2014-12-21 Notes from the Bench

“Ave Maria” Franz Biebl

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


Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.



The “Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary” is a traditional devotional prayer that is often prayed by Christians within the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions as well as many Anglo-Catholics among our Anglican tradition. The first half of this prayer text is derived from today’s Gospel reading, Luke 1:28 and 30-31. The remainder of the text is a prayer of intercession. This text may be used as an individual prayer, or incorporated into a larger prayer form such as the Rosary, which is a meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s life, and the Angelus, a devotional prayer that commemorates the Incarnation of Christ. “Ave Maria” has been set to music by a countless number of composers; we have musical settings in the styles of plainsong, choral polyphony, solo arias, and popular folk songs just to name a few. The setting sung by our Senior Choir today was composed by Franz Biebl (1906-2001), a twentieth century German composer. He incorporates three introductory versicles from the Angelus prayer in this setting.


Angelus Domini notiavit Mariae, et concepit de Spiritu sancto.
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit

Maria dixit: Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secomdom verbum tuum.
Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.

Et verbum caro factum est et habitavi in nobis.
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.


“Ave Maria,” Biebl’s best-known work, was composed in 1964, and popularized in the United States by the men’s vocal ensemble, Chanticleer. The following program note by Dr. Wilbur Skeels is frequently cited when this work is performed:

“Herr Biebl told me that when he was organist/choirmaster and teacher in the Fürstenfeldbruck parish near Munich he had in his church choir a fireman. It was common for companies, factories, police and fire departments, etc. to sponsor an employees’ choir, which often would participate in choral competitions and festivals with other similar choirs. This fireman asked Biebl to please compose something for his fireman’s choir for such an occasion. The result was the Ave Maria (double male choir version).

The piece gained practically no attention in Germany for many years. However, when Biebl was the head of choral programs for the Bayerischen Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio) he made a habit of inviting American choirs to come to Munich and sing on the radio and with other German choirs. One of these choirs (the Cornell University Glee Club) was introduced to his Ave Maria and brought it back to the US, where it became increasingly popular. When Chanticleer recorded it, it became a hit, not only in the US but in Germany too, which now considered the piece must be special as it was such a hit in America! Biebl did arrangements for other voicings, and the seven-part mixed choir arrangement is now probably the most popular.”


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