audiotrack Canticles of Ecstasy

reviewed by Jill Hill

Published in Issue No. 21 ~ February, 1999

Hildegard von Bingen was a visionary who lived a cloistered life in the twelfth century. She lived a life of devoted faith and saw visions of God and the cosmos that were uniquely her own. As an abbess she wrote musical compositions that were sung by the sisters of her convent, and her lyrics possess a radical tone as they exalt the divine female:

and thus the highest blessing
is found in female form
rather than in any other creature.
For God is made human
in a lovely and blessed virgin.

This recording attempts to recreate the sound of those compositions, and the ensemble group Sequentia renders the music with historical accuracy and fine control. The female voices can sustain the very high drawn out notes. The accompanying instruments are melodious and finely textured and the lyrics glorify God, Mary and the Son. Despite an abundance of high notes and too much emphasis on chastity and virgins for my taste, this recording has excellent historical and technical merit.

For these reasons and more, I am sure Canticles of Ecstasy deserves to be admired. But I must admit one thing: the recording gives me a headache. All the wailing and moaning in very high-pitched voices reminds me of a mother nagging in an operatic soprano in Latin. I am sure this perspective stems from my innate shallowness, but medieval liturgical music ain’t my thing.

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Jill Hill lives with some kids, some dogs, writes, and manages a restaurant where she tries out her new CD's. She listens to a variety of music, from Classical to Blues, but tries to stay away from most rap. In her words: "I am always on the look out for a new band or singer/songwriter that I will like. I like a CD that does not grow old and weary sounding, which mean I don't want buy a CD that can be found on the used CD sale table a month later. One of my favorite CD's is Neal Young's Everyone Knows this is Nowhere. My favorite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and my favorite novel of his Of Love and Other Demons. X-Files is about the only TV I watch. I do not watch sitcoms and do not like music inspired by sitcoms. I'd rather listen to a sampled rap version of the Jetsons theme song."