The 'Ave Maria'
|The "Ave Maria" is one of the essential prayers of the
The text is historically divided in three parts:
- The first portion consists of the opening salutation of the Angel
Gabriel with which he greeted the Blessed Virgin on the day of the
Annunciation (Luke 1:28).
- The second part is the divinely inspired greeting of St. Elizabeth
uttered during the Visitation. (Luke 1:42).
- The third and final portion, the addition of the holy name and the
final petition for intercession, first appeared c. 1440 with Bernadine of
Sienna and was fixed in this present form by Pope Pius V in the Breviary
Although the Breviary established definitively the text of the Ave Maria,
many composers used distinct versions of text in their works.
|Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
Ora pro nobis, peccatoribus,
Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.
|Hail Mary, full of
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
now and in the hour of our death.
|[On] The Origin of Ave Maria (source)
|Posted by Jeffrey Tucker
From the Eastman School of Music comes this fascinating press release that
shows how much music can teach us about the history of our faith.
Eastman School of Music
26 Gibbs Street
Rochester, NY 14604
Media Contact: Michael Alan Anderson, 585-274-1124, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 24, 2010
Eastman Professor Discovers Untold History of the ‘Ave Maria’ in Music
The Ave Maria (or ‘Hail Mary’) remains one of the most widely repeated
prayers among the world’s Christian population, especially Catholics. It has
been said by the faithful both in private and in public for centuries. Many
know that the prayer contains two parts. The first part derives from the
Gospel of Luke; the second part (beginning ‘Sancta Maria…’ [or ‘Holy
Mary…’]) is simply an attached petition, not based on Scripture. The second
part of the prayer is thought to have emerged and transmitted orally in the
fifteenth century in various forms, later solidified with the issue of the
Roman breviary in 1568.
Michael Alan Anderson, Assistant Professor of Music at the Eastman School of
Music (University of Rochester) has discovered that the second half of the
prayer—the sinner’s direct plea to Mary—dates considerably earlier than
commonly thought by historians. According to Anderson, who specializes in
medieval and Renaissance music history, it turns out that musical composers
were experimenting with petitionary supplements to the Ave Maria as early as
the late thirteenth century, at least 150 years before historians have
recognized such additions to the prayer.
And it was not just one composer providing an isolated case example.
Anderson has found three instances that prove that composers – many of whom
were also poets – were affixing a plea to the Virgin Mary after the text of
the Ave Maria was apparently complete. A musical manuscript known as the
Montpellier Codex (compiled between 1260-1280) contains two examples of the
phenomenon, while another manuscript (Las Huelgas Codex) from the early
fourteenth century provides another case study.
As one might expect in the primarily oral culture of the Middle Ages, the
petitions attached to the Ave Maria in the various pieces of music were not
uniform. But the cases all occur in the same musical genre known as the
“motet”, a sophisticated piece of choral music in which the voices sing
different texts simultaneously. In one motet from the Montpellier Codex, the
highest-ranging voice sings the Latin text “Filio sis, O dulcis, proprio
nostra advocata” [“Be our advocate, O Sweet One, before your own Son of your
Womb”] after it declaims the Ave Maria prayer. This may sound distant from
the petition “Holy Mary Mother of God…”, but it is a direct address to Mary
to pray to Christ on behalf of the sinner and considerably closer to a
second half of the prayer than scholars of ecclesiastical history have
In another multi-texted motet from the Montpellier Codex, one of the voices
sings “Natum dulcissimum pro nobis peccatoribus exora, beata Maria” [“O
blessed Mary, pray to your sweetest son for us sinners”] after singing the
first half of the Ave Maria. While the Latin in this piece of music is
hardly comparable to that of the prayer in its final form, seeing these
words in an English translation begins to show similarities with the version
that has come down to Christians.
The final case from the later manuscript (Las Huelgas) contains a motet for
two voices with the following supplementary petition to its Ave Maria:
“Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis” [“Holy Mary, pray for us”]. This plea is
noticeably short but also surprisingly consistent with the language known
from second half of the prayer.
Moreover, in each of these cases, Anderson has found that the composer drew
attention to the two-part nature of the prayer by seeking contrasts in the
texture of the music at the moment of transition from the Biblical verses to
the petition to Mary. This is especially salient in the case of the motet
from Las Huelgas, where the composer effectively halts the music by giving
the bottom voice a single long note, while the upper voice seems to
improvise on the plea to Mary. “It is as if the composer was saying ‘Drum
roll, here comes something new and different!’” Anderson explains.
The results of this research tell an untold story of one of the central and
most powerful prayers of Christianity in the Middle Ages, still widely
uttered in the Catholic Church today. To this point, the encyclopedia
definition of ‘Ave Maria’ has had little to say about the second half of the
prayer. And the examples that may foreshadow the standardized version from
the sixteenth century have traditionally been from the fifteenth century.
Earlier examples have had a weak relationship with the prayer. Anderson
summarized, “It turns out that neither literature nor sermons but music from
a much earlier period may begin to change our understanding about the
enigmatic early history of this widespread devotion.”
Anderson’s research is published in the current issue of the Journal of
Plainsong and Medieval Music (Cambridge).
There are many other Ave Maria related websites.
Page last modified:
October 27, 2011
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