In composing Motet for Hildegard, I imagined Hildegard von Bingen communing with nature while singing her song O Virga Mediatrix (O branch who mediates for us) to the universe above. She listens to the planets as they emit their ‘Harmony of the Spheres’ with certain pitches from her song. The nearby Rhine echoes parts of her song in its occasional turbulent displays. She hears a sequence of notes from her song in the strange resonances of an angelic choir and also in an eastern reed instrument. Then she listens to the morning stars singing and is reminded of a passage from the Book of Job. Finally she hears her own voice in the quiet eddies of the river.
The electronic music is based partly on tiny fragments of pre-recorded soprano voice and oboe which are resonated and also split into many grains of sounds. In contrast, the ‘harmony of the spheres’ timbres appear as simple granulated sine tones which move in elliptical orbits..
In the middle of these textures Wendy Dixon’s original recording of Hildegard’s song appears phrase by phrase after which the live soprano and oboe become increasingly florid in keeping with the ornate nature of Hildegard’s song O Virga Mediatrix.
Other medieval aspects are enhanced by intervals such as the perfect 5th sounding at the ends of phrases, by the harmonic style of organum in the opening and closing phrases of the voice and the oboe and also by the structural use of Golden Section and Fibonacci proportions.
The process of basing a piece on an existing song seemed to parallel the work of 15th and 16th century composers who often based their sacred pieces – Motets and movements of the Mass on existing plainsong, hence the title of this piece.
Motet for Hildegard was first performed by Wendy Dixon, soprano and Diana Doherty, oboe in the Recital Hall East, Sydney Conservatorium on 7 December 2008.