The Franz Schubert Ave Maria
Here is an orchestrated version of Schubert’s Ave Maria with the solo being sung beautifully by Luciano Pavarotti:
Ave Maria from the New Testament to Sir Walter Scott
Many settings of the “Ave Maria” have been written over the centuries. The biblical text is from the New Testament:
“This well-known devotion of the Latin Church is based upon the salutations addressed to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel and by Elisabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:28 ; Luke 1:42 ). Its earlier and shorter form follows closely the words of Scripture, with the addition only of the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’; ‘Hail (Mary), full of grace; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus).’ As thus recited, it cannot be called a prayer, but may be considered either as a memorial of thanksgiving for the Incarnation; or as one of those devotional apostrophes of departed saints which are found even in the writings of the Christian Fathers and in early Christian inscriptions.” Hasting’s Dictionary of the New Testament
During the Romantic Era of music (which lasted from the lifetime of Ludwig van Beethoven into the early 20th Century) the traditional ancient Latin text for the Ave Maria was still widely used. However, the German text of the Schubert Ave Maria uses a translation of the English text “Hymm to the Virgin” by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) which was written as part of his long narrative poem: Lady of the Lake (1810):
Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem this down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer,
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria! stainless styled.
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!
Franz Schubert and his Ave Maria
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was a major composer of the Romantic Era who had a tragically short life. Among his many gifts, Schubert was a very skillful song writer. The Schubert Ave Maria is just one fine example of his talent as a song writer.
The original Schubert Ave Maria was written in 1825 as part of a collection of seven song settings based on lyrics from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake: (“Ellens Gesang III” (Hymn to the Virgin), D. 839).
As with most of Schubert’s songs, his original German-text version was written for a singer with piano accompaniment:
With such a beautiful melody and a text by Sir Walter Scott, the Franz Schubert Ave Maria soon became a favorite song in the parlors of the 19th Century.
The Schubert Ave Maria in the Old Church
When I began my career in the sixties during the pre-Vatican Roman Catholic Church, every Wedding in a Roman Catholic Church included a setting of Ave Maria.
Here is how the Ave Maria was used way back then:
Immediately after Communion, the Bride, accompanied only by her Maid of Honor would walk over to Mary’s Altar (in those days Roman Catholic Churches had, in addition to a Main Altar, at least one side Altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The other side Altar would be dedicated to either St. Joseph or another saint such as the church’s namesake.) The Bride would place a small bouquet of flowers on Mary’s Altar and then kneel before it in silent prayer before returning to the Main Altar and her new husband. During all of this, Ave Maria was performed.
Of all the changes in Catholic church music that were initiated after Vatican II, the Ave Maria was one of the last to be jettisoned. I remember it being used as described above well into the 1980s. I like to think that most of the resistance to modernizing and eliminating this traditional part of the Catholic Wedding Ceremony was due to the beauty of the Schubert Ave Maria.
The Schubert Ave Maria and Today’s Weddings
I can’t remember the last time that I played a Wedding Ceremony where the Ave Maria was used as described above. The tradition may be out-of-date but Schubert’s music is timeless.
Because of its gentle, quiet nature the Schubert Ave Maria is perfect as the Prelude for any Wedding. It sounds wonderful performed as a piano solo:
…or with solo instrument such as a cello playing the voice part:
Patrick Byrne, Piano
I would love to work with you to help make your own Wedding or special event a truly beautiful experience for your family and friends.
For more information please go to my main Wedding Music page.