Casey speaks with resident music historian, Dr. Sophia Tegart, about this important and often mysterious figure of musical history.
Today on Keep Classical Weird. I talked with Dr Sophia Tegart about medieval composer and fascinating historical figure Hildegard von Bingen. Is there any sort of contemporary example that would come close to maybe, you know, comparing her?
Dr. Tegart: 0:26
My initial my initial thought was Dionne Warwick. And the reason is, uh, Hildegard von Bingen did everything, right? She wrote books about botany. She was a writer. She was a visionary. She composed and did all this stuff, and she was connected to the church. Okay. And then if you think about Dionne Warwick, she was she She’s a singer, right? So, musician, she was a U. N global ambassador for, like, the food and Food and agriculture or something which is practically botany! It’s not.
Welcome friends to the very first episode of Keep Classical weird. I am your host, Casey Bozell. And I am so excited to get this started. So we’re gonna dive right in, seeing as how it’s our first episode. I thought I would start with one of the first people you learn about when you open up a music history textbook. As we’ll talk about today, She was really unique in a variety of ways. Her name was Hildegard von Bingen Hildegard von Bingen, named for the city she was raised in live from 10 98 to 11 79. So we’re approaching the 1000 year anniversary of her birth. She’s known not only for her contribution to classical music but also for being involved and interested in a variety of topics. Her resume lists her as a nun, a composer, a mystic, a writer and a philosopher. Politicians of that era saw her guidance. She was sainted by the Catholic Church. She experienced visions deemed to be prophetic, and she achieved fame and notoriety in the Middle Ages as a woman,. I knew I would want to dive into this with someone who was not only well versed in early music but just excited in general about this fascinating person. And this won’t be the last episode where I dive in deep with a historical figure. So I went about securing a resident music historian for keep classical weird. I am fortunate that Dr Tegart is a good friend of mine, and she graciously agreed to jump on the phone to discuss us some Hildegard.
Dr. Tegart: 3:09
The story is that she got tithed to the church because she was the 10th child. Right? So 10% of your earnings goes to the church. Therefore, 10 Children, you send one of them to the church. She was German speaking, and lived – is from an area in Germany that I honestly don’t remember because, uh, she then became Hildegard of Bingen, which is where she was located. She is famous because she was a composer, a nun, a mystic, a botanist, a writer, a theologian. She was kind of a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance.
That’s amazing. What can you maybe describe what a mystic is for us?
Dr. Tegart: 4:00
Um, she was known for having visions that she attributed to messages from God. And so, uh, she just had a very spiritual side to her. She wrote down these These visions and they were usually messages about the faith because she was a nun. So.
Okay, so that is very tied in. Because sometimes when you hear that someone’s a mystic, at least today you don’t tie that in directly to like religion,
Dr. Tegart: 4:39
right? It’s the opposite. It’s what you think of think of like the mystical arts or something. And you think of the witch trials and Salem, you know you know these horrible things that were persecuted by the church. But back then it was – it was different.
Today one hears the word mysticism, and immediately the concept seems incompatible with religion. But it’s such a different age. There was no central source database, Internet, anything for one to reference when trying to learn more about how the church really worked. So if mysticism helped bring about local interest in a religious message, the Catholic Church was all for it.
Dr. Tegart: 5:23
There are all these different, uh, places in Europe and you couldn’t – the church, couldn’t take control of each one and say: no, what you’re saying is not right. You know, it didn’t have that far reaching hold that it can now. So if someone kind of popped up was known as a mystic and they were a nun and writing, music and they were getting these visions from God, uh, they became kind of like a local hero. And so the church coming in later isn’t gonna say no. That’s all you know, Bull Honkey. So it’s kind of a different way of looking at it when the information is so quick to be heard about people can, you know, squelch it. But at a time where maybe her reputation preceded her for a long time and the church isn’t going to view that as a threat and think, Oh, she’s dabbling in bad things.
So do you think the church it actually viewed it as like, Oh, she’s someone that we should kind of lift up and use to spread our our message rather than say, Oh, you’re you’re saying it wrong?
Dr. Tegart: 6:37
Yeah, exactly. In fact, she was known for having a really good relationship with a lot of the church leaders, which was a rare thing in general at that time, but more so because she was a woman. I don’t really understand how it happened, but all of the things that she did should have freaked the church out. But for some reason, they just at the church just I felt like she was a good voice for the church, maybe, or a good person to spread its message, the doxology. I don’t know, She’s a baffling person to me, which I think she might have been a mystic herself, but I think just her place in history also created a sense of mysticism.
Wow. Yeah, so would you. Is there evidence to suggest that she was, like, really popular in Bingen, I guess?
Dr. Tegart: 7:44
Yeah. Yes. Well, cause she established a convent there. She grew up in the church, and she, uh, started composing at a young age, writing at a young age. And so she asked if she could take the women. And instead of staying at that monastery like, go start a new one and her higher ups said, no, you can’t do that. So she decided to like, ask the guy above her. Or, the guy about that guy, he just cause, like, oh, you’re not letting me do what I want. So I’m gonna just ask your boss. And so she – So they gave her permission to start this new convent, and so she was definitely, um, a higher up person and people respected her. And I think it’s because she was well known in the area. She had been growing up in the area forever, and she even traveled around like gave public talks, which is all, although super rare for women. Yeah, she’s just, uh she was just one of those people that seems to not be hindered by the fact that she was, unfortunately, a woman.
Classical music aside, Hildegard is historically fascinating, but her music, her actual compositions, are some of the most recorded in history. So I asked Dr. Tegart about her specific contributions to classical music.
Dr. Tegart: 9:15
She’s actually one of the people that I always put on my music history tests where I ask the students, Who was she, and why was she important? And
Dr. Tegart: 9:23
there’s multiple answers for all of that,
Dr. Tegart: 9:26
right? But the two things that I think made her incredibly important Number one is the fact that she was a woman composer. You know, at a time where the people who were composing were generally monks, uh, living in monasteries, and they were just writing chants. So the fact that she was breaking into this male dominated field, it says a lot, not just in music but in other areas as well. And then the other thing that I think is really important. I think it’s related to the fact that she’s a woman in a male dominated field, that she started taking ownership of what she was writing up until that point, the monks would write music and they wouldn’t put their name to it. It was anonymous because they were transcribing stuff coming from God. And as we know with Hildegard, she did you know view her visions as being received from God. But, um, with her music, she put her name on it. She said, God gave me this, but I I wrote it, See my name That’s right there.
that’s that seems different. That seems so radically different.
Dr. Tegart: 10:42
Yeah, and it’s it for me. The sense of ownership that she takes over what she’s producing is a really amazing concept because it definitely wasn’t part of the musical realm for quite a while. And since then, the ideas of ownership and music have just changed dramatically over the last 1000 years. I mean, it’s amazing how that shifts from generation to generation, and I feel like she‘s the one who brought us back to that place of taking ownership.
one facet that we have not touched on yet is Hildegard’s art. She was also an artist because, of course she was, and with a modern perspective, there’s something very particular about it. I’m a migraine sufferer. Do you suffer? Are you? OK. Do you get the the aura? The visual aura? Okay, so have you seen this art that she’s created? Where it’s it appears that she’s she’s labeled it that this, you know, this is a vision of angels, but there’s a lot of indications in the art to say like, Oh, this was that She was actually having a migraine at the time.
Dr. Tegart: 12:01
Yeah. Yeah, Every everything I’ve seen so far her It looks exactly like what I get when I get the aura, the migraines with the auras and I just I So that’s what I find so fascinating because, you know, me growing up in the 20th century and now we’re in the 21st century when I first started getting migraines – my migraines. Of course, I’m gonna immediately say, Oh, migraine, because we know that’s what it is. And you know, then you look it up on the internet and it’s like, Oh, yes, you have a migraine. And so, of course I’m looking at it from an informed perspective and having outside information help me decipher what is going on. But then, if you think back to her time, period. Someone who was tithed to the church, only knows, really like the church her entire life. And something is abnormal that she finds out other people don’t have. Of course, you’re gonna think it’s from a vision from God, or vision of angels or something, because that is what your world would lead you to think. Right? So with that said, I wish I wish that my aura, migraines would have been way more exciting. I wish I would have been able to think, Oh, I’m get being these because I’m getting a vision. That’s That’s amazing. I mean, I’m I’m a little jealous of her to be able to, you know, come up with this this side of what migraines are because we all know they aren’t that exciting, um, but visually, they’re stunning I mean, when I start getting them, there, there’s, like flashes and halos around everything, and and, um, and there’s there’s one, uh, drawing I saw where it was, like a man on a horse or something. And it was all dark and, you know, prickly around it. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve totally seen that. Maybe not a guy on a horse. But you know that element. Yeah, definitely migraines.
So about that Dionne Warwick connection, Its she in some form or another, a reincarnation of Hildegard von Bingen. Well, Dr Tegart does have one more piece of pretty compelling evidence.
Dr. Tegart: 14:37
I think the thing that really sums it up is that she was also the spokesperson for a bunch of infomercials about the psychic network. So you have this person who was tied to this these visions as – well, no, Dionne Warwick was herself not a psychic, but she she definitely profited from being the spokesperson for it. Just like Hildegard kind of profited in her career for being this visionary. So for me, there’s so many parallels between these two women that the fact that I think Dionne Warwick and Hildegard von Bingen are somehow related because of that it’s
I love it. That was such a fascinating conversation. Thank you so much, Dr. Tegart for joining us to talk about Hildegard.
Dr. Tegart: 15:32
It was my pleasure.
And that is our show today. So many. Thanks to Dr Tegart at Washington State University. The theme music you’re hearing is by the incomparable Thomas Barber. Check him out at thomasbarber.com. Web development Support was provided by Tina from citybeautifuldesign.com. Keep Classical Weird is created and edited by me, Casey BozellFind it on INSTAGRAM and on our website, keepclassicalweird.com. For more music appreciation in a bite sized form, you can subscribe to my patreon at Casey Bozell. That’s patreon.com/c a s e y b o z e l l Thanks for listening, Everyone, Stay safe. Stay weird.