Sunday, December 2, 2007

Some thoughts on Ave Maria

While preparing for a future Tuneful Tuesday, I counted at least 21 versions of Ave Maria in my collection of music. Most of them were either set to the music of Bach/Gounod or that of Schubert. The odd thing at first glance seemed to be that the Schubert settings far outstripped the Bach/Gounod in number. Now, I've always had a little trouble keeping the two straight in my musical memory, and I also wanted to listen to each and decide which I liked best. I downloaded the sheet music for both settings (along with the German words to the Schubert, about which more later) -- although I can't sight-sing or "really" read music, I can watch the notes go up and down. Then I hit "Play" and started to follow along. What a surprise! Several of the versions that Windows Media Player had informed me were by Schubert were, in fact, the Bach/Gounod setting. From an initial count of 3, Bach/Gounod went to 9, with 7 renditions of the Schubert (the others were by Bruckner and others). So, when I used the "Find Album Info" feature on Windows Media Player, I was often getting not only the occasional typo I had noticed, but sometimes attribution to the wrong composer.

For anyone who has had the same trouble as I in instantly telling the two settings apart, here are my three no-fail tips:
1. If the words are in German, it is doubtless the Schubert. And in fact, it then isn't really Ave Maria, but Ellens Gesang, an incidental song for a play based on Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. (In my grandmother's bookcase there was a copy of this in a very pretty white and gold binding; I always intended to read it but never did.) In this song, Ellen, who is fleeing, prays to the Virgin to keep her safe, as one maiden to another, and at greater length than the original prayer.
2. If, after the first "gratia plena," the singer starts repeating himself, it is the Schubert. This is because the Latin words of the Ave Maria had to be stretched (some say, unmercifully) to fit the music composed for a poem in German.
3. If the song ends with "Amen, Amen" it is the Bach/Gounod. If it ends with "Ave Maria" (as if the singer had been set an extensive penance!) it is the Schubert.

Maybe I'm the only one who needs these tips? I think I've got it straight now, especially after watching and listening to these two wonderful things on YouTube. First, Bobby McFerrin does the accompaniment (the Bach part, from Prelude No. 1, The Well-Tempered Clavier) while his audience sings the Gounod Ave Maria.

This reminds me of seeing and hearing McFerrin a few years ago at a choral concert series at Da U in City of Lakes. He did a similar thing with us. If you're still holding "Don't Worry, Be Happy" against him, get over it. He's an amazing musician.

Then, another one that may bring a tear or two -- Luciano Pavarotti singing the Schubert Ave Maria.

Being a Trinitarian Universalist, I believe that Pavarotti is now singing this for Schubert; or maybe he and John McCormack are doing duets on Danny Boy.

Why is a Protestant girl listening to Ave Maria anyway? Well, although we still balk at asking her to intercede for us, we descendants of the Puritans are gaining a new appreciation for Mary as the Mother of God and an example of trust in God. Especially during Advent, we even sing songs about Mary in church; and I have heard the Ave Maria sung in a Congregational church, and the roof didn’t fall in.

Leave a comment if you will.

1 comment:

Crimson Rambler said...

Thank you for the clarifications! It tickles me that dyed-in-the-wool Protestants sing all the verses of "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," without ever twigging just who exactly is "O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim....Thou bearer of th'Incarnate Word, Most Gracious, magnify the Lord" that will be in my head all day!