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John Rutter

John Rutter Composer

Ave Maria

Performances: 1
Tracks: 1
  • Ave Maria
    Year: 2006
    Genre: Other Choral
    Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
In the world of Western music, it may be the case that no single text outside of the Catholic Mass has been set to music more often than Ave Maria. Christian churches of every stripe reverence the moment when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would bear a child and that He would be the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). The Catholic tradition tends to focus on the angel's address to Mary as "full of grace," while Protestants may gravitate more toward the promised mystery of the Incarnation. Both traditions adopt the text for the celebration of numerous holy-days in the annual calendar: Christmas (the birth of the announced Christ child), the Annunciation (the anniversary of Gabriel's appearance), and the several other commemorations of the Virgin Mary. Many musical settings of the sublime moment in salvation history contain the entire text of the angel's greeting and reflect the subtleties of the complete angelic message, line by line. John Rutter's Christmas setting of the Ave Maria takes an even more ritual approach to the text. Rather than following the long musical tradition of carefully embodying the different texts of the Ave Maria verses, Rutter apparently is seeking to tap into an even more fundamental spiritual exercise, in the rote recitation of the Ave Maria as a prayer.

Catholic priests will sometimes allot a penance for sin of a certain repetitions of the "Hail Mary" (Ave Maria). Rutter's setting of the text almost seems a musical incarnation of this type of exercise. The music begins and ends with a solid diatonic foundation, against which the upper women's voices sing the first phrase of Ave Maria. The phrase quickly becomes canonic and soon involves the men's voices, as well, as if in a ritual incarnation of the phrase. Rutter only sets three verses from the text in the piece: "Hail Mary, full of grace," "The Lord is with you," and "Blessed art thou among women." His repetitive settings of the first phrase tend to feature melodic seventh pitches and contrapuntal echoes of each melody, and his settings of the third, the most harmonic expeditions of the piece. At one point in the middle of the piece, he subtly shifts the theological effect by substituting the God-centered phrase "Halleluia" for the "Ave Maria." The motet closes with a powerful soprano solo lifting the musical compass beyond the prominent seventh chord to an added ninth and relaxing into a final resolution.

© Timothy Dickey, Rovi
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