A friend of mine has a great interest in studying the idea and music of Hildegard de Bingen, a legendary, yet glaring, female artisit star, living in the period of time in which the Catholic Church and man possess the absolute power over the society, as well as the thinking of every individual. Bingen’s music, incredibly, never fails to display her frank, heartfelt affection to both the heavenly God and the earthly people. Her profound ideas and thoughts are always embedded in every nuance of the musical notes, as well as the texts. The following discussion is a reworking of the short introduction of Bingen written by my friend. I expand her ideas and remake the wordings of the original essay in order to lay out briefly the important contribution of Bingen in the western musical world.
Doubtless Hildegard de Bingen, as a mere woman living in the so-called “dark” age of the 12th century under the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, has exhibited her amazing, yet glamorous, female disposition to the world. Bingen’s life is said to be replete with ineffable meanings of experiences and dramas. She was a prophet, a healer, a writer, a painter, a performer, and a composer, serving the Church in different roles. She experienced the highest acclaim, but at the same time, received the heaviest sentence from the same authority to which she devoted all through her life. As a composer, Bingen’s contemporary attitude in art and innovative way of composing reflect every nuance of her female sensitivity toward her surroundings, her life experiences, as well as her God, displaying a unique, creative thinking of humanity as well as theology. Indeed, she knew what to express and how to express, all of her thoughts, emotions and ideas by skillful use of music.
In fact, the medieval 12th century was the period of time in which the illiterate and the submissive mass, unlettered woman in particular, were highly recommendable. While the majority of the medieval women were shameful to disclose their affluent emotions and ideas, viewing the take-for-granted silence as a ‘virtue’, Hildegard de Bingen, on the contrary, was boldly to express her spiritual visions and personal ideas, as well as her inner feelings and emotions through musical notes and texts, unleashing the true voice of a medieval woman. Bingen’s individualism, as I believe, is not experienced from her abundant emotions and ideas embedded in musical sounds, but rather, from her genuine and courageous act to expose all these traditionally restrained sentiments to not only the high God but also the ordinary people from all of her musical works.
Bingen’s courage to disclose her affection comes parallel with her great concern of many of the philosphical and theological issues, ranging from the heaven down to the earth, just as contemporary male intellectuals have done. Not surprisingly, in the medieval period, ‘great’ thinking and idea indubitably belonged to the privilege of man. Woman possessing the thoughts and ideas such as creation, cosmology, nature of God, nature of virtue, and so forth were almost incredible. However, the achievements that Bingen did contribute to the philosphical and theological fields were so influential that almost no male contemporaries could surpass in her day. As such, whether as a mere medieval woman or a creative composer and artist, Hidlegard de Bingen is no doubt a unique and remarkable figure that is worth to invite a further academic study.
David Leung (theorydavid)