O Viridissima Virga

Choir (SSAATTB) and computer disc

Duration: 15 min.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a medieval abbess whose remarkable works as a poet, composer, naturalist, theologian, and visionary have been rediscovered to some justifiable fame in recent times. O viridissima virga is one of a series of sequences (a form of chant) attributed to her. As in many of her other works, the growth of Christian love and the Church is represented symbolically through nature in springtime, nurtured by the Earth, represented by Mary, the Earth mother. Hildegard felt a strong connection to nature, and, indeed, wrote a book on plant life and a compendium of folk remedies. In her mystical visions, green was often symbolic of the Church and of the nurturing spirit of women.

Like most medieval mystics, Hildegard paid special attention to the symbolism of numbers, and to their manifestation as musical pitches. I have used the ratios of the two most holy numbers, 3 and 7, to construct a series of interlocking scales through which this piece "grows." Therefore the choir is frequently singing pitches that are not at all close to those of twelve-tone equal temperament used in our time of practical standardization. The music also grows from chaos to order, much as God's creation of nature from the void is recapitulated every spring.