The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Luminous Awakening

An bountiful and expansive setting of a Hildegard von Bingen prayer

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Hildegard of Bingen

A bountiful and expansive setting of Hildegard von Bingen’s “Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans,” with a new English translation by the composer.

Luminous Awakening is the the second movement of the three-movement work, Pure Light Beyond Light.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

My first setting of Hildegard von Bingen’s “Spiritus Sanctus Vivificans” used an English translation by a well-known translator of spiritual writings. I was deep in the throes of composition and under a tight deadline, so it somehow failed to register with me that a modern translation of Hildegard’s 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 there was an easy remedy to this quandary, but I had no luck. 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 of Hildegard’s prayer and compared it with the three English versions, I understood immediately what qualities 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,
luminous awakening,
radiant, bountiful,
resurrecting everything
again and again and again.

Hildegard of Bingen
Translation by Elizabeth Alexander
© 2016 by Elizabeth Alexander

Original Latin:
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)

Women’s Voices Chorus / Laura Sam (Durham, NC)