CD101 Frank Ferko: The Hildegard Organ Cycle
Frank Ferko: The Hildegard Organ Cycle
A ten-movement cycle based on the poetic visions of Hildegard of Bingen played by the composer at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
1. The Origin of Life
2. The Construction of the World
3. Human Nature
4. Articulation of the Body
5. Places of Purification
6. The Meaning of History
7. Preparation for Christ
8. The Effect of Love
9. Completion of the Cosmos
10. The End of Time
Opening portion of “The End of Time” from The Hildegard Organ Cycle
Ferko, as interpreter, brings alive the accoutrements of his score, like the droplets of sound that account for the origins of life in movement one, or the bold statements of plainsong (often that of Hildegard) that overarch many passages...monumental and sure-to-prevail addition to the repertoire. --The American Organist; July 1998
Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard was born in Bermershein (Germany) in 1098, the tenth child of a noble family. When she was eight years old, her family gave her, as an offering of thanksgiving, to the monastery of St. Disibod to live with a noble-woman named Jutta, who was able to teach the child elementary reading in Latin and singing. Hildegard took monastic vows during her teens, and in 1136, following the death of Jutta, was chosen to be abbess.
From the age of three Hildegard had had visionary experiences: an ability to see hidden things and to foretell the future. The visions came in a brilliant light, the "living Light," which also contained symbols and even the sound of a voice which, she said, dictated everything in her books. Her principal visionary writings are contained in three books Scivias (completed in 1151), Liber vitae meritorun (completed in 1163) and De operatione Dei (completed in 1173). In the monastery scritorium Hildegard also oversaw the drawing of various illuminations which depicted her visions. It was after having read several portions of Scivias, however, that Pope Eugenius III gave Hildegard a letter of apostolic blessing and protection.
In 1150 Hildegard and the St. Disibod nuns moved to a new monastery at Rupertsberg, and in 1165 Hildegard founded yet another abbey at Eibingen - this last convent, now called the Abbey of St. Hildegard, is still in existence (the Rupertsberg monastery was destroyed during the Thirty Years' War). During the last thirty years of her life, Hildegard became a prolific writer of letters, to such diverse members of society as popes, priests, emperors, abbesses and lay people. She traveled and preached - very rare for a woman of her day - and furthered the cause of clerical and monastic reform.
Hildegard's era was the time of the Second Crusade, poltical upheaval and schism in the Church, so it is not surprising that the Abbess had her share of problems in dealing with political leaders, as well as with those in the Church who imposed an interdict on her community in 1178 which lasted for about one year, and was lifted only six months before her death on September 17, 1179.
Proceedings to canonize Hildegard were begun in 1233, but for various reasons they were never completed; nevertheless, to this day she is called St. Hildegard. Her commemoration is observed on September 17.
The Hildegard Organ Cycle
The last and probably most important of the three theological writings of St. Hildegard was a lengthy discourse on ten of her most holy visions which was titled De operatione Dei and completed when she was 75 years old. In both the German and English translations of this writing, each of the visions is titled. Each of the ten movements of The Hildegard Organ Cycle is a musical depiction of these holy visions, and each is titled accordingly. The ordering of the visions is the same in the musical work as in Hildegard's writing. The earlier Scivias ended with a set of poetic verses which Hildegard herself set to music and titled Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum ("Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelation"). There are more than 70 musical pieces, mostly antiphons, in this set, and from these five chant melodies have been selected to form the musical foundation of the present organ cycle. In one case an entire antiphon was used (movement VI), but for most of the cycle small chant fragments provide the thematic material. Originally composed themes complement the chant in several movements.
Throughout its two hundred year history, St. Patrick's Church in Washington D.C. has had a tradition of musical excellence. In recent years the church buidling, which had suffered from wear and deterioration, has been magnificently renovated. Under the guidance of its clergy and musicians, the building now provides a wonderful acoustic for the ear as well as a ravishing delight for the eye. As part of the renovation, a new organ built by the firm led by Mark Lively and Paul Fulcher was installed and dedicated in 1994. The new Lively-Fulcher instrument uses, in slightly altered form, the facade of the 1895 Barkhoff organ, with pipes attractively stenciled in a style sympathetic to the renovated room.
Messrs. Lively and Fulcher have crafted a rather hefty instrument, a large two-manual and pedal instrument with the addition of a French-style Bombarde division. With an economy of means, using an abundantly live acoustic, the organ and the building yield a very large cathedral sound, and the sound of the full organ is reminiscent of large, gothic, French cathedrals. It is the perfect vehicle for Frank Ferko's music, and, with that in mind, the location and the organ were specially chosen for this recording.
Certain aspects of this music would tax any organ. Particularly, the massive clusters in No. 9, played by both fore-arms, and the massive chords in No. 10 are enough to test fully the wind system of even the best of instruments without either failing completely or sagging desperately. And the rapidly repeated chords throughout No. 5 require quick speech of the pipes to fully sound, a severe test of the organ voicer's art. Then too, the slow, static singing of melodies in Nos. 6 and 7 require a most vocal quality, rare among organs, and lovingly provided in abundance by this magnificent instrument.