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Some people live such extraordinary lives that their death doesn’t particularly slow the spread of their influence at all. Hildegard Von Bingen was such a person, and music was central to her experience and to her identity. In fact, she referred to herself as a tone from the tuba of God (Phillips 59). This paper aims to provide some insight into her life, and to discuss the impact her music has had on both secular and sacred music that followed. She was born in Bermersheim, near Alzey, in the summer of 1098, to a noble family. She had her first visionary experience before the age of five, and furthermore was not a healthy child. Her parents dedicated her to the religious life at age eight (Flanagan 2) She was enclosed in the cell of a pious, recluse noble woman, Jutta, where she spent most of her days in prayer. (3). More girls were also enclosed there, and by the time Hildegard was age 13 or 14, the cell had grown into a Benedictine convent, attached to a monastery (3). Jutta died when Hildegard was 38, and Hildegard subsequently was chosen to take over the leadership of the convent. Up to that time, Hildegard had continued to see visions, but had learned at an early age not to speak of them to anyone, to avoid embarrassment. She told only Jutta and later her teacher (3). At age 42, Hildegard had a mystical vision in which she suddenly accessed the meanings of all scripture and was told to write and publicize what she heard and understood. She resisted at first, out of low self esteem and humility, but her resistance caused her to become very ill. Her illness only left her when she was finally able to write (4). She spent 10 years writing her first visionary work. During this time, Hildegard announced that God had instructed her to move her convent away from the monastery. The monks resisted, for reasons of finance and reputation, wanting to retain control over Hildegard, as an asset (5). She received papal permission and authority, once the church established that her visions were authentic and that the Holy Spirit was revealing truths to her. She took her nuns to the place indicated in her vision, and she wrote three major volumes of revealed visionary information, left correspondence and other writings and art, and innumerable musical compositions, which are appreciated today (5). Although she suffered from health problems throughout her life, still she was a successful author, composer, artist, mystic, religious leader, visionary-prophetess, correspondent, abbess, teacher, rebel, scholar and healer, and she died at a ripe old age. One theory about her illness, a feminist explanation, is that it was a result of her struggle to find her own voice (Grant and Bingen). After all, she had been given away by her parents and grew up in a restrictive locked cell with a woman who spent her days in prayer and chanting. She had visions, some rather frightening, with dark and monstrous beings and explosions of blinding light, which she had to mostly keep to herself, to avoid embarrassment, Her health was delicate, a fact not conducive to claiming her own power, and consequently her own voice. She was creative and talented, artistically and intellectually gifted, but she was under the authority of monks and male church leaders who upheld the most stringent male-dominated values and norms of an extremely patriarchal society. Her most personal self-expression required papal permission. An alternative interpretation of the meaning of her illness and visions is offered by Dr. Charles Singer a founder of modern scholarship in the history of medicine and science, from a century ago. He thoroughly analyzed Hildegard’s writings and offered the opinion that they were likely her interpretations of the auras and visual distortions that can come with migraine headaches (Singer 78) and that her illness would likely be considered to be
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