Duet and Arioso from Hildegard von Bingen

for voice(s) and piano

Brian Inglis

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for voice(s) and piano

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Composer Brian Inglis
Year of Composition 1997
Duration ca.8'
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-bi1dhvb1


The chamber opera Hildegard von Bingen unites two longstanding interests of mine: vocal music & text-setting, and drama & theatre. This particular operatic project was conceived soon after I began a long-term project of setting poetic texts by the mystic abbess St Hildegard which occupied me for much of the 1990s (including O Euchari, 1993; Rupertsberg Songs 1: Two Antiphons (1994/6); and Prelude & Alleluia (1993/6), all available from Composers Edition). The principal work on the score and libretto of the opera was carried out between 1995 and 1997; Act 1 formed part of my PhD, awarded by City University, London in 1999.

The opera’s basis is a series of texts by Hildegard and others, woven with linking material to form a picture of Hildegard and her contemporaries, not as immortalised and sanctified figurines but as deeply human figures whose situations and emotions reflect universal human concerns – love, loss, the fear of death and transcendence of misfortune.

The Antiphon for Divine Love duet is a principal example of the portrayal of (divine) love in the opera, and forms part of the central episode of Scene Three. I have aimed to exploit the particular quality of two high voices (Hildegard’s soprano and Richardis’s mezzo) singing a love duet, as found with the castrato roles of Baroque opera and the trouser roles of later periods. Here, no such artifices are necessary, and the two female voices imitate and entwine with each other as well as singing in consistent parallel major thirds in a texture for which the reference point was, indeed, Baroque operatic/vocal music (the accompanimental figure – assigned to strings in the instrumental arrangement – was suggested by the first movement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater).

The final section of the opera’s third scene is an extended lament by Hildegard for Richardis (her favoured nun and beloved confidante) following her announcement she is leaving the convent. It is unified musically by the most fully-developed lyrical entity in the score of the whole opera: a melody (introduced by solo violin in the instrumental arrangement) which becomes associated with Richardis’s departure and the love between her and Hildegard which makes this painful for both women. Hildegard’s arioso ‘My grief rises up’ is based on the text of a letter from Hildegard to Richardis, wherein Hildegard identifies herself as a Christ-like martyr in her endurance of the grief of Richardis’s departure. Hildegard’s lamenting is reflected with gently neo-classical pastoralism and sparse instrumental counterpoint. Towards the end of the arioso, a verse of the text which echoes both Jeremiah’s Lamentation and, figurally, Christ’s ordeal on the cross prompts a musical reference to the air ‘Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow’ from Handel’s Messiah.

Recorded 1996, City University: Roimata Templeton, Abigail Gorton Act 1 Scene 3 Duet