Ave Maria


As it’s December, I’ve decided to use Christmas/Holiday Hymns this month.  Today’s hymn is one of The Cute One’s favorites of all time. 

Wikipedia tells us this about the hymn:

The Hail Mary, Ave Maria in Latin, has been set to music numerous times. The title "Ave Maria" has been given also to musical compositions that are not settings of the prayer.

One of the most famous is the version by Franz Schubert (1825), composed as Ellens dritter Gesang (Ellen's Third Song), D839, part 6 of his Opus 52, a setting of seven songs from Walter Scott's popular epic poem "The Lady of the Lake", translated into German by Adam Storck. Although it opens with the greeting "Ave Maria" ("Hail Mary"), the text was not that of the traditional prayer, but nowadays it is commonly sung with words of the prayer. Its music was used in the final segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia.

The version by Charles Gounod (1859), adding melody and words to Johann Sebastian Bach's first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier, omits the words "Mater Dei" (Mother of God).

Anton Bruckner wrote three different settings, the best known being a motet for seven voices. Antonín Dvořák's version was composed in 1877. Another setting of Ave Maria was written by Giuseppe Verdi for his 1887 opera Otello. Russian composer César Cui, who was raised Roman Catholic, set the text at least three times: as the "Ave Maria", op. 34, for one or two women's voices with piano or harmonium (1886), and as part of two of his operas: Le flibustier (premiered 1894) and Mateo Falcone (1907).

Settings also exist by Mozart, Liszt, Byrd, Elgar, Saint-Saëns, Rossini, Brahms, Stravinsky, Mascagni, Lauridsen, David Conte and Perosi as well as numerous versions by less well-known composers, such as J. B. Tresch and Ninel Samokhvalova.

In the Renaissance, this text was also set by numerous composers, including Josquin des Prez, Orlando di Lasso, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Before the Council of Trent there were actually different versions of the text, so the earlier composers in the period sometimes set versions of the text different from the ones shown above. Josquin des Prez, for example, himself set more than one version of the Ave Maria. Here is the text of his motet Ave Maria ... Virgo serena, which begins with the first six words above and continues with a poem in rhymed couplets.

The much anthologized Ave Maria by Jacques Arcadelt is actually a 19th-century arrangement by Pierre-Louis Dietsch, loosely based on Arcadelt's three part madrigal Nous voyons que les hommes.

In the 20th century, Franz Biebl composed Ave Maria (Angelus Domini), actually a setting of the Angelus prayer, in which the Ave Maria is repeated three times, but the second part only once as the climax.

In Slavonic, the text was also a popular subject for setting to music by Eastern European composers. These include Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Bortniansky, Vavilov (his version often misattributed to Caccini), Mikhail Shukh, Lyudmyla Hodzyumakha and others.

A famous setting for the Orthodox version of the prayer in Church Slavonic (Bogoroditsye Djevo) was composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff in his All-Night Vigil.

Since Protestant Christianity generally avoids any special veneration of Mary, musical settings of the prayer are sometimes sung to other texts that preserve the word boundaries and syllable stresses.

I am always open to suggestions for songs to be used, as well as other suggestions you might have for the blog. If you would rather not share that info in the comments, you may email your suggestions.

By the way, if you’re interested in listening to ALL of the Sunday Sounds from this past year, I’ve put together a playlist for you. You can find that playlist here. I’ll be starting a new playlist for 2021 with next week’s post.


  1. You hear this at Catholic weddings: in the older churches, there's generally an "altar" (actually more of a shrine) to Mary on the right side of the main altar (looking out from the altar) and one to St. Joseph on the left. Generally, at the end of Mass, the bride and maid of honor will take a bouquet over there and place it on the altar, then kneel and say a prayer while the vocalist sings this. As more churches have done away with the extra altars, they've also done away with the practice, although they'll usually use the song as a postcommunion meditation.


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