Consider the antiphone Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita of Hildegard Von Bingen [sound, score]

In the recording, in addition to the notated voice, one note is held throughout the antiphone. Why is this done, as it is not notated? How is the note chosen?

This particular antiphone seems to be in some mode (E flat, B flat) on D (but score notated in F) and the 'tonic' D is held.


A bourdon tone is added to this Hildegard antiphon because it's thought likely (or at least possible) that it was performed this way originally. While there is no direct evidence for this practice in Hildegard's music, it is found (written out) in much other medieval music- for instance, in the organa of the Notre-Dame School. Also, a bourdon or drone was built in to a lot of instruments (bagpipes, fiddles, hurdy-gurdys), and still exists in a lot of folk music. Besides, it sounds good (I perform Hildegard with drones). Whether this is reason enough to add bourdons to Hildegard, everyone must decide for themselves.

This antiphon is, very typically for Hildegard, in a mixed Aeolian/Phrygian mode based on A (in the score). Thus, the tone A would be appropriate for the bourdon if singing at written pitch.

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    In general: I myself would not add instrumentation to antiphones and in general monastic music of high medieval (and earlier) times. From secondary sources (like Grocheio) it seems a possibility (but he was quite a bit later, 13th / 14th c.) and then it was more likely an organistrum or the vielle-a-huit. Yes, it sounds "good", and a bourdun (or a drone) is natural for several instruments (e.g. organistrum, fiddle - with the flat bridge they likely had, bagpipes - which might have been a bit later in Western Europe, cannot recall evidence before the 1300s, for sure not in clerical music).
    – Joe W
    Oct 17 '18 at 8:48
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    In general, I would agree. I make an exception for some pieces of Hildegard because it works well with her strongly modal melodies, and because Hildegard herself, in a letter to the prelates of Mainz, espoused the use of instruments in church services, saying they were invented by the Prophets and citing David as instrumentalist. I use a simple hurdy-gurdy (a one-man organistrum without keys), something like which was likely around back then. But as I said, everyone must decide for themselves how to interpret Hildegard. Oct 17 '18 at 18:07
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    I know that letter - it is after they were forbidden to sing the hour chants, right? Now I'm also interested in the hurdy-gurdy without the keys... (the Swedish have a "hurdy-gurdy without wheel", the Nykkelharpa, keyed harp, bowed but with the keys). And (same as you) I would consider the hurdy-gurdy and also the vielle-a-huit as a good match (and probably not too incorrect for clerical music, hard to tell, 1000 years later, and would probably do it myself to not entirely lose my orientation as the vocalist - 'cause I suck ;) )
    – Joe W
    Oct 18 '18 at 5:06
  • Joe- for Hildegard I just play a bourdon, but my hurdy-gurdy without keys does have a fingerboard with frets under a melody string. There are some depictions a bit later than Hildegard's time of such instruments. It's also struck me that this instrument is the opposite of a nykkelharpa in a way. And you're right- having a bourdon is a big help to singing in tune. Cheers from sunny Vienna, Scott Oct 19 '18 at 9:55

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