Author: Conny Bruckbauer, for the fanzine “Manastir Baroue”, 12/1997 - Translation: www.deepl.com
As always, ESTAMPIE presented me with the biggest challenges, because their work and actions are fundamentally different from what I expected. As soon as the formation starts a new project, something completely unconventional, unprecedented happens. One could almost say that they play with breaking conventions, but in this case of MATERIA MYSTICA I was pleasantly surprised after initial despair.
Next year will be the 900th anniversary of Hildegard von Bingen’s birthday. To this event, concerts, esoteric lectures, naturopathy conferences and who does not know everything else will probably take place in honour of Saint Hildegard von Bingen. However, despite all the mystification of Hildegard’s person, who corresponded by letter with the most important personalities of her time, it must be said today that many of her theories are simply outdated or - even worse - were never substantiated.
Surely the nun discovered many of her insights through observation and trial and error, which could later be scientifically confirmed.
If you like, she almost carried out human experiments to cure the sick with her medicines, even if you cannot compare nursing care with today’s, of course.
In order to get closer to Hildegardes music, which I, of all the medieval music I know, like the least, I bought some books about Hildegard von Bingen and her musical and poetic works.
After this reading, however, I was almost as clever as before. Since I claim to have a basic musical understanding and I also became familiar with Hildegard’s time through other personalities such as Eleonore of Aquitaine, it seemed strange to me not to be able to grasp Hildegard. During the reading I constantly had the feeling that there was something there, but in the end it became confused and blurred in the background. I could not get to the core of her statement and I doubt if it even exists. Hildegard von Bingen’s followers may forgive me for this.
With the same desperation of incomprehension I listened to recordings of her music and found simple sequences that seemed rather boring compared to Bernart de Ventaodorn or even Alfonso X (who lived a little later). I could not understand the popularity of Hildegard von Bingen, which almost borders on selling out.
Maybe ESTAMPIE thought the same thing when they approached their new work.
Of course, a medieval formation can’t avoid a 900th anniversary celebration. During this year’s Lakaienfestival I already noticed in advance that the musicians devoured strange reading, suddenly strange conversations about the bible and esoteric books started and I didn’t really know where this should lead to, even if I found their views partly very interesting, revolutionary and good. Little by little I understood that they too were trying to get hold of the woman who seems so incomprehensible to me. And so the musical and scenic realization of ESTAMPIE, beyond Hildegard von Bingen, has grown into timelessness.
During her occupation with the works of Hildegard, ESTAMPIE repeatedly came across the four elements and this seemed to become a kind of leitmotif of her project. She used symbolic matter (Materia Mystica) as a guideline for her production.
Together with the production label for multimedia performances SLOT A LOT they went a new way to celebrate this 900th anniversary.
So now the four elements are the focus of MATERIA MYSTICA: Water, earth, air and fire. Symbols that Hildegard von Bingen used again and again as well as the cross and the circle. The idea that everything created is formed from the four elements goes back to the 8th century. Chr. back. This division into four elements is reflected in the seasons, basic colours, types of beings and also in the symbol of the cross. A symbol of matter in many cultures.
In addition, there is the circle. It stands as a symbol for the heavenly, spiritual level. As a sign of infinity.
These symbols are to be transformed into various associative circles during the performance:
BREATH - BREATH - INSPIRATION - SINGING - SILENCE
WHEEL - CIRCLE - AGE OF LIFE - ETERNAL SOUND OF A TONE
For heaven’s sake - you’ll say now - but now it’s getting esoteric. Right! I thought so too. But the implementation is interesting.
Four singers (Syrah, Gerlinde Sämann, Cornelia Melian and Rose Bihler-Shah) symbolize the four elements on a kind of catwalk, which is arranged in a cross as well as a circle. The planning is not yet final, but it could look something like this.
The singers will try to symbolize the four elements with their voice (the instrument of God) from different works of Hildegard von Bingen. However, ESTAMPIE are not limited to the purely medieval originals of Hildegard’s manuscripts written down unanimously, but give each element a kind of modernly composed conclusion before the music continues with the next element and starts again from the beginning, as it were. So the circle is closed again. The cross is filled in.
Musically, of course, many elements from other cultures can be adopted. One thinks of the drum dances around the fire or for rain in the cultures of Africa. Also the Arabic influence in this music may not be missing, which at Hildegard’s time gained influence in Europe through the upcoming crusades. Accordingly, percussion will probably be used more and more. The music will be realized exclusively (at least according to the current state of the art) with medieval instruments, but who says that one has to stick to the historical model.
In addition to the music - or better with it - ritualized gestures and patterns, slow-motion-like movements, images symbolizing archaic and timeless power, and a narrator (Juljane Kosarev) interpreting texts by Hildegard von Bingen, will be performed. The four elements, with the support of dynamically created images of nature created by light effects, will also be created visually before our eyes as images. The four elements of this staged concert cross and influence each other. This opens up spaces of association which condense the music atmospherically. With light and shadow and costumes matching the play of colours, Estampie wants to take us into the deeper meaning of these four elements.
The world resembles man and is reflected in his soul. (Hildegard v. Bingen)
MATERIA MYSTICA does not fit in seamlessly with the countless Hildegard von Bingen recordings, which are already being advertised in the CD shops, but takes another new path to take Hildegard with her, but also to grow beyond her.
This is not surprising with Estampie. After all, on the one hand the formation is known as a gifted (for me the best) medieval ensemble, on the other hand the group surprises again and again with the realisation of structured theatre music. The solid basis of musicians like Michael Popp, Ernst Schwindl Hannes Schanderl, Tobias Schlierf or Roman Seehon gives them the opportunity to make such a work a reality. This work, which can probably be described more as avant-garde music theatre than as a transposition of unanimous sequences from the manuscripts of the monastery of Rupertsberg and Eibingen, which have been combined in not exactly defined neumes.
Evening newspaper Munich 9.3.1998
Mysticism and the Middle Ages
Fire, water, air and earth; circle and cross, light and darkness: symbols that are as popular today as they were 800 years ago. At that time, the mystic Hildegard von Bingen was concerned about the absolute action of the elements. Today we understand their (superficial) meaning when they are used to illustrate Hildegard’s songs and texts. Sabine Haß production label Slot a Lot staged a memorial concert for the medieval mystic with “Materia Mystica”, played in the riding hall by the Munich early music ensemble Estampie. The outstanding singers and instrumentalists have specialized in medieval theme evenings: After Marian cult or crusade music now Hildegard. Women’s chorales in a quartet, accompanied by percussion, string tremolo or the delicate two of the hurdy-gurdy, spanned bridges between the songs of Hildegard and the modern avant-garde, changing seamlessly from melodic to atonal and ending with Gregorian harmonies. Women’s power instead of church mourning: the carried melodies of Hildegard’s songs written in Latin and the abrupt recitations of her texts remind us of someone who lives against her time and her role model. Given the expressiveness of the music and the attractiveness of the instruments, the decorative movements could almost have been avoided.