Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was truly one of the most remarkable women of the Middle Ages: a mystic, abbess, poet, musician, natural historian, and playwright.
Born into a noble family, she was dedicated to the church from a very young age. While still a child, Hildegard left her home and moved into a convent. She lived in a state of near-isolation, sharing a cell with an anchoress named Jutta. Unlike nuns, who had companionship in a religious community, anchoresses generally lived alone while confined in a small room, and had no interaction with the outside world. Nevertheless, Hildegard recieved an education and learned how to read and write. She would later become a noted author of works on the natural sciences, plays, and poetry, as well as avid letter-writer.
Known and respected by nobility, emperors, and popes, Hildegard corresponded with the great figures of her time as well as with anyone who asked for her advice. Her reputation as a source of advice led the scholar Joan M. Ferrante to call her the “Dear Abby of the 12th century.” She was known in her own time as “the sibyl of the Rhine.” The news of her visions and prophecies and her reputation for wisdom made her famous far from her convent in Rupertsberg, near Bingen.
Even without her many other accomplishments her music would securely mark Hildegard as a significant contributor to 12th-century culture. Hildegard's music and poetry are unique and extraordinary in style. Her Latin is unmetered and unrhymed and full of incredibly rich imagery. It is definitely not conventional for the 12th century but is an individual poetic style of great power and beauty.
Hildegard' s music also breaks new ground. As an educated nun, she certainly was schooled in Gregorian chant, the prevalent musical style in her time. But her melodies do not confine themselves to chant types at all. Hers is an
unfettered compositional style as original and effective as her poetry.