Jennifer BainHildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception: The Modern Revival of Medieval Composer

Cambridge University Press, 2015

by Jordon Stokes on January 19, 2016

Jennifer Bain

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Hildegard of Bingen was many things:  a religious leader, a prolific letter-writer, a visionary prophet, possibly a compiler of medical lore, and certainly one of the most important composers of the 12th century. In recent years, Hildegard's reception in academic circles has, for good and compelling reasons, focused on her status as a powerful, educated, and brilliantly creative woman in an era when few women were afforded such opportunities. But this has not been Hildegard's only legacy.

Jennifer Bain's recent book, Hildegard of Bingen and Musical Reception: The Modern Revival of Medieval Composer (Cambridge University Press, 2015), charts the 19th-century reception of Hildegard's life and music, and in doing so provides valuable perspective on the version of Hildegard that we know and love today. As Bain demonstrates, Hildegard has been in an almost constant state of revival since the early 19th century, and at every turn she has meant something different:  depending on the interests of the scholars who were reviving her (who were, themselves, grappling with very specific historical circumstances, including the long-term fallout of the Napoleonic wars and the very long-term fallout of the Protestant Reformation), Hildegard has been important as a German, a Catholic, a Benedictine, and a mystic, as well as as a woman.

Further reading/listening:

For listeners who are unfamiliar with Hildegard's music, here is LaReverdie's recording of one of the melodies mentioned in the interview: O virga ac diadema.

There are also three publications by Prof. Bain which expand on issues that we discussed in this interview:

"Hildegard on 34th Street: Chant in the Marketplace." Echo: A Music-Centered Journal 6, no. 1 (2004).

"Hildegard, Hermannus, and Late Chant Style." Journal of Music Theory 52, no. 1 (2008).

"Hooked on Ecstasy: Performance 'Practice' and the Reception of the Music of Hildegard of Bingen," in The Sounds and Sights of Performance in Medieval and Renaissance Music: Essays in Honour of Timothy J. McGee, ed. Brian Power and Maureen Epp (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), 253-273.

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