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The Hildegard von Bingen project (1982-2012)
Since the early 1980’s, Sequentia’s name has been closely linked with the music of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the visionary abbess and healer whose spiritual compositions are among the most astonishing and unique creations from the dynamic milieu of 12th-century Benedictine monasticism. Hildegard referred to her songs collectively as ‘The Harmonious Music of Celestial Revelations’ (symphoniae harmoniae celestium revelationum), a title meant to indicate their divine inspiration as well as the idea that music is the highest form of human activity, mirroring the ineffable sounds of heavenly spheres, angelic choirs and the individual human soul. Between 1151 and 1158 this visionary ‘Sibyl of the Rhine’ began to collect her musical creations, most of them intended to be sung by the sisters of her convent at the Rupertsberg (on the Rhine at Bingen), as a complement to the traditional Gregorian chant sung during liturgical and other functions. Anyone who has sung her music knows that it counts among the most sublime, virtuosic and demanding vocal repertoires ever created. “It is said that you are raised to Heaven, that much is revealed to you, that you bring forth great writings, and discover new manners of song…” wrote Master Odo of Paris in 1148. Then, as now, Hildegard was admired for fearlessly exploring the soul’s place in the cosmos and giving it voice through her unique musical vision.
Sequentia was among the first vocal ensembles to revive Hildegard’s music in our time, working closely from the medieval manuscript sources and employing concepts of performance practice which would have been known to the abbess and her Benedictine sisters in the 12th century. Under the general direction of the late Barbara Thornton, and working closely with musicologists and philologists (especially Leo Treitler, Peter Dronke and Barbara Stühlmeyer) many of the world’s foremost vocalists and instrumentalists in historical music performance joined Sequentia to perform and record Hildegard’s works on a regular basis between 1982 and 2012 (see list of musicians below). From the beginning, the entire project was supported generously by the West German Radio in Cologne (producers Alfred Krings and Klaus L Neumann), which co-produced most of the recordings on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label. In addition to recording, the ensemble toured widely to critical acclaim in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan.
The Sequentia recordings of Hildegard’s works are contained on 8 releases (more than eleven hours of music) for the DHM label and include all of Hildegard’s 77 symphoniae as well as her music drama Ordo Virtutum (recorded twice, with an interval of 15 years between the two radically different productions). One of these releases, Canticles of Ecstasy, received several international awards (including an Edison Prize, a Disque d’Or, and a Grammy nomination for best choral recording) and has sold more than a million copies worldwide.
In 2009 an anthology, made up of exceptional tracks from six of Sequentia’s releases on DHM, was released to highlight not only Hildegard’s melodic and textual genius, but also the striking varieties of mode, structure, color, and scale which define her work. Complete program notes and a more profound look at Hildegard’s music can be found in the detailed booklets of the original Sequentia CDs – all still available on DHM -- from which this anthology was made.
In 2012 the final recording of the complete works, Celestial Hierarchy was brought to life by Sequentia’s co-founder and director Benjamin Bagby to commemorate the elevation of Hildegard von Bingen to Sainthood and Doctor Ecclesiae (2012), to finish Sequentia’s complete works project on the DHM label (now Sony), and thus to honour the life’s work of Barbara Thornton (1950-1998). For this recording, a multi-generational ensemble of seven women’s voices was assembled under Bagby’s direction, together with the flautist Norbert Rodenkirchen and Bagby playing harp. One of the singers on this final recording had been a member of Barbara Thornton’s ensemble, while some others were not yet born when the first recording was made in 1982.
The Sequentia recordings of Hildegard’s complete musical works are now contained on 8 releases for the DHM label and include all of Hildegard’s 77 symphoniae as well as her music drama Ordo Virtutum -- almost 12 hours of music. One of these releases, Canticles of Ecstasy, received numerous international awards (including an Edison Prize, a Disque d’Or, and a Grammy nomination for best choral recording) and sold more than a million copies worldwide.
Hildegard von Bingen releases on DHM
(with year of recording/release)
Ordo Virtutum (1982/83) 2 LPs [not included in the complete works]
Canticles of Ecstasy (1993/94)
Voice of the Blood (1994/95)
O Jerusalem (1995/97)
Saints (1996/98) 2 CDs
Ordo Virtutum (1997/98)
Visions of Paradise (anthology, 2009) [not included in the complete works]
Celestial Hierarchy (2012/13)
Musicians featured on Sequentia’s Hildegard Project recordings
Women’s voices: Gundula Anders, Rebecca Bain, Lydia Brotherton, Agnethe Christensen, Pamela Dellal, Suzanne Ehly, Jill Feldman, Elizabeth Glen, Ellen Hargis, Maria Jonas, Lydia Heather Knutson, Esther Labourdette, Guillemette Laurens, Theresa Lister, Sabine Lutzenberger, Nancy Mayer, Laurie Monahan, Christine Mothes, Elodie Mourot, Marianne Nielsen, Lena Susanne Norin, Caitriona O’Leary, Lucia Pahn, Margaret Raines, Sally Sanford, Consuelo Sañudo, Carol Schlaikjer, Diane Severson, Allegra Silbiger, Candace Smith, Barbara Thornton (director), Caroline Trevor, Janet Youngdahl.
Men’s voices: Benjamin Bagby (director), John Fleagle, Stephen Grant, Paul Guttry, Peter Halpern, William Hite, Frank Kelley, Wolfgang Kläsener, Stefan Klöckner, Klaus Lohmann, Eric Mentzel, Mark McSweeney, Peter Schmitz, Bernhard Schneider, Bernhard Schüth, Burkhard Wiggeshoff.
Instrumentalists: Benjamin Bagby (harp & organistrum), Sarah Cunningham (fiddle), Liane Ehlich (flute), Rachel Evans (fiddle), Elizabeth Gaver (fiddle), David Hart (flute), Joachim Kühn (organistrum), Na’ama Lion (flute) Robert Mealy (fiddle), Elisabetta de Mircovich (fiddle), Norbert Rodenkirchen (flute), Barbara Thornton (portative organ), Margriet Tindemans (fiddle).
10 June 2015
Boston Early Music Festival
History of Sequentia
On 8 April 2015 Benjamin Bagby spoke at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) about the 38-year history of Sequentia, using photos and musical examples to trace the development of the ensemble from its founding in 1977, with Barbara Thornton, to the current programs of ‘The Lost Songs Project’. Bagby’s plan is to eventually begin work on a more detailed history of the ensemble, which he hopes to make available in years to come, chapter by chapter, on the Sequentia website.
A Smithsonian Symposium
Organized by the Smithsonian’s Kenneth Slowik, an upcoming symposium at the Smithsonian Institution will explore several topics germane to the teaching of historically informed performance practiceto collegiate and graduate students in the United States. As an inspirational prelude to the symposium itself, on Thursday evening 7 May at 7:30, Benjamin Bagby, co-founder of the medieval ensemble Sequentia, will present his hour and one quarter long solo recitation of the first part of the great medieval Anglo-Saxon saga Beowulf.
Hildegard von Bingen: complete works
Sequentia's recordings of the complete works of Hildegard will be released as a 9-CD box set on the DHM/SONY label on 15 August 2015.
Barbara Thornton Memorial Scholarship
The most recent scholarship (2013) was awarded by Early Music America to mezzo soprano Isabella Shaw.
Beowulf on DVD
Benjamin Bagby’s legendary performance of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf (part I) recorded live in Helsingborg, Sweden.
Visit the Beowulf website