Ave Maria (Schubert)
"Ellens dritter Gesang" ("Ellens Gesang III", D. 839, Op. 52, No. 6, 1825), in English: "Ellen's Third Song", was composed by Franz Schubert in 1825 as part of his Opus 52, a setting of seven songs from Walter Scott's popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake, loosely translated into German.
It has become one of Schubert's most popular works, recorded by a wide variety and large number of singers, under the title of "Ave Maria", in arrangements with various lyrics which commonly differ from the original context of the poem. It was arranged in three versions for piano by Franz Liszt.
The Lady of the Lake and the "Ave Maria"
The piece was composed as a setting of a song (verse XXIX from Canto Third) from Walter Scott's popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake, in a German translation by Adam Storck (1780–1822), and thus forms part of Schubert's Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See. In Scott's poem the character Ellen Douglas, the Lady of the Lake (Loch Katrine in the Scottish Highlands), has gone with her exiled father to stay in the Goblin's cave as he has declined to join their previous host, Roderick Dhu, in rebellion against King James. Roderick Dhu, the chieftain of Clan Alpine, sets off up the mountain with his warriors, but lingers and hears the distant sound of the harpist Allan-bane, accompanying Ellen who sings a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary, calling upon her for help. Roderick Dhu pauses, then goes on to battle.
Schubert's arrangement is said to have first been performed at the castle of Countess Sophie Weissenwolff in the little Austrian town of Steyregg and dedicated to her, which led to her becoming known as "the lady of the lake" herself.
The opening words and refrain of Ellen's song, namely "Ave Maria" (Latin for "Hail Mary"), may have led to the idea of adapting Schubert's melody as a setting for the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer "Ave Maria". The Latin version of the "Ave Maria" is now so frequently used with Schubert's melody that it has led to the misconception that he originally wrote the melody as a setting for the "Ave Maria".
Position within the cycle
In 1825, Schubert composed a selection of seven songs from Scott's The Lady of the Lake. They were published in 1826 as his Opus 52.
The songs are not intended for a single performer: the three songs of Ellen are piano songs for a woman's voice, while the songs for Norman and the Count of Douglas were intended for the baritone Johann Michael Vogl. The remaining two songs are written one for a male and the other for a female ensemble.
- "Ellens Gesang I", D. 837, Raste Krieger, Krieg ist aus / "Soldier rest! the warfare o’er"
- "Ellens Gesang II", D. 838, Jäger, ruhe von der Jagd / "Huntsman, rest! thy chase is done"
- "Bootgesang", D. 835, Triumph, er naht / "Hail to the chief", for male voice quartet
- "Coronach" (Deathsong of the women and girls), D. 836, Er ist uns geschieden / "He is gone to the mountain", for female choir
- "Normans Gesang", D. 846, Die Nacht bricht bald herein ("Night will soon be falling")
- "Ellens Gesang III" (Hymn to the Virgin), D. 839, Ave Maria! Jungfrau mild! / "Ave Maria! maiden mild!"
- "Lied des gefangenen Jägers", D. 843, Mein Roß so müd / "My steed is tired"
Schubert composed the songs to the German texts. However, with the exception of No. 5, the songs were clearly intended to be published with the original English texts as well. This meant finding correspondences to Storck's sometimes quite free translations, which entailed significant difficulties.
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|Storck's translation used by Schubert||"Hymn to the Virgin" by Sir Walter Scott|
Ave Maria! Jungfrau mild,
Ave Maria! maiden mild!
|Latin Catholic prayer version|
Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Use in Disney's Fantasia
Walt Disney used Schubert's song in the final part of his 1940 film Fantasia, where he linked it to Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain in one of his most famous pastiches. The end of Mussorgsky's work blends with almost no break into the beginning of Schubert's song, and as Deems Taylor remarked, the bells in Night on Bald Mountain, originally meant to signal the coming of dawn, which cause the demon Chernobog to stop his dark worship and the ghosts to return to the grave, now seem to be church bells signalling the beginning of religious services. A procession of monks is shown walking along. The text for this version is sung in English, and was written by Rachel Field. This version also had three stanzas, like Schubert's original, but only the third stanza made it into the film (one line in the last stanza is partially repeated to show how it is sung in the film):
The version heard in Fantasia was arranged by Leopold Stokowski especially for the film, and unlike the original, which is for a solo voice, is scored for soprano and mixed chorus, accompanied by the string section of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The soloist is Julietta Novis. The Ave Maria sequence was later featured in Very Merry Christmas Songs, which is part of Disney Sing-Along Songs, as a background movie for the song Silent Night.
In the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, a hermit plays the piece on solo violin, which soothes the Creature.
The 2016 science fiction film 2BR02B: To Be or Naught to Be, based on the story by Kurt Vonnegut, extensively uses the piece as diegetic music. The song's placement in the film is timed so that the line "Dem Kind, das für den Vater fleht" ("And for a father hear a child!") is heard by the character Wehling, before he shoots himself in order to save his children.
- "Ave Maria" by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and French composer Charles Gounod
- "Ave Maria" by Russian composer Vladimir Vavilov, often misattributed to Italian composer Giulio Caccini
- Liszt and the Ave Maria
- Spaeth, Sigmund (2005). Whitefish, Montana Stories Behind the World's Great Music, p. 114, Kessinger Publishing
- Das Fräulein vom See: Ein Gedicht in sechs Gesängen von Walter Scott. Aus dem Englischen, und mit einer historischen Einleitung und Anmerkungen von D. Adam Storck, Professor in Bremen. Essen, G. D. Baedeker, 1819
- Verses XXVIII–XXX, The Lady of the Lake, Canto Three
- cf. The Schubert Institute (UK) Archived October 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- The Lady of the Lake, Canto Three, XXIX.
- Taylor, Deems (1940). Fantasia. Simon & Schuster. ASIN B000KM5K12., with a foreword by Leopold Stokowski
- Lowens, Irving (December 1, 1963) [Reprinted from the Washington Star, 1963-12-01]. "President Kennedy's Funeral Music "Accurate Listing of Funeral Music" by Irving Lowens, Washington Star music critic". www.jfklibrary.org. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
- Black, Anna (2016). ""...for a father hear a child!" Schubert's Ave Maria and the film 2BR02B". The Schubertian. The Schubert Institute (UK). July (91): 16–19.
- "Ellens dritter Gesang": Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Sheet music, Cantorion.org
- The Lady of the Lake, edition with notes by William J. Rolfe, Boston 1883, with the song on page 58, and notes on alternate words on page 177
- The Lady of the Lake (Gutenberg e-text #3011) The full text of Walter Scott's poem, including "Hymn to the Virgin"