An bountiful and expansive setting of a Hildegard von Bingen prayer
Words by Hildegard of Bingen
A bountiful and expansive setting of Hildegard von Bingen’s “Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans,” with a new translation by the composer.
Luminous Awakening is the the second movement of the three-movement work, Pure Light Beyond Light.
Details and Ordering Information
My first English setting of Hildegard von Bingen’s “Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans” used a translation by a well-known translator of ancient spiritual writings. I was deep in the throes of composition and under a tight deadline, and thus it somehow failed to register with me that a modern translation of these ancient words would be copyrighted material. Realizing that later, I felt pretty foolish – but not nearly as foolish as I would feel when, after months of haggling, the translator’s publisher offered me a “generous” non-renewable 5-year contract for an exorbitant fee.
I headed back to the drawing board to see if my song might possibly be salvaged, but to no avail. Substituting the original Latin text into my setting was a fruitless endeavor, and neither of the other two English translations I dug up managed to capture the music’s sense of movement and grace.
I was close to giving up on the song altogether when I had a revelation: Why couldn’t I create my own translation? I had studied Latin for a few years in high school, and I have plenty of experience writing and adapting lyrics. When I created a word-for-word translation and compared it with the three English versions, I understood immediately what qualities in the text I wanted to invoke. Hildegard’s writing is about the holy spirit being not only a steadfast root but also a dynamic presence! My guiding principle for the translation became flow, an eternally moving and changing breath. As I immersed myself in Hildegard’s original words and crafted my own translation, I set out to make each word invite the listener into the next word, and the next, and the next.
Holy Spirit, breath of every being,
root of every creature,
moving in all,
bathing all lives
with forgiveness and grace,
and caressing wounds
with the balm of boundless joy –
Pure light beyond light,
again and again and again.
Hildegard of Bingen
Translation by Elizabeth Alexander
© 2016 by Elizabeth Alexander
Spiritus sanctus vivificans
vita movens omnia,
et radix est in omni creatura
ac omnia de inmunditia abluit,
tergens crimina ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans omnia.
Premiere: Bethlehem Academy Choir / Jonathan Kopplin (Faribault, MN)
Anjali Silva / Frances Lorenz (Takoma, WA)
Chamber Choir of Colonial Church of Edina / Timothy Takach (Edina, MN)