Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo Virtutum

We are quickly approaching the dawn of recorded history as we enter the heart of the Medieval era.  The year is somewhere around 1098.  And Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) has just been born in Germany.

Everything looks more historical with a vignette. 

Apart from having one of the coolest names of any composer ever, Hildegard happened to be particularly remarkable in pretty much every way possible.  Firstly, she was a "she" and in the middle ages, society typically was male-dominated, so the fact that history remembers her so well and kindly is nothing short of remarkable.  The church at the time even banned women from interpreting or teaching about the scripture, which did little to stop Hildegard from becoming a highly sought after knowledge base for the Christian church at the time.  

Hildegard was a Renaissance woman in the Middle Ages.  She was a writer, a philosopher, a mystic, and an abbess (female version of an abbot).  She was well known for her philosophy and divine insight into Christianity.  However, the most notable thing about Hildegard was that she saw visions.  In her writings she could recall witnessing  "The Shade of the Living Light" from an age as early as 3, but that she did not understand the significance until she was around 5.  She mostly kept the visions to herself and presumably to her parents, and also to her eventual caretakers, Jutta and Volmar.  

God, taking the form of a red octopus, communicates with Hildegard.

Around her preteens, Hildegard's parents relinquished her unto the church as an oblate.  Essentially, an oblate is a person who becomes dedicated solely to the service of the Lord and those who worship Him.  She entered the care of Jutta von Sponheim who was a nun who lived sequestered away in a one room building.  Jutta taught Hildegard (as well as many other children) to write and most likely was the one who introduced music into the young girl's life.  

The records of Hildegard's life at this point get pretty sketchy, but Jutta and an abbot named Volmar were Hildegard's teachers and companions after her parents gave her to the church.  Volmar most likely introduced the style of writing that liturgical music used to Hildegard and it is highly likely that both Jutta and Volmar noticed the exceptional abilities that Hildegard possessed from a very early stage.  It's generally assumed that she lived and worked at the monastery until Jutta died, at which point Hildegard was elected to replace her as Magistra which is essentially a female teacher.

Just...not this teacher...

Hildegard was never formally educated, however she still became a transformative figure in the church of her time.  She wrote letters frequently, mostly corresponding with other clergy, but even Popes and political leaders of her time would seek her religious insight.  Her views were so extraordinary, but she continually professed that she herself was a simple woman, incapable of possessing such amazing beliefs, thereby convincing many that her philosophy came from a higher power.  Her self-deprecating attitude seems to me to be a bit tongue-in-cheek as she frequently used it to further her credence as one who spoke from God and therefore was allowed to transcend the existing prohibition of women speaking on religious matters.  She used this platform to combat corruption within the church and preached throughout Germany in her lifetime.  

Music at this point in history was significantly more basic than what we know today.  The majority of what Hildegard wrote can be characterized as monophonic.  If you recall our discussion about polyphonic, you should remember that it implies multiple, independent voices.  Well, monophonic is the opposite.  One line, one voice.  Little or no accompaniment.   Simple.  

However, Hildegard's music went a bit further than the other chants of her time as she wrote well above the normal range boundaries of her contemporaries.  He music has also been noted to be significantly more melismatic than the contemporary style.  A melisma is where multiple notes occur per syllable as opposed to one note for each syllable (which unsurprisingly is just known as syllabic).  Below is an example of this, if you can't read music just notice that each note lines up with a syllable in the first example and each syllable has a TON of notes in the second.

Or, you know, don't notice it.  I don't care.  It's a free country.

Hildegard's writing goes hand in hand with music.  Much of the liturgical text from this time would be set into chants (many of which still survive through the Catholic church of today).  The notation system at the time did not present rhythms in a manner that we would be accustomed to, often leaving much to the interpretation of the performer.  

One of her most regarded works is a play, specifically, a liturgical drama.  It is unique in that it is the oldest surviving play of its type (that can be attributed to a specific author) with both music and text intact by at least a century.  The Ordo Virtutum depicted a struggle for a human soul, known as Anima, between Virtue and the Devil.  All the text is sung except for the Devil as Hildegard considered him to be incapable of "divine harmony".  I found two fairly interesting examples of staged productions of both.  The first has subtitles to translate the Latin into English, whereas the second does not.  I've also found a website that offers the Latin and the English side by side to help out in case you don't understand Latin.  

The first excerpt starts near the end of the work and the other example is the complete production, but for the sake of comparison I've set it up to begin at about the same point in the story.  If you've got an hour to kill you could watch the whole thing.  The first one also has someone playing a Psaltery in the background which was a zither (stringed instrument) common at this point in history.

I'll just leave now.
Quite the Psaltery lady if you catch my drift.

The story so far is that Anima (the soul) learns about Heaven and wants to skip life and go right on in.  The "Virtues" contend that she must first live her life.  The Devil takes advantage of this delay and exposes her to worldly things.  Eventually each Virtue is introduced (there's 17 of 'em, things like Hope, Chastity, Mercy, Modesty, Discretion, etc.) and the soul (Anima) decides to return to her original path and the Virtues bind the Devil and yell at him a bit before taking Anima to Heaven.  Both clips start just after they beat up on the Devil and everyone's pretty much singing about how cool God is and how much the Devil sucks.  

If you want to see some Virtues literally get Medieval on the Devil go to 49:20 or so in the second clip.

If you really want to nerd out, click here to see a manuscript which includes the Ordo Virtutum (complete with neume music notations).  The score for this piece is on the last 5 or 6 pages.  The whole document contains several of Hildegard's works bound and preserved in the later years of her life. 

Homework: Write about a religious or spiritual experience in your life that holds special importance to you.

You can leave your answers in the comments.

See you next Friday.


The example of the Syllabic vs. Melisma was from Wikipedia user: Hyacinth
The score is custody of the International Music Score Library Project at www.imslp.org


Giovanni Gabrieli: In Ecclesiis a 14

Before we begin, a personal aside...

I would like to dedicate this week's Listening Friday to the families of those affected by the tragedy in Boston, those in or near West, Texas at the fertilizer plant (which has so far appeared to have been caused by an industrial accident, but is nonetheless devastating), and those who live worldwide in fear of their lives, held at bay by terrorism.  

I was once told by another band director when I was still in high school that we as young musicians are so lucky if we think about it.  We get to sit in a room with other musicians and play beautiful music for 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, and in that time we are completely insulated from the fear and the terror that characterize the lives of many people in this world.  Other children our age would not be so fortunate.  What we were able to do should be cherished since it is such an amazing blessing.  


As we continue our musical journey back to the beginning of time we will start seeing a dichotomy of recorded history.  Much of what survives this time period tended to fall into one of two main categories: music in the church and music outside the church.

The Secular vs. Sacred battle exists far back into the middle ages and survives today in many ways.  Patrons of religion would employ musicians to write liturgical music for their churches, often in roles where they would lead and organize musicians as well.  Other more secular musical traditions revolved around aristocracy who would encourage public performances, as the wealthy would often build up a staff containing talented musicians for their own entertainment (think Haydn).  Prior to the 1900's for all practical purposes, if you wanted to hear music you either had to learn to play it yourself or find someone who could.

Yeah he's good, but can he play YYZ on Expert?

A sad joke I hear a lot being a band director is that many people claim they only know how to "play" a tape/CD/mp3 player.  Today it is obviously much simpler to find and listen to music and to that end I think it has perhaps devalued the importance of being musically educated and proficient.  However, this is not a political blog and I will leave that discourse to another realm.  Today, we're talking about Giovanni Gabrieli (1554/1557-1612).

Imma take you Venetian Polychoral Style.
Walk into the club, I'm like "What up?  I got a big lute!"

Gabrieli came from a musical family, his uncle being composer Andrea Gabrieli (1532/1533-1585).  Uncle Andrea had been the organist at St. Mark's Basilica since around the time of his nephew's birth and it is believed that he had a great deal of influence on his nephew's upbringing (Giovanni once wrote that he was a little less than a son to his uncle).  In the year that Andrea died, Giovanni took over duties as organist and shortly thereafter the job of principal composer role as well.

The really interesting part about the lives of the Gabrieli men does not necessarily start with their own capabilities.  It starts with the building they worked in.

St. Mark's was constructed in Venice, Italy on its present site in 832 AD.  However, it was burned down, rebuilt, redecorated, and altered many times and in many ways in the intervening years.  At the time of the Gabrieli's through today it was characterized by a unique Byzantine style of construction with choir lofts spaced out on the left and right sides of the structure, facing each other.  This allowed (and encouraged) the composers at the time to write music for separate groups of instruments and voices that would then be staged in the lofts and on the stage.  The music was then orchestrated so each choir would call and respond to the other, this is also known as antiphony.  

The acoustics of the structure allowed for certain instrumentation that is essentially impossible to replicate elsewhere.  For example, there are passages written by Gabrieli (and other composers from St. Marks) where you would have a solo string player combined with a full chorus of brass.  If you attempted to perform such a piece anywhere else, the brass would drown out the poor string musician.  However in St Mark's the acoustics would allow that to balance perfectly if the instrumentalists were positioned correctly.  The resonance of the structure has been studied with a few scientists professing that the building itself was as important to the music as the notes and rhythms on the page.

Byzantine Design:  Turning Jesus up to 11.

The style in which Gabrieli wrote was known as the Venetian polychoral style.  This encompasses a lot of big words that those of you who don't possess degrees in music or have had a luxury of free time to burden yourself with learning about Renaissance and other pre-Baroque musical styles will have some difficulty with. So let me break it down:

Polyphony is a style of music where you have multiple voices (either instruments or people singing) that all have independent moving lines.  This Venetian style also implies another word we have already introduced: antiphony.  

Because Gabrieli liked writing music to suit his performance space and in the Christian church you have a tradition of responsory pieces (both musical and textural in nature) it made since to develop a similar tradition in the music performed.  In the church, you would have balconies for choirs to be placed in lofts, well above the audience as well as groups on stage in front of the audience.  Antiphonal really just means multiple opposing choirs of instruments and vocalists playing back and forth to each other both at different times or together.

To demonstrate this, our listening for today is Gabrieli's masterwork, "In Ecclesiis".  It was written for four separate choirs, two of which were comprised of vocalists and the other two instrumentalists, and basso continuo with organ and string bass.  The video is from a Christmas concert performed at St. Mark's.  These people are performing music that is over 400 years old in the same building in which it was first performed.  

For me personally, there is some music that exists outside of what we can perceive.  Pablo Casals, the famous Catalan cellist, played the Bach Cello Suites at the start of every day to cleanse his spirit because he considered them to be holy works by the master.

With Gabrieli, I see creation.  I see God in the elements, rocking out to Sonata pian 'e forte as from the dust is created life.  

Text from In Ecclesiis:

In churches bless ye the Lord.
In every place of (his) dominion,
bless the Lord, O my soul.
In God is my salvation and my glory.
God is my help,
and my hope is in God.
Our God, we call upon you;
we praise you; we worship you.
Free us; save us; give us life.
God is our helper forever.

Homework: Free write this week.  Write out a stream of consciousness as you listen.

You can leave your answers in the comments.  

See you next Friday.



"The Far Side" God cartoon is property of Gary Larson.


Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso no. 8 in g minor, op. 6, mvt. 3

"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."
~Kurt Vonnegut

My first personal exposure to Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) was actually in a movie.  It was 2003 and and I had just started my second year of college and my dad was excited about this new Russell Crowe movie, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" which was based off the 'Aubrey-Maturin' novel series by Patrick O'Brian which followed a fledgling captain and borderline homeless doctor through several years of naval adventures in the early 1800's as they progress into an almost unstoppable duo.  A big plot point was the fact that both Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin were accomplished musicians.  In preparing for the movie, Russell Crowe even took violin lessons regularly, studying with Australian violinist/composer/conductor Richard Tognetti to augment his performance.

Speaking of violinist/composer/conductors, Corelli happened to be in that club as well.  Corelli's early life is one of much historical contention, but we do know is that Corelli was talented at violin and composition and did frequent the podium.  

There's a famous anecdote where Corelli is playing a piece written by Handel (another Baroque composer, 30 years younger than Corelli) and he refuses to play a passage because he felt it was written too high for violin.  The young Handel apparently obliged and played the offending note, royally agitating the senior Baroquian.  

TUGGER!  You're my only friend!
I'd pop that Handel right on his nose, I would!

Corelli was also a big proponent of the form known as Concerto Grosso.  A concerto is a work that features a soloist in front of a larger instrumental group, whereas the grosso just means there's a small group instead of a soloist.  The work usually goes back and forth between the smaller group (known as the concertino) and the larger group (known as the ripieno).  

Kinda like the London Phil backing Pink Floyd.
The piece we are looking at today was featured in "Master and Commander" and is one of my personal favorites.  It comes from what is known as the "Christmas Concerto".  On the original score, Corelli wrote, "Fatto per la notte di Natale" which translates from Italian to say, 'Made for the night of Christmas.'  

The entire work is 6 movements long, but for the purposes of this exercise we will focus on movement 3 (Adagio-Allegro-Adagio).  You'll notice the first portion is slow, with a steady pulse of 16th notes being transferred throughout.  The middle section picks up speed and introduces a new theme which then transitions back to the original in a brief example of ternary (remember Alan Rickman?).  

The "Christmas Concerto" was published a year or so after Corelli died.  He wrote it for one of his patrons, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who was an ardent supporter of the arts in his time.  It was probably played for a Christmas around 1690 and then potentially sat unplayed until it was rediscovered after Corelli had passed and archivists went through his effects.

The other neat part about music from this time period is "basso continuo".  This was a part in the music usually fulfilled by an organ or harpsichord and then an accompanying bass voice.  The idea was you would have something that would be able to do chords, but then also you have the capability to accentuate the bass end of the spectrum with a more melodic instrument.  The really weird part is that it just had notes written for the cellist/bassist while the keyboard (or guitarist or whatever your chordal instrument was) had to figure out the chord to play based on the bass note written and a few numbers, also known as "figured bass".

I figured bass would be easier than this.

The numbers (figured bass) would show the notes to be played by indicating how far away they were from the written bass note.  This is a precursor to the modern form that jazz musicians still use today.

All you need is love.  And a melody.  And chord symbols.

The jazz symbology moved the notation to the top of the melody and eliminated the written bass part (most of the time) as the bass notes are implied through the chord notation.

I adapted this piece for four trombones and it was played at my wedding, (and later I recorded it in a closet and overdubbed myself) so this week you get two listening examples.  The first one is a more traditional example featuring instruments closer to what you might expect to hear in the Baroque era.  The concertino is represented by the two foremost violins and the male cellist on the left.  The ripieno is the remaining strings with the bassist, harpsichord (weird, piano-looking thing) and lutes making up the basso continuo:

Homework: Write about your favorite winter holiday or Christmas memory.

You can leave your answer in the comments.

See you next Friday.


The recording of Concerto Grosso no. 8, mvt. 3 for four trombones is my property which I release into the Creative Commons.

The image of Russell Crowe and "Tugger" comes from South Park and belongs to Comedy Central.
The album cover belongs to Pink Floyd.
The jazz excerpt is "Autumn Leaves" with music by Joseph Kosma.
The figured bass excerpt is by Henry Purcell and is in the public domain.


Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor, Mvt. 4 Presto, Adagio "The Farewell Symphony"

Ok.  Confession time.  I have a hugely strong bias towards the Romantic Era of music.  I mean, I put Brahms in headphones as our mascot.  Come on, that's just...ridiculous.  

The 18th century style saw a major departure from the Classical reverence for the order of antiquity and that burgeoning freedom from repressed emotion has always been something of interest to me.  The whole concept of pairing strong emotional content with musical motifs as a means of communicating a concept or vision produced such amazingly beautiful results.  In my mind, the Romantic era saw the final triumph of the melody as art.  It is the perfect answer to the rigidity of the Classical period's framework.

Anyways, I have noticed a tendency of mine over the years to pick Romantic works for LF over that of the other eras of music.  Bearing that in mind, I have decided (almost unwittingly) to begin these fledgling posts on this blog by working backwards in time.  I guess you can call it a series of sorts.  You may have noticed that the piece from two weeks ago was a modern work, last week's was from the heart of Romanticism, and now this week's comes from one of the more interesting composers of all times in my opinion (certainly a composer who had some interesting and unusual circumstances within which to live).  I present to you, a Classical composer extraordinaire, none other than Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and his "Farewell Symphony".

Before we dive in, here's a general timeline of music history as we know it to be today.  We've done Modern/Contemporary and Romantic.  Now we move backwards into Classical:

Dora would be asking, "Where do we go next?!"
Not shown: Flintstone Epoch and Jetson's Dynasty

Haydn's story intrigues me.  He had such a remarkable relationship with his employer and was himself just a generally happy and easy to work with person.  Far different from the bizarre personality types of the Beethoven's and Mozart's and other "starving artists" of the day, Haydn was a well-adjusted (not to mention well-paid), generous, and funny guy.  His humor frequently shone through his composition. 

Haydn worked for most of his life as the court musician (or Kapellmeister) for the wealthy Esterházy family, who were Hungarian nobility whose family lines date as far back as the middle ages and still amazingly have bloodline relatives surviving today.  Basically, Haydn's job was to write music and put on concerts and operas (as many as 100 per year) for the family and their guests as they traveled from Eisenstadt to other residences throughout Austria and Hungary.  

Haydn was essentially given all that he wished and was allowed almost entirely free reign to compose for some of the finest musicians of his time (all of whom were hired specifically for Haydn to write for).  Both Prince Paul Anton (who originally hired Haydn) and his brother, Nicklaus (who would succeed Paul as Prince following his death) were avid musicians in addition to being wealthy, military-minded nobility.

The Esterházy family occupied several homes, and the family frequently resided in or around Vienna, Austria.  However, Prince Nikolaus disliked the bustle and aristocracy of Vienna and preferred to stay in hunting lodges or the family headquarters in Eisenstadt, Austria, far off from the rest of the nobility.  Eventually, Nikolaus built a huge compound on the site of an old hunting lodge where he would take his summer residence.  Known as Esterháza, it is often likened  as the Hungarian version of the Versailles.  

MTV Cribs 18th Century, son.

So, Prince Nick started spending more and more of his time at Esterháza and as such required that Haydn and the musicians in his employ remain out in the middle of nowhere.  What originally started as a summer holiday to the mansion turned into 10 months out of the year.  The musicians knew they had a good paying gig, but their lovely wives were waiting for them back in Austria.  

everything on the internet said it was some guy's wife discovering his browser history in 1768.

Tensions began to rise and Haydn was pressured to make a move.  Not wanting to anger his benefactor, as they had always enjoyed a fruitful and incredibly amicable relationship, he allowed his wit to come up with a viable solution.  Haydn was famous for his humor (and large, aquiline nose) and he often incorporated it into his compositions.  Most Classical period symphonies were written in four movements (typically: fast, slow, minuet, fast).  Haydn followed suit with Symphony No. 45 (often referred to by the informal title of "Farewell Symphony"), but as the fourth movement approached its completion a coda-like section (remember the Tangelo!) begins.  

This "5th" movement was slower and featured several solos among the musicians.  
The whole idea of a "5th movement in a symphony" thing almost certainly surprised Prince Nick, as he was a fairly accomplished musician himself and would take notice of the unexpected slow section following what appeared to be the conclusion of the fourth movement.  

An interesting aside on the Prince's musical abilities- Haydn wrote some 175 pieces for his favorite instrument the 'baryton' (which was a kind of bass violin with extra strings you pluck through the back of the neck with your thumb or just let them vibrate sympathetically while bowing the other strings).  Prince Nick would frequently play with Haydn and the other musicians as well.  

Dude.  There's just no way I'm in tune.
But getting back to the "Farewell" in Symphony No. 45.

I love thinking about a warm concert hall in Hungary filled with some of the most important and wealthy people of the time, and Prince Nikolaus down in front expecting the atypical conclusion to another enjoyable Haydn symphony.  As that irregular coda dawns, I can just imagine his reaction.  

And as his confusion fades to understanding, one by one the stage grows darker and darker as each of his musicians extinguish their candles and slowly drift into the wings.  

I see a smile growing on his face.  

In the end, in the darkness of that concert hall is Haydn and his concertmaster playing at the front of an empty stage before they too snuff out their lights and fade into the night.  

Prince Nikolaus and his musicians returned to Eisenstadt the next day.

Homework: Write about a goodbye you've experienced (painful or otherwise) that remains strong in your memory.

You can leave your answers in the comments.

See you next Friday.


YouTube wouldn't allow me to embed the content, but here's a link that starts at the final portion of Movement 4 with a very theatrical performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Daniel Barenboim.

The baryton image is attributed to http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utente:Rik86 and used under the regulations of the Creative Commons.
The aerial view of Esterháza is attributed to Daniel Somogyi-Tóth, www.legifotok.hu and used under the regulations of the Creative Commons.
The image of the 18th century couple has an unknown origin.  I will gladly document authorship if someone can find out who owns it!
The timeline image is my own work and I license it for use under the Creative Commons.