Ibiza raves to the mystic mix of 12th-century saint

Janie Lawrence,Lucy Ward
Sunday 27 July 1997 23:02

No doubt the cultural theorist would call it post-modern. The publicity blurb opts for "Music for the Millennium". The rest of us could see it as a further sign of the music industry's desperate struggle to come up with something new.

The latest potential chart star is St Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century German Benedictine nun, whose Latin chants have been converted into up- tempo disco recordings that are currently entertaining young dancers in Ibiza.

St Hildegard is familiar to German schoolchildren as a mystic herbal medicine expert and author who figured in German medieval history.

In Britain, her music has, until now, never reached a pop audience - although her songs have a devoted following among the same classical music listeners who enjoy who enjoy soaking up Gregorian chants and modern spiritual music.

Claus Zundel, a German composer, first stumbled across her music, written using a three rather than five-line notation system, 20 years ago. Now he has fused her Latin chants and his electronic sample to produce a series of tracks called "Divine Works".

He is confident it will be lapped up, particularly by stressed out thirtysomethings. Virgin Records, rather more profit conscious, has decided also to target younger club goers. To this end the label has issued a remix which is doing the rounds in Ibiza. So far its proving popular, even if St Hildegard's name does not quite trip off the average clubber's lips. "Hilda who?" asked one bemused dancer.

Having worked with artists such as Chaka Khan and Sidney Youngblood the perma-tanned Mr Zundel, 51, now divides his time between homes in Miami, London and Ibiza. Surveying the album launch parade in in Ibiza - complete with a gold-painted bare-bottomed young man representing heaven - Mr Zundel believes the world is now ready for St Hildegard. "Her music is a pearl," he gushed. "It is raw emotion. The spirituality of it is so contemporary and uplifting. Pop music has reached the end of the line because it is very much for the stupid and uneducated."

A recording of Hildegard's songs, released in 1982, is by far the best- selling disc of classical music specialists Hyperion Records. "Gothic Voices", which won a Gramophone Award in 1983, has sold 270,000 albums. The record owes its success to an appeal far beyond the traditional classical music market, according to Mike Spring, Hyperion's sales manager.

St Hildegard composed settings of divine office for unaccompanied female voices. She is a cult figure among New Agers and has provided the backing track for many an English middle-class dinner party.

"It's something meditative and spiritual, something you can escape to," said Mr Spring. So, 800 years after her death, St Hildegard has hit a niche also occupied by 20th-century composers such as Arvo Part and John Taverner, whose work "The Protecting Veil" is another big seller. "There is a whole genre of this music that seems to have wide appeal," said Mr Spring. "All these works have a kind of tranquillity."

However, he can't quite imagine her deafening ravers in Ibiza. "I'm not sure how it would work, but she is a real phenomenon," he said.

Obviously we'll never know what St Hildegard would think of her new status. Contemporary Benedictine nuns stress that she was a woman ahead of her time.In between her other activities she also managed to design a plumbing and draining system for her monastery - crediting that like everything else she did to be the product of divine revelations.

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