2014-03-09 Notes from the Bench

“Ave Verum” by Anton Bruckner

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Ave verum corpus,
natum de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum
in cruce pro homine,
cujus latus perforatum
fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.
O Jesu dulcis, O Jesu pie,
O Jesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.

English translation:

Hail, true Body,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side
flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste
[of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death.
O sweet Jesus, O pious Jesus,
O Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen.

The text, “Ave Verum,” is a short Eucharistic devotional hymn that speaks of Christ’s true Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The authorship of the full text is attributed to Pope Innocent VI (c. 1282-1362) and is based on a 14th-century poem. This hymn was often sung during the Elevation of the Host during the consecration, or during Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There are numerous musical settings of this text written by composers from various time periods and in musical styles ranging from plainsong and polyphony to contemporary settings. Perhaps the most well-known and beloved is the setting by Mozart. Anton Bruckner’s setting is an abbreviated version of this text.

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was an Austrian composer known for his symphonies, masses, and motets; works considered emblematic of Austro-German Romanticism. Bruckner utilized a rich harmonic language, polyphonic techniques, and often wrote works of monumental proportions. The simplicity and brevity of “Ave Verum” contrasts many of his other works and reflects his humbleness and devotion to the Catholic faith. Bruckner’s sacred music was influenced by the Cecilian movement, a church music reform movement of the nineteenth century that desired to restore the use of plainchant and Renaissance-style polyphony. Bruckner was sent as a youth to the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian where he received his education, studied the organ, and served as a choirboy. From 1845-1855, Bruckner held the position of organist for the monastery. From 1855 until his death, he primarily lived in Vienna where he continued his music studies, taught music theory at the Vienna Conservatory and Vienna University, and focused on composing. Additionally, he was a well-respected organist and often traveled throughout Europe to perform organ concerts.

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