Hildegard von Bingen: O eterne Deus
Translated into ‘O eternal God’, this short antiphon by Hildegard von Bingen talks about central themes of love and the dawning of humankind. She uses lots of imagery of light and divinity, making this a hopeful antiphon.
Latin and English translations
O eterne Deus, / O eternal God,
nunc tibi placeat ut in amore illo ardeas, / may you be pleased to blaze once more in love
ut membra illa simus, que fecisti in eodem amore, / and to reforge us as the limbs you fashioned in that love
Cum Filium tuum genuisti in prima aurora ante omnem creaturam / when first you bore your Son upon the primal dawn before all things created
et inspice necessitatem hanc que super nos cadit / Look upon this need that over us has fallen
et abstrahe eam a nobis propter Filium tuum, / draw it off from us according to your Son,
et perduc nos in leticiam salutis. / and lead us back into salvation’s wholesome happiness.
Set in the mode of E, O eterne Deus is primarily syllabic with hints of a few neumatic phrases throughout. The theme of love takes over the whole antiphon, with Bingen emphasising its importance through musical impact on words such as ‘amore’ (love). The highest pitch point of the whole piece is a G, which rests on the second repetition of ‘amore’.
One Hildegard von Bingen scholar write about the musical language of O eterne Deus:
“The music’s language connects the neediness that has overtaken us with the love with which we were first created, and finally points to the agent of that creative and redemptive love: God the Son.”
Bingen also rests on lots of light imagery that naturally encapsulates and showcases her visions of the creation of God the Son. She uses the phrase ‘primal dawn’ which harks back to the beginning of time and its importance in this story. The light imagery here is at its most intense, with ‘dawn’ referring to sunrise and shining a light onto earth – i.e the Son.
O eterne Deus may be short in duration, but Hildegard von Bingen has packed it full of imagery and word painting. Her use of the themes of love, light and the dawn of a new day gives the text a renewed sense of hope and sustainability.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
You might also enjoy… Hildegard von Bingen: O frondens virga
*This blog is part of the ‘German-Speaking Musical Greats Project’ 2019-20