Hildegarde of Bingen saw the world go dark

Hildegarde of Bingen saw the world go dark


norman lebrecht

March 18, 2020

The French four-hand pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque and the Canadian singer Barbara Hannigan have posted a video in response to the coronavirus situation.

They write:

Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century mystic and visionary, a composer, and writer of theological, medicinal and botanical texts.

Recent events have led us towards the desire and need to offer this recording to anyone, anywhere, who wants to listen, and who may find an oasis of calm within this meditative music.

Around the time (1150) that Hildegard of Bingen wrote this music, there was a total eclipse, and the world expects another at the end of 2020. An eclipse can be viewed as a time to focus on internal and political change, and to remember that the sun does return after complete darkness.

This offering comes out of our explorations and rehearsals for multidisicplinary collaboration called Supernova, with the above-mentioned artists as well as pianist Marielle Labeque and composer Bryce Dessner. Supernova will premiere in autumn 2020 as a coproduction of LA Phil and Lincoln Center.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    I am a big fan of Hildegard, but less so of the blurb written here. There was a total eclipse of the Sun in 1149. There will be a total eclipse of the Sun in 2020. There were also such eclipses in 1151, 1152, 1153, 1154, 1155… The exceptional thing about 1150 was that there was NOT a total eclipse of the Sun that year. Hanging the blurb on solar eclipses simply shows scientific ignorance. They are quite common events, but each one is visible only from a very small part of the Earth;s surface.

    • SVM says:

      So, the question is *which* total eclipses were visible to people living in the region where Hildegard of Bingen was based?

      • Paul Dawson says:

        The joys of being locked down! My software is not really designed to deal with questions like this, but I checked the eclipse map for every total solar eclipse between 1140 and 1160 (inclusive). The only one which touched Europe was 20 March 1140. I don’t have time to dig into my Hildegard biographies to check her travels, but she would have to have been in the UK, Denmark or the VERY northernmost part of Germany to have seen totality. I’m beginning to have doubts about this claim.

        • M2N2K says:

          They are not claiming that the date is precise and they are not claiming that Hildegard actually saw the eclipse, so your doubts are meaningless.

          • Just sayin' says:

            In that case, what’s the Hildegard/music/eclipse connection, then?

            Do prepare to focus, though, as after the total eclipse in December 2020 (you’ll have to be in Chile for it), there’s another in December 2021, and one each in 2023, 2024, 2026, 2027, and 2028. More or less the normal frequency.

          • M2N2K says:

            If you are interested, ask the performers for precise explanation. It is possible that they hear in this music something that makes them think of eclipse.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is more likely that listeners experience an eclipse of some sort.

          • M2N2K says:

            This would mean that these performers are exceptionally successful in communicating their conception and vision of the piece.

        • Ron Swanson says:

          Hildegard spent most of her life in the Rhineland. However she may not have personally seen the eclipse but news of the event would have certainly reached Hildegard.

  • Gustavo says:

    Could have been used as soundtrack to Joker.

  • CYM says:

    YESSS for Bingen and Hannigan !

    BUT, is there a need for the Labeque sisters duo to play only 5 or 6 notes ? …