Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo Virtutum

Ensemble Belcanto, Dietburg Spohr


This is the second New Series album to feature the Ensemble Belcanto. Where its predecessor focused on contemporary composition, this new disc looks at Hildegard of Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, writtern around 1150 and generally considered the first large-scale musical work beyond the prescribed form of the Mass liturgy. In her creative interpretation, Belcanto leader Dietburg Spohr waives claims to ‘objective’ historical literalness. Instead, she and her fellow singers encounter the work as if it were written specifically for the Ensemble Belcanto: “We sought to free Hildegard from mystical-esoteric associations and to emphasize the work of an emancipated woman and composer.”

Dies ist der zweite Album des Ensemble Belcanto bei ECM New Series. Während das Vorgängerwerk ausschließlich auf zeitgenössische Kompositionen konzentriert war, richtet sich bei dieser Veröffentlichung der Blick auf Hildegard von Bingens Ordo Virtutum. Geschrieben um das Jahr 1150 herum, wird diese Komposition allgemein als erstes groß angelegt-mehrteiliges Opus jenseits der liturgisch vorgegebenen Form der Messe angesehen. In ihrer kreativen Interpretation verzichtet Ensemble-Belcanto-Gründerin Dietburg Spohr auf den Anspruch historisch objektiver „Werktreue“. Stattdessen verhalten sie und ihre Sängerinnen sich so, als habe eine imaginäre Mittelalter-Komponistin quasi für das Ensemble Belcanto komponiert: "Wir wollen mit unserem Projekt versuchen, Hildegard von Bingen aus ihrer oft esoterischen-mystizistischen Vereinnahmung und einem damit manchmal verbundenen Missbrauch herauszuholen und ihr Wirken als emanzipierte Frau und Komponistin darzustellen."
Featured Artists Recorded

October 2010, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main

Original Release Date


  • Ordo Virtutum
    (Hildegard von Bingen)
  • 1Patriarchae Et Prophetae - Virtutes - Patriarchae Et Prophetae (I)01:29
  • 2Patriarchae Et Prophetae - Virtutes - Patriarchae Et Prophetae (II)02:05
  • 3Querela Animarum In Carne Positarum01:15
  • 4Felix Anima - Virtutes - Felix Anima (I)00:38
  • 5Felix Anima - Virtutes - Felix Anima (II)00:41
  • 6Virtutes - Sed Gravata Anima Conqueritur - Virtutes Ad Animam Illam01:09
  • 7Anima Illa00:20
  • 8Scientia Dei Ad Animam Illam01:04
  • 9Infelix Anima - Virtutes00:53
  • 10Scientia Dei00:49
  • 11Anima Illa00:41
  • 12Strepitus Diabolo Ad Animam Illam - Virtutes01:16
  • 13Diabolus01:04
  • 14Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas (I)03:05
  • 15Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas (II)00:48
  • 16Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas (III)00:25
  • 17Caritas - Virtutes01:43
  • 18Timor Dei - Virtutes02:10
  • 19Diabolus - Virtutes00:32
  • 20Obedientia - Virtutes00:46
  • 21Fides - Virtutes02:10
  • 22Spes - Virtutes03:28
  • 23Castitas - Virtutes01:32
  • 24Innocentia - Virtutes01:43
  • 25Contemptus Mundi - Virtutes02:40
  • 26Amor Caelestis - Virtutes02:54
  • 27Disciplina - Virtutes00:51
  • 28Verecundia - Virtutes01:09
  • 29Misericordia - Virtutes02:23
  • 30Victoria - Virtutes01:02
  • 31Discretio - Virtutes01:02
  • 32Patientia - Virtutes02:02
  • 33Humilitas - Virtutes01:39
  • 34Querela Animarum Paenitentis - Virtutes00:43
  • 35Anima Illa - Virtutes - Anima Illa - Virtutes (I)01:01
  • 36Anima Illa - Virtutes - Anima Illa - Virtutes (II)01:15
  • 37Paenitens Anima Ad Virtutes - Virtutes03:57
  • 38Anima Illa03:01
  • 39Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas - Virtutes (I)00:55
  • 40Humilitas - Virtutes - Humilitas - Virtutes (II)01:40
  • 41Diabolus01:38
  • 42Paenitens Anima00:28
  • 43Anima Illa01:03
  • 44Humilitas Ad Victoriam01:54
  • 45Victoria Ad Virtutes - Virtutes - Humilitas01:12
  • 46Virtutes00:57
  • 47Victoria - Virtutes00:43
  • 48Castitas01:41
  • 49Diabolus00:36
  • 50Castitas - Virtutes - Virtutes03:02
  • 51Epilog05:13
Dietburg Spohr’s Ensemble Belcanto was last heard on ECM in 2001 singing contemporary composition by Wolfgang Rihm, Konrad Boehmer, Fabrizio Casti, and Haim Alexander (see “Come un’ombra di luna”, ECM New Series 1739). For more than a quarter-century, Belcanto has been a force in new music, and many composers have written music for the ensemble. But the Frankfurt-based group’s repertoire has also embraced older musical expressions, and Spohr has often drawn attention to affinities between early music and the avant-garde.

With Hildegard von Bingen’s “Ordo Virtutum”, written around 1150, Belcanto reaches back to the beginnings of extended-form composition in the Western world. This is sacred music reflecting Medieval thought, as music and morality play are intertwined.

In “Ordo Virtutum”, as Gerhard R. Koch explains in a liner note, “a spiritual struggle is presented which strays far from the liturgical model. The soul – erring, doubting, hoping – travels its way along the constantly contested path of faith, stumbling into a kind of ‘psychodrama.’ It receives counsel from the comforting, guiding ‘Virtues’ (allegorical creatures of divine providence), from ‘characters’ who scrutinise everything, and from the Devil himself. The text has a virtually antagonistic character, pointing toward imaginary sacred theatre.”

Historical ‘objectivity’ is not the goal of Belcanto’s creative interpretation, which is “based on respect and the faithful handling of the auratic composer and her presumed intentions. Precisely because her world is so distant and foreign, one must refrain from enfolding it in emotive sonic incense or from making it ironical. Experience with new vocal music is applied in this version, as is the endeavour to impart the Middle Ages – a kind of balancing act between the modern and the archaic which, in any event, does more justice to the work than a beautified halo. Dietburg Spohr activates the potential for contrast in Ordo in her arrangement, as if an imaginary Medieval composer had composed for a ‘bel canto’ ensemble.”

Spohr and the Belcanto Enemble have been performing music of Hildegard von Bingen since the early 1990s, determined to honour Hildegard as a composer with material relevant for our time and to free her, periodically, from the ‘esoteric’ corner which has claimed her. The ensemble views Hildegard’s compositions as a joyously experimental bridge between the Middle Ages and contemporary music.