1. Before 1994 most Hildegard recordings bore the standard somewhat intimidating early music cover: a border around the edge with either a tasteful illumination, such as the one from Hildegard’s Scivias pictured on Gothic Voices’ 1982 LP (Page 24) or a photograph of a medieval art object such as the late tenth-, early eleventh-century ring pictured in front of a twelfth-century book or box cover on a 1980 Christophorus CD (Hohlfeld 15). The early music ensemble Sequentia released two recordings with Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, which neatly fit this category by using illuminations from an early thirteenth-century Hildegard manuscript on their Ordo virtutum LP from 1982 (Thornton 63) and on their Symphoniae LP from 1985 (Dronke and Thornton 4).

    A Feather on the Breath of God
    Ordo virtutum
    Figure 7

    But in 1993 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi got rid of their standard gray borders, and allowed their art departments to be freer with the covers (Bagby). This change of cover format occurred in the year previous to Sequentia’s 1994 release, Canticles of Ecstasy. In both title and cover design Sequentia radically changed their look; from the rather conservative Latin titles, Ordo virtutum and Symphoniae, Sequentia chose the fanciful Canticles of Ecstasy, a name reminiscent of New Age titles such as Dream Generator, White Winds, and Aerial Boundaries. As Benjamin Bagby reports, at that time co-director of Sequentia with the late Barbara Thornton, the cover was submitted by Sequentia but developed by the art departments. He says:
    Figure 8: Canticles of Ecstasy
    In Europe, they took the artwork we submitted (from a Hildegard ms. copy) and added the title in Helvetica typescript (also our request). It was very elegant and true to the original … The art depart[ment] of BMG in New York was told to “pop it up” for the more aggressive American marketplace, since the NY management found our version “too European,” and they changed the typeface and colors radically. We were not informed of this until it had been done.8

    Although still using an illumination from a Hildegard manuscript, the image is no longer a foreground element, but rather foreground and background together. The “popped up” version with its garish colors reinforces the spherical image associated with the medieval conception—which Hildegard espoused at length—of the human as the microcosm in the macrocosm of the universe.9 This visual image—though not described by Zrzavy—appears on New Age books, magazines and CD covers, as in Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum CD cover of the earth surrounded by the spherical, heavenly cosmos and constellations , and in Ismaël Lo’s Jammu Africa “World Music” CD advertised in New Age Journal (70). Sequentia’s 1995 release, Voice of the Blood, continues this trend with its evocative title and spherical image, taken from another Hildegard illumination and again used as foreground and background together (Thornton 5).

    Planet Drum
    World Music that Speaks to the Spirit
    Voice of the Blood
    Figure 9

  2. At the point of the Canticles of Ecstasy release in 1994 in the Hildegard recording industry, cover art more frequently became divorced from content; the music industry marketed Hildegard’s chant as New Age music whether or not it incorporated a New Age style, either through “updating” the music or through unusual drones and reverberation. From the cover of Canticles of Ecstasy we expect to hear New Age ambient music: long drones on the synthesizer, the use of ethereal synthetic voice and string sounds, and heavy reverberation, something like Enya’s Watermark from 1987, a popular and classic New Age recording.10 But Canticles of Ecstasy sounds just like the Sequentia of old, a singing style somewhat similar to Gothic Voices—highly trained female voices often using solo performances, but frequently with the addition of medieval instruments, and—most indicative of their style—with a much freer rhythmical interpretation. Sequentia uses rapid rising and descending figures which sound like embellishments to the main melodic notes, and they emphasize climaxes and phrase endings with longer held notes, as for example in their a capella version of “Quia ergo femina mortem instruxit.” Their interpretation of Hildegard’s music is highly individual but does not in any way attempt to use New Age stylistic techniques.

  3. With the release of Canticles of Ecstasy in its New Age-style cover, BMG, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi’s distributor, took advantage of the flashy and successful Chant CD, and launched a Chant-like campaign.
    Figure 10: BMG press mailing
    BMG blitzed the media with a massive press mailing which included a copy of the CD, and also sent large numbers of posters and cutouts to the stores. The cover page of the press release for Canticles of Ecstasy, in a very deliberate attempt to place itself in the New Age sector of the marketplace, appropriates the New Age sky-and-clouds motif. But at the same time the cover recalls the Vision CD in order for Canticles of Ecstasy to assert its own style of authenticity—in historical performance practices—with the provocative text, “Have you heard the REAL Hildegard?” The result? By 1997 Sequentia’s highest sales figures to date—100,000 CDs in North America alone, six times the number of their first release, the Ordo virtutum.


2 3 4 Works Cited

9. This interesting image could also represent the Trinity with the middle circle as God the Father, the outer one as the Spirit, and the central figure as Christ. In either case, the use of the image for its New Age resonance demonstrates a common de-contextualizing tendency as it removes any specific Christian meaning in favor of a more universal spiritual suggestiveness.

10. Although Enya was not the founder of ambient New Age music, her Watermark really marked the climax of this style, which was pioneered by Steven Halpern (Spectrum Suite, 1975), Brian Eno (Another Green World, 1975 and Ambient 1: Music for Airports, 1978), Harold Budd and Brian Eno (Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, 1980 and The Pearl, 1984) and Steve Roach (Quiet Music, 1986).



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