as an opportunity for an inspiring re-interpretation of her work.
Michael Popp on Hildegard von Bingen (Download PDF)