By Laura Bock
2009 Winner of the James Madison University Academic Writing Contest (2009)
Introduction: Hildegard of Bingen stands out in the standard music history textbook as one of the first noted female composers in documented history. Upon further examination of her biography, it becomes clear Hildegard was quite prolific, not merely as a composer, but as an author, poet, theologian, and scientist. Throughout her works, many parallels are apparent between her prose and music, both of which display her propensity for rich, depictive imagery. Although there is little evidence to illuminate Hildegard’s precise intentions regarding her works or the exact performance practices of the time, her music has remarkably been preserved and maintained its attribution to her over the centuries.
Paradoxically, the defining and unique aspects of Hildegard’s identity, as a nun, a self-proclaimed prophet, and a musically untrained individual all contributed in allowing her to transcend many elements of the liturgical tradition in order to discover original and arguably more effective means through which she achieved the traditional ecclesiastical purpose of glorifying God through music.