Echoes of St. Hildegard

liner notes with texts

Silenced for centuries, the sacred voices of women are now being heard. From medieval chant of the convent, to African-American spirituals and chant of the slaveships , women and men are exploring their spiritual and musical roots. Many have turned to the life and writings of Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th Century Abbess of Rupertsberg, for creative inspiration in their search. It is, indeed, the music of this powerful spiritual leader that has provided much of the impetus for establishing Voices Found: The Women’s Sacred Music Project, whose mission is to encourage the creation and performance of sacred music by, for, or about women.

In 1995, a group of women in Philadelphia under the leadership of Lisa Neufeld Thomas, began to search for music by women for use in the Mass. It was difficult to find settings of the liturgy or even hymns by women composers. When Thomas brought this need to the attention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Liturgical Commission sponsored her library research to find such sacred music. She soon located the Kyrie by Hildegard, the earliest known setting of the liturgy by a woman. The group began to sing this piece, and some of Hildegard’s antiphons in their worship, along with historical music by other women. To lead the singing they organized The Lady Chapel Singers (so named because they first sang regularly in the Lady Chapel of St. Mark’s Church, Locust St, in Philadelphia.).

Since then, the group has developed a multicultural repertoire of sacred music by, for, and about women. The Lady Chapel Singers, the performing arm of Voices Found, is now a small ensemble of mostly professionally trained singers with occasional instrumentalists. They present their repertoire in worship and concert in the Diocese of Pennsylvania and well beyond. The Singers have toured England successfully in 1999 and 2000. They anticipate a tour in Germany in 2001. The group is now based at the Philadelphia Cathedral at the invitation of the Right Reverend Charles Bennsion, Jr., Bishop of Pennsylvania.

Selections on this recording reflect the rich variety of women’s musical and spiritual experience past and present. We hear afresh the ancient voice of Hildegard with its echoes in the hymns and spiritual songs of women through the ages.

The music of St. Hildegard speaks across the centuries because of the creative imagery of her poetry, her feminine understanding of Divinity, and her soaring melodies that burst the bonds of standard plainsong. In this recording we hear her Kyrie sung in an arrangement by Thomas including the organal voice, as it would have been improvised in the 12th Century Abbey. The antiphon Laus Triniti has been sung as a striking hymn of praise following the Kyrie. Handbells are used here to emphasize the joy of that song.

The Las Huelgas Codex comprises liturgical song spanning two centuries, from thirteenth-century Notre Dame in Paris to contemporary Spanish traditions and employing all of the sacred medieval poetical and musical forms. Although the compositions are anonymous, including some of the earliest written polyphony, current scholarship suggests the choir sisters of Las Huelgas regularly sang them in chapel. The Lady Chapel Singers perform the solemn, grandly-conceived two-voice prosa, Verbum bonum, and a rousing two-voice conductus in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Castitatis thalamum, sung long ago in festive procession. Today the Lady Chapel Singers bring this procession to life as the opening of many of their performances.

Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre’s solo cantata, Esther, is one of several cantatas by the 17th Century French composer about women in scripture. In this recording we have alternated male and female voices to present the drama of the story most effectively. The Lady Chapel Singers often present this piece as a prelude to Evensong services.

African-American Spirituals are also part of the Lady Chapel Singer repertoire. Here they present the triumphal Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho arranged by Marylou India Jackson and the mournful Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child arranged by Henrietta Morgan. Morgan, a Lady Chapel Singer soloist, arranged this powerful piece intertwining the Gregorian chant Victimae Pasquale Laudes with the Spiritual melody, under which the choir improvises the moaning of women in slaveships. In addition to these Spirituals, there is a song of praise from the liturgy of South Ghana brought to the Singers by Sr. Gertrude Denkbar, Community of the Holy Child Jesus, an African student at Rosemont College in Rosemont, PA.

Sr. Elise, from the Community of the Holy Spirit in New York City. wrote a contemporary setting of Light of the World and The Song of Simeon from the Evensong Liturgy for the Singers.

Other contemporary American music includes two pieces by Deborah Lutz, a composer in North Carolina; an arrangement of the carol The Angel Gabriel by Robert A.M. Ross, Associate Conductor; a new hymn by Carol Goodwin King; and a musical setting by Marion of a translation by Jean Wiebe Janzen of Hildegard’s De Spiritu Sancto. These are all used in worship and concert by the Lady Chapel Singers

Verbum Bonum, Convent of Las Huelgas Ms.

Verbum bonum et suave personemus, illud Ave,
Per quod Christi fit conclave virgo, mater, filia;
Per quod Ave salutata mox concepit fecundata virgo, David stirpenata,
Inter spinas lilia.
Ave, veri Salomonis mater, vellus Gedeonis, cuius magi tribus donis
Laudant uerperium.
Ave, solem genuisti, ave, prolem protulisit, mundo lapso contulisit
Vitam et imperium.
Ave, sponsa Verbi summi, maris portus, signum dummi,
Aromatum virga fumi, angelorum domina;
Aupplicamus, nos emenda, emendatos nos commenda tuo nato ad habenda simpiterna gaudia. Amen

Let us sound out the word pure and sweet,
That Ave, through which the virgin, a mother’s daughter,
Became the Chamber of Christ
That Ave, mother of the true Solomon, fleece of Gideon,
Whose childbirth the Magi praised with three gifts.
Ave, you who bore Daylight;
Ave, you brought forth an Offspring into a fallen world
You brought life and order.
Ave, Bride of the highest Word,
Safe harbour from the sea
Sign in the thornbush
Source of fragrant incense, Mistress of Angels
Amend us we plea
And amended, commend us to your Son
That we might have eternal joy.

Translation by Mary H. Stewart

Phos Hilaron (Light of the World) © Sr. Elise, CHS

Light of the world, in grace and beauty
Mirror of God’s eternal face.
Transparent flame of love’s free duty,
You bring salvation to our race.
Now as we see the lights of evening,
We raise our voice in hymns of praise;
Worthy are you of endless blessing,
Sun of our night, lamp of our days.

Text from Enriching Our Worship, © Church Pension Fund, used by Permission.

Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho arr. Marylou India Jackson

© 1995 Treble Clef Music Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Joshua fit de battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
An’ de walls come tumblin’ down Dat mornin.’
You kin talk about de men of Gideon, You kin talk about de men of Saul; But dere’s none like good ol’ Joshua atde battle of Jericho.
Up to de walls of Jericho Dey marched wid spear in han’
“Go, blow dem ramhorns” Joshua cried, “Cause de battle am in my han.’ “
Den de lam’ram’ sheephorns begin to blow, de trumpets begin to soun’,
Ol Joshua commanded de chillun to shout, An’ de walls come tumblin down. Dat mornin.’

O Holy Spirit, Root of Life, by Marion © 1998 Harvestcross Press

Sharon Sigal, mezzo-soprano, Ryan Rump, viola; Thomas P. Whittemore, organ

O Holy Spirit, Root of Life
Creator, cleanser of all things,
Annoint our wounds, awaken us
With lustrous movement of your wings.

Eternal Vigor, Saving One,
You free us by your living Word,
Becoming flesh to wear our pain
And all creation is restored.

O Holy Wisdom, Soaring Pow’r
Encompass us with wings unfurled,
And carry us, encircling all,
Above, below, and through the world

Text © Jean Wiebe Janze; Based of Hildegard of Bingen

Media Sida, from the Liturgy of South Ghana

Media sida, media yeyiz bemonyame
Wona doye kesi odia dum mee
Meyi nayo mebo nizina chira me nyinaa,
Ajoe nyame sayeyi.
Nyamia yebia mame mekam fonu de nynaa,
Nymia yemia firi musune asan nyinamo,
Medime honam, medime honam medime
honam nyinaa,
Meyi mi pofona yeo.
Assee se mede naasi osandasio.Assee se meyi naa yo o say ye yio,

I will praise and exult my God
For God’s love is everlasting
I will proclaim his greatness to all nations.
Nurturing God, I give you praise!
I will glorify you at all times
For you protect me from all harm.
I will exult, I will exult, I will exult!
my God and give praise all my life.
All ought to give praise to God for God deserves praise
All ought to give praise to God for God deserves thanksgiving.

Transliteration and translation by Gertrude Denkbar, CHCJ

Musical transcription by CCW Sparks

Ave Maria © 1995 Deborah Lutz

CCW Sparks, soprano; Cheryl Cunningham, harp

Ave Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis pecatoribus,
nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen

Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and in the hour of our death. Amen

Kyrie by Hildegard of Bingen, arr.© 1999 Lisa Neufeld Thomas

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy

Laus Trinitati by Hildegard of Bingen

Laus Trinitati, quae sonus et vita ac creatrix omnia in vita ipsorum est.
Et quae laus angelicae turbea et mirus splendor arcanorum,
Quae hominibus ignota sunt, est,
Et quae in omnibus vita est.

Praise to the Trinity, which is Sound and Life,
To the Mother Creator of life itself,
The Crescendo of the angelic choirs
And the miraculous silent splendor
Unknown to mortals,
Yet the Life of all Creation.

Free translation © 2000 Lisa Neufeld Thomas

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, African-American Spiritual

arr. © 2000 Henrietta Morgan, Henrietta Morgan, soprano

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
A long ways from home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone

O Nata Lux © 2000 Deborah Lutz

Cheryl Cunningham, harp

O nata lux de lumine,Jesu redemptor saeculi,
dignare clemens supplicum laudes preces que sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi dignatus es pro perditis.
Nos membra confer efficis,Jesu resemptor saeculi,
O nata

O Light born of Light, Jesus redeemer of the ages
Mercifully deigns to undertake our punishment, praises and prayers
Who deigned to be defiled once as flesh
For the lost ones
Jesus redeemer of the ages
O Light born of Light

Translation © 2000 Mary H. Stewart

O Nata Lux © 2000 Deborah Lutz

Cheryl Cunningham, harp

O nata lux de lumine,Jesu redemptor saeculi,
dignare clemens supplicum laudes preces que sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi dignatus es pro perditis.
Nos membra confer efficis,Jesu resemptor saeculi,
O nata

O Light born of Light, Jesus redeemer of the ages
Mercifully deigns to undertake our punishment, praises and prayers
Who deigned to be defiled once as flesh
For the lost ones
Jesus redeemer of the ages
O Light born of Light

Translation © 2000 Mary H. Stewart

Castitas thalamum, Convent of Las Huelgas Ms.

Performing edition by Mary Lycan © 1996 Treble Clef Music Press

Castitatis thalamum, Ventrem virginalem,
Pater dedit filio Vallem specialem;
Invenire poterat Quis in mundo talem
Ut portaret filium Patri coequalem?

The Father gave the Son a special valley
A marriage-bed of chastity: a virgin’s womb.
Where in the world could such a place have been found,
To have borne the Son (equal) with the Father?

The Angel Gabriel, traditional Basque carol

arr. © 2000 Robert A. M. Ross; CCW. Sparks, soprano; Cheryl Cunningham, harp

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifgted snow, his eyes as flame:
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favor’d lady!” Gloria!

“For known a blessed Mother thou shalt be;
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady!” Gloria!

The gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
“To me be as it pleaseth God!” she said.
“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name.”
Most highly favor’d lady! Gloria!

English singing text Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Mary, When the Angel’s Voice

music traditional, from Piae Cantione, descant by CCW Sparks

Mary, when the angel’s voice called you highly favored,
Dread and joy in your heart mixed,
Pondered there and savored.
May we learn to welcome all that our life is bringing,
Even when in pain we feel birth within us springing.

Joseph in your darkest night, angel message hearing,
You cast not your love aside, scorn and anger fearing.
When a loved one brings us grief,
Rips our world asunder,
Dreamer, may we have your heart, open to God’s wonder.

Old and sage Elizabeth, birth anticipating,
Nurturing your cousin’s will, you taught hopeful waiting.
So, as women long have done, may we never falter
To extend a gentle touch, fears to courage alter.

God whose name we magnify, all your children matter.
From oppresion raise the poor, proud and mighty scatter.
Seeds beneath the winter snow live, tho’ all seems barren.
Lift a carol, sing of hope for the Rose of Sharon.

Text © Carol Goodwin King, used by permission

Esther, Priemiere Cantate

by Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre © 1996 Furore-Verlag, Kassel

1. Recitatif

Par la souveraine sagesse
Esther fut amenee au trone des Persans:
Seule, par ses charmes puissans,
De coeur d’Assuerus elle avoit la tendress
Mais que luy sert l’eclat d’un si haut rang,
Dans cd moment fatal quel danger la menace?
Elle apprend ue des Juifs on a proscrit la race.
Et le fer dans dix jours doit verser tout leur sang.

2. Air

Ah, quelle affreuse image se trace a ses esprits?
Que de pleurs, que de cris, quel horrible carnage!
Le barbare courroux opprime l’innocence;
La viellesse et l’enfance expirent sous ses cups.
Ciel! Prenez leur deffense, las abandonnez-vous?

3. Recitatif

De votre epoux, Esther, il fout chercher l’appuy.
Mais vous tremblez? Du temeraire,
Qui sans son ordre ose approcher de luy,
Le trepas est le prompt salaire.
Eh quoy n’osez-vous faire un genereux effort?
C’en ext fait. Elle part, et le Ciel la rassure.
En vain de sa vertu se trouble la nature,
Elle va pour les Juifs s’exposer a la mort.
Elle approche; a l’aspect du trone redoutable
Elle tombe, et d’efroy
Con coeur se sent glacer;
Mais son epoux touche du trouble qui l’accable,
Ouy fait grace, et vient l’embrasser.

4. Air

Venez, bannissez ces allarmes,
Et ranimez-vous a ma voix.
Esther, vos vertus et vos charmes,
Vous ont mise au desus des loix.
Ecoutez mon coeur qui soupire,
Partagez-en la vive ardeur;
De la moitie de mon empire,
Je voudrois payer ce bonheur.

5. Recitatif

Ainsi devant son maitre,
Esther a trouve grace.
La fortune des Juifs bien-tot change de face;
Et le perfide Aman, de leur sang altere,
Eprouve avec la mort qui punit son audace,
L’affront qu’a l’innocent il avoit prepare.

6. Air

Souvent la verite timide
Du trone n’ose s’approcher;
Si vous voulez qu’elle vous guide,
Roys, c’est a vous, de la chercher.
Chasez le mensonge perfide,
Qui la force de se cacher.

1. Recitative

By highest wisdom
Esther came to the throne of Persia;
She alone, by her powerful charms,
Won the heart of Ahasuerus.
But of what use is such high rank
In this fateful moment when danger threatens?
She hears that the race of Jews has been outlawed
And in ten days the iron sword will spill all their blood.

2. Air

Ah, what horrifying image she sees in her mind!
What weeping, what cries, what ghastly carnage!
The wrathful barbarian presses the attack against the innocent;
Old and young alike die under the blows,
Heven! Take up their defense;
Will you abandon them?

3. Recitative

Esther, you must appeal to your husband for help.
But you tremble? Anyone so bold
As to dare to approach the throne without his summons
Is repaid with immediate death.
Nevertheless, will you dare such a selfless act?
It is done. She goes, and heaven gives her courage.
Nature herself trembles in vain before such virtue;
For the Jews she will risk death herself.
She approaches, and at the sight of the frightening throne,
She falls to her knees, and feels her heart freeze within her.
But her husband, moved by the distress that has overcome her,
Is gracious and comes to embrace her.

4. Air

Come, drive away your fears,
And revive yourself at the sound of my voice.
Esther, your virtue and your beauty
Have put you above the law.
Listen to my heart sighing,
Share the heat of my passion;
Half of my empire
I would give for such happiness.

5. Recitative

Thus before her master
Esther has found mercy;
The fortunes of the Jews soon reverse themselves,
And the treacherous Haman, who thirsted for their blood,
Is punished by death by his audacity,
The same disgraceful fate he had prepared for the innocent.

6. Air

Often Truth is timid
And dares not approach the throne;
If you would have her guide you,
Kings, it is up to you to seek her out.
Drive out the perfidious lie,
Which forces her to hide.

Nunc Dimittis (The Song of Simeon) © Sr. Elise, CHS

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the savior,
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father,and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it waas in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen

Text from The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Kristin Kopple, CCW Sparks, Elizaeth Manus, Kathy Ann Beish, Henrietta Morgan, Pleasants Tinkler, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Holt, Ryan Rump, Sharon Spigal, Carla Mariani, Douglas Keith, singers. Thomas P. Whittemore, organ; Ryan Rump, viola; Michael Loewy, viola da gamba; Cheryl Cunningham, harp

Robert A. M. Ross, associate conductor

Lisa Neufeld Thomas, artistic director

Thanks to the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania for financial sponsorship of this recording.

Thanks to John W. Caldwell, Woodcock, Washburn, Kurtz, Maciewics, and Norris, LLP, for legal counsel.

Recorded at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church,.Hamilton Village, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

George Blood, recording engineer