Hildegard von Bingen

O beata infantia, antiphon for St Disibod

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    As a child of eight, Hildegard of Bingen was devoted to a monastic life and ensconsed in the Rhineland monastery of Disibodenberg. There she not only learned the tenets of the faith, but also received the first of her many lifelong series of mystical visions. There she also learned the life and deeds of the (local) St. Disibod, who was revered as the seventh century founder of the same monastery and of the local Catholic faith. Hildegard would herself later write an official "Life" of St. Disibod (a history of his life, miracles, and acts of the faith), as well as composing at least five pieces of liturgical poetry and music for singing on his annual feast day. O beata infantia, with its companion piece O mirum admirandum, was destined to be sung as an antiphon, introducing the singing of Psalms during the various worship services of the Office throughout the day and night of St. Disibod's feast. In O beat infantia, Hildegard of Bingen clearly demonstrates both her devotion to the monastery's patron saint and the very personal character of that devotion.

    Hildegard's Latin text is fairly direct, opening by calling him a "blessed child" perhaps in allusion to the better-known chant O beata infantia, an Advent chant for the Christ Child. She calls Disibod's works in light of the "mysteries of God" an infusion of the odors of balsam, a favorite smell of hers that appears often in her poetry. Her melody is a relatively simple one in the A-mode; it opens with a characteristic leaping fifth, but remains fairly tightly bound within its compass. The entire melody is almost completely bound within the span of an octave, and its rhythmic character tends toward an uncharacteristically concise -- and almost syllabic at times -- terseness. This consistently compact melody makes the gesture far more powerful when Hildegard finally breaks the melody free on the final two words of text: the scent of Balsawood that Disibod's holiness evokes. On the name of that tree she finally breaks into a more extended melismatic texture (the specific notes here echo those setting the text "most holy works," but expand upon them). Finally, as she says in her text that the odors of balsam will "exude," she releases the melody on that single word into a long melisma. It is tightly woven, and mostly stepwise, but in the mesical context of the rest of the piece is almost a restrained volcano.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Ricercar RIC 383
    2017 Decca / Verve 4832355
    2017 Decca
    2012 Decca 4765117
    2012 Decca 4765117
    2012 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi / DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697983052
    2007 Healing Chants 8429
    2004 Celestial Harmonies 131292
    1998 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77505-2
    1998 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77378
    1997 Anima 2
    1996 Media 7 (defunct - now Musisoft) 6