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Music and Mysticism (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

All music making begins with singing just as all dancing begins with moving in time with rhythm. Cynthia Young, one of our local pianists and music teachers has begun exploring the roots of music making that transcended the rules of formal musical composition by way of mystical inspiration. Read on and enjoy! And then book your tickets for QSCM's "Art of Song" performance, Sunday November 3 with world class vocal chamber music specialists, Aline Kutan, Annamaria Popescu and Michael McMahon. Check it out at!

Music and Mysticism (Part I)

by Cynthia Young

Mysticism has often been associated with religion, art, poetry and music. Simply put, mysticism is divine inspiration - the recipient believes that God, or an omnipotent being, has communicated personally with them, giving them specific direction.

Hildegard de Bingen (1098-1179) was a German poet, philosopher,scientist, abbess, proto-feminist, renowned mystic and one of the earliest known composers.

From a very young age, Hildegard experienced visions she believed were from God. Not knowing what else to do, her parents sent her to a convent at the age of 8. Although initially frightened by her visions, she gradually came to enjoy them, write them down and implement them in her work.

Roman Catholic liturgy at the time was based upon Gregorian chant, or plainsong, an almost formulaic system of melody writing developed by Gregorian monks as they worked at standardizing musical notation. The chants were single line melodies set to the standard Latin prayers and elements of the church service for male voices. They were based on modal scales, had “rules” involving intervals, cadences and vocal range. Until the advent of the Baroque period, hundreds of years later, these chants were the basis of all church music. Even as the music became more polyphonic (multi-voiced), there was always a chant, or segment of one, embedded in the music.

Hildegard’s music is completely different. Her melodies soar through an extensive female vocal range, beautiful, other-wordly, lacking the solemnity of the chants. The lyrics were her own, not from standard prayers and invocations.

There was nothing like her music before and nothing like it after. It was the mystic music of her visions.

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