Codicological Evidence

Two manuscripts preserve Hildegard’s Symphonia alongside other works: Dendermonde (D) and the Riesenkodex (R). Both music manuscripts are available in facsimile editions that describe their provenance, and R is also available in its entirety online.[1] Marianne Richert Pfau edited a complete set of the Symphonia, as well as a separate edition of the 14 Scivias songs.[2] D preserves most of a book that Hildegard sent to the monks of Villers (in present-day Belgium), containing:

ff. 1–121v Liber Vitae Meritorum S. Hildegardis

ff. 121v–52v Liber Viarum Dei S. Elisabeth de Schoenau

ff. 153–70v Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum, and

ff. 170v–73v, a dialogue between a priest and a devil


The numbering of the folios represents what remains today of the manuscript, rather than what it originally contained. There are several lacunae. It is notable that the lyrical work Ordo Virtutum only appears in R and not in D, however, in order to substantiate his notion that the Ordo Virtutum came into existence prior to the Scivias version, Dronke has surmised that the music of the morality play might once have been found in the eight folio gatherings that have been lost:

The most difficult problem is to estimate which pieces may have been contained in D before fol. 153r…. If the Symphonia began at the opening of a gathering rather than towards the end of one, it is perfectly possible that this gathering also included the entire Ordo Virtutum (exactly thirteen columns in R) and that the play was set before the lyrics in the original Symphonia, rather than after them as in R.[3]

Dronke’s point is that the Ordo Virtutum might have preceded the Symphonia in D, whereas in R, the morality play follows the Symphonia. In his introduction to the facsimile of D, Peter van Poucke suggested that ‟…ca 1175 can be accepted as the terminus ante quem for the composition of the Symphonia. In that year, a codex, containing the completed cycle of the Symphonia, was sent to the Cistercian abbey of Villers in the province of Brabant (Belgium). It seems beyond doubt…that this codex is the Dendermonde codex.” [4] Poucke refers next to a letter in which the monks of Villers thank Hildegard ‟for a manuscript they received, opening with the Liber Vitae Meritorum.” [5] It is also possible that Hildegard actually intended not to include the Ordo Virtutum in the manuscript that she sent, given its suitability for her monastery of women rather than for the monks of Villers; neither version of the morality play would have been suitable for the monks.

{See TABLE 4}

By contrast, the 14 Scivias songs of the Vision of Music appear in both D and R, appropriate for both female and male monasteries. Table 4 shows how the songs are transmitted in each of the manuscripts—note that the table represents a partial listing only, going up just through the 14 songs. Their links to the drama of the Ordo Virtutum are numerous; one in particular concerns what would become the Prologue for the Patriarchs and Prophets. The short Scivias play instead places the music about the Patriarchs and Prophets as two pieces in the set of 14 songs that precede it: an antiphon ‟O spectabiles viri” (Audio Ex. 5) and a responsory ‟O vos, felices radices” (Audio Ex. 6).[6]

Table 4 reveals several points. Most obvious is that both manuscripts preserve the same order of the Scivias songs, shown in khaki shading in all three columns (corresponding to the Scivias, D, and R).  Just one discrepancy is found in Scivias section 6—the songs to the Confessors (songs 11 and 12)—where the songs are placed in the antiphon-responsory order of the other pairs, but are reversed in both Symphonia manuscripts, so that the responsory ‟O vos imitatores” precedes the antiphon ‟O successores.” Yet it was clearly Hildegard’s intention from the Scivias template that the order of antiphon then responsory be respected, and apparently it was ignored by both music scribes.

What surrounds the Scivias songs also suggests a deliberate choice to emphasize their unity, as we find groupings in a logical order in both manuscripts. For instance, songs 1 and 2 stand alone, with other music between them in D and R.  Songs 3–8 form a cluster copied together in all three sources, with a set coming between them and the next cluster of songs 9–12. Both manuscripts put the songs ‟O speculum columbe” and ‟O dulcis electe” together between clusters 3–8 and 9–12, shown in orange shading to designate the places where the clusters are identical between D and R. Here D, however, puts the pair of pieces that R displaces to after the cluster of songs 9–12: ‟O mirum admirandum” and ‟O viriditas digiti Dei.”  R and D both place songs for St. Disibod and St. Rupert between clusters 9–12 and 13–14; they share the same songs, again shaded in red, ‟O felix apparicio” and ‟O beatissime Ruperte.”

R opens with ‟O vis eternitatis,” appearing in that manuscript alone, represented by plain text without shading in Table 4. ‟O vis eternitatis” precedes a pair of songs found in both manuscripts, ‟O magne Pater” and ‟O eterne Deus,” marked in red to show the correspondence. R’s songs 4–7 are not shared by D, so, like the opening song, these are placed in plain text without color in the table. Following the first of the set of 14 Scivias songs, ‟O splendissima gemma,R inserts the song ‟O tu illustrata,” before the cluster of four songs, shown by red shading. The textual and musical discrepancies between D song 6 ‟Hodie aperuit,” and R song 12 ‟Nunc aperuit” are exceptional. D inserts ‟O frondens virga” prior to the shared song between the manuscripts, ‟O quam magnum miraculum.” Significantly, this group of songs concerns the Virgin Mary, the subject of the first pair of the 14 Symphonia songs in-between which they are found.

It is impossible to know which songs would have come between songs 12 (‟Ave generosa” ) and 13 (‟O virga ac diadema” ) in D, as there is one folio missing that the numbering of the folios does not reflect; folio 155v ends with the last phrase of the hymn ‟Ave generosa,” ‟…propter dulcissimam…,” and folio 156r comes in with the second half of the second stanza (of six) of the sequence ‟O virga ac diadema” with the phrase ‟…claritas in nobilissima virga….” Thus we have most of the first piece and only the third through the sixth stanzas of the second.[7] 

Between Scivias song 2 and the cluster of songs 3–8, R has just one intervening piece, ‟O quam preciosa,” whereas D has five songs, two of which match the cluster in R that directly preceded the Scivias songs: ‟Spiritus sanctus vivificans”–‟Karitas habundat” (songs 1516 in D, and 8–9 in R). The green shading in Table 4 shows the displacement of the clusters. Two other paired songs are shared between the manuscripts: ‟Ave Maria auctrix vite”–‟O clarissima Mater” (songs 3–4 in D and songs 17–18 in R) and ‟O mirum admirandum”–‟O viriditas digiti Dei(songs 28–29 in D, songs 33–34 in R).

The Scivias songs appear in the Vision of Music as a series of poems without notation, even though they have music to go with them. This was not unusual for Hildegard. D preserves a group of three pieces that were placed together in a letter to Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg, dated around 1155, including the paired pieces ‟O mirum admirandum”–‟O viriditas digiti Dei” seen in Table 4; Hildegard added ‟O presul vere civitas” as the third song. Two years before, she had written to the nuns of her community at Rupertsberg a letter containing nine songs, which also appear as poetry alone:

‟O viridissima virga” and ‟O virga mediatrix” (neither appears in Table 4)

‟O quam magnum miraculum” (number 11 in D, number 16 in R)

‟O tu illustrata” (number 11 in R)

‟Ave Maria auctrix vite”–‟O clarissima mater” (numbers 3–4 in D, numbers 17–18 in R)

‟Hodie [Nunc] aperuit”–‟Quia ergo femina” (numbers 6–7 in D, numbers 12–13 in R)

‟O quam preciosa” (number 20 in R).[8]


Might Hildegard have considered these works as poems without the music? Or was the poetry mere shorthand for an obligatory musical setting?[9] The Vision of Music suggests the latter; in section 12, she explained that words are earthly (of the body), while music is divine (of the spirit).[10] Therefore, she must have assumed her destinatories' familiarity with the music to which the poems correspond. It is hardly conceivable that the poetry should be separated from its musical setting, given that Hildegard describes a synesthetic process in her visions, after which she wrote down or dictated to Volmar what she saw and heard. It does suggest in any case that Hildegard availed herself of her songs as didactic tools in the Vision of Music as well as in the two letters that she wrote.

The set of 14 Scivias songs, numbered as sections 1–7 by Hildegard in the Vision of Music, moves directly into section 8, which consists of two chant numbers that correspond to interior portions of the Ordo Virtutum: ‟O plangens vox” and ‟O vivens fons,” as seen shaded in orange and brown in Table 1. In Scivias, section 8 functions as an introduction to the play, which she prefaces as ‟the exhortation of the virtues and the fight against the Devil.” [11] The play itself, in Scivias section 9, corresponds in its initial chant numbers (4–17) exactly with the part of the Ordo Virtutum following its newly-composed Prologue (consisting of chant numbers 1–3).  After section 9, the remaining seven sections of the Vision of Music have no verifiable musical counterparts and one assumes that they should be read, spoken, or narrated.

[1] Peter van Poucke, ed. Hildegard of Bingen. Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum. Dendermonde, St. Pieters & Paulus Abdij Ms. Cod. 9 (Peer: Alamire, 1991). Lorenz Welker and Michael Klaper, eds. Hildegard von Bingen Lieder. Faksimile Riesenkodex (Hs. 2) der Hessischen Landesbibliothek Wiesbaden fol. 466–481v. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1998). The entire Riesenkodex can be consulted at this website: http://dfg-viewer.de/show/?set[zoom]=min&set[mets]=http%3A%2F%2Fdokumentserver.hlb-wiesbaden.de%2FHS_2%2Fmets17.xml

[2] Marianne Richert Pfau, ed. and trans. Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. 7 vols. (Bryn Mawr, PA: Hildegard Publishing Company, 1997) and see especially the introduction to Marianne Richert Pfau, ed. Songs of the Living Light: Antiphons and Responsories (Bryn Mawr, PA: Hildegard Publishing Company, 1995).

[3]  Dronke, ‟The Composition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia,”: 391.

[4] Poucke, 6.

[5] Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman translate the letter in full in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), v. 2, p. 43: ‟We joyfully received your book that you sent out to us, holy lady, and we are reading it zealously and embracing it affectionately.” Also, on p. 46: ‟We have received the Book of Life’s Rewards, which your holy mother wrote and which you sent, out of your love for us.”  Indeed, the Dendermonde manuscript begins with the Liber Vitae Meritorum S. Hildigardis (ff. 1–121v), and in all probability represents the book that Guibert, the scribe and representative for the monks of Villers, refers to here (see Poucke, 6).

[6] For a useful discussion of this material, see Pfau and Morent, Hildegard von Bingen, chapter 7. Lux vivens—Die Scivias-Gesänge.

[7] Evidently, the manuscript was numbered before the folio was discovered to be missing. See Poucke, 10.

[8] Baird and Ehrman, trans. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 2, 159–62.

[9] In their book Hildegard von Bingen. Symphonia (Gerlingen: Lambert Schneider, 1995), Walter Berschin and Heinrich Schipperges use the subtitle ‟poems and songs” to refer to the entire corpus of musical compositions (Gedichte und Gesänge). In Symphonia, Newman acknowledges one who encouraged her to make her translations digress from the ‟pallid academic facsimiles of Hildegard’s Latin” (xiv). The great thing about Hildegard’s symphonia is that they work as poetry and as music, but they are best integrated in sound, as she first heard and composed them.

[10] Führkötter and Carlevaris, Scivias, 631: ‟Sic et verbum corpus designat, symphonia vero spiritum manifestat….”
[11] Führkötter and Carlevaris, Scivias, 621: ‟9. in exhortatione virtutum et in contradictione diabolicarum artium.”