“Ave Maria” is one of the most frequently composed and recorded works of sacred music in the Catholic songbook. Even though there is no shortage of versions, set to a wide range of styles, most people are only really familiar with Schubert’s popular arrangement. Of course, Schubert’s solid hold on the prime spot is well deserved, as his music was designed to draw reverent emotions from listeners, but there are many other worthy treatments of this prayer to the Blessed Mother that are worth exploring.
Today, we bring to you “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl, a 20th-century composer. Written in the 1960s, the piece did not gain much steam until 1989, when it was first performed in the United States. The piece combines the Latin text of the Angelus prayer with that of Ave Maria serving as the refrain.
The Angelus is sung in plainchant, resting on one droning note while the singers recite the prayer, but the Ave Maria sections become steeped in polyphonic lines that ascend beautifully throughout. While the style is that of a motet, a musical form that can be traced back to some of the earliest forms of Christian music, the long-held colorful chords produced by the choir are very reminiscent of the Romantic period. Although the Romantic period in music ended around the time Biebl was born, it is obvious that he drew inspiration from this era.
Voces8 does another fine job with this choral work, as is to be expected from one of the premiere sacred choirs in the world. As always they produce a sound so great that it seems impossible that there are not more people singing with them. If you’re looking for more from Voces8, we suggest “A Boy and a Girl” by Eric Whitacre, one of the most talented living composers.