Meet the Composer: Hildegard von Bingen

CN thumbnail Hildegard von Bingen

Age Range: Elementary

Introduction: Composers write music, just like authors write books. In the Class Notes “Meet the Composer” series, we will learn a little bit about the achievements, backstory, and influences of a variety of composers. Get ready to learn about these influential composers and listen to some of their music.

Free Download: Printable Lesson Plan and Visual Aids: Hildegard von Bingen


Hildegard von Bingen, or Hildegard of Bingen, was born in 1098 in what is now the country of Germany. She was the tenth child in her family. When she was very young, her family encouraged her to join a religious community. She was a part of this community for the rest of her life. Becoming part of a religious community meant that she, unlike most women at the time, got to learn to read and write. Hildegard began writing down her ideas about the world and composing music in her forties, often inspired by intense visions she experienced throughout her life.  

Her writings spanned several different areas of knowledge, including music, medicine, and religion. They also had beautiful illuminations, or illustrations. She was among the first people in Europe to write a play that had music attached to it, called Ordo Virtutum. She is also among the first composers in Europe to have her name included with her music: most music from that time is anonymous, meaning we don’t know who wrote it. Hildegard died in 1179 at the age of 81. 


Hildegard wrote a lot of music for her religious community, all with Latin words. Her compositions have just one melody line to be sung in unison, or singing the same notes at the same time, by a group of singers. In recent years, musicians have been recording her music in creative ways. 

  1. This recording is similar to what Hildegard’s compositions might have sounded like when Hildegard was alive: a group of high voices singing in a large stone church building, sometimes with a string instrument providing one note to help the singers stay on key. Notice how sometimes the voices are singing very low, and sometimes they sweep up to very high notes!

  2. Here are two different recordings of the same composition by Hildegard, “Caritas abundat.” They sound very different. Hildegard wrote the melody line for this piece. These two different ensembles came up with different arrangements and added instrumentation. Which instruments do you see in each of these videos? What different emotions does each recording make you feel? 

If you’re in Minnesota and want to hear one of Hildegard’s pieces live and in person, you can book a concert with Class Notes artist The Mirandola Ensemble


  1. Hildegard’s musical compositions were originally just a melody. Learn more about melodies with our What is MELODY? lesson. 

  2. Hildegard’s writings, including her musical compositions, were often accompanied by beautiful illustrations. With our Compose Your Own Music lesson, you can compose a piece based on visual art, too. 

  3. Older students may enjoy the Composers Datebook episode on Hildegard, found here

Related Lesson Plans

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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