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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Day 2 - "Ave Maria" by Aretha Franklin - 25 Days of Christmas Angst

Mary Of The Angels Chapel
Mary of the Angels Chapel
at Viterbo University - La Crosse, WI
"Ave Maria" is one of those songs that always confused me.  The reading I have done to prepare for this post has made me feel much better about that confusion.  I was able to get a fascinating glimpse into the creative process and how one creation can cause a chain reaction of creative effort.  

In 1722 Johann Sebastian Bach composed a collection of music for solo keyboard called The Well-Tempered Clavier.  Over a century later, Charles Gounod created several improvised melodies to be played over one of Bach's pieces (Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846).  You can hear the original keyboard solo here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkoCMLILlZM.

In 1853 Gounod's father-in-law wrote down a version of this improvised melody and then a version of that was published with words from a poem set to the music. It was in 1859 when it was first published with the Latin text we most often associate with the song today.

Barbara Streisand's version is even titled, "Gounod's Ave Maria" (full album).  Here is the Latin and English translation (taken from Wikipedia)

classical Latin pronunciation:
Avē Marīa, grātiā plēna, Dominus tēcum. Benedicta tū in mulieribus, et benedictus frūctus ventris tuī, Iēsus.
Sāncta Marīa, Māter Deī, ōrā prō nōbīs peccātōribus, nunc et in hōrā mortis nostrae. Āmēn.

English translation:
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.

That is, however, not what Aretha Franklin sings.  My confusion isn't just from the Latin language.  There is another link in this creative chain.

In 1825, Franz Schubert created a seven songs cycle inspired by the epic poem The Lady of the Lake.  One song, "Ellen's Third Song," has Ellen Douglas, the Lady of the Lake, singing a prayer to the Virgin Mary.  The opening words of this song are "Ave Maria..."  Those two words have helped contribute to my own personal confusion because they encouraged someone to adapt that same original Latin text to Schubert's music also.  Here (http://youtu.be/bPvAQxZsgpQ) you can listen to Luciano Pavaoritti's version of Schubert's "Ave Maria" with the Latin text as the lyrics.

Preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days here:   

Conrad Askland summarizes the different versions well in his response to a confused reader:
"The most famous Ave Maria songs are by Schubert and Gounod. Gounod used the Bach Prelude in C Major as the background for his melody of Ave Maria. In other words, he put his Ave Maria melody to Bach’s music.

To my knowledge Bach never actually wrote an Ave Maria, he was a devout Lutheran, not Catholic. So the Gounod Ave Maria is called the “Gounod/Bach” Ave Maria.

Schubert’s Ave Maria is from a song cycle. At one point in the song cycle she is in trouble and prays to Maria. The song is that prayer. Usually when you hear an operatic vocalist sing Ave Maria it’s the Schubert version. Schubert’s original was in German, but people have put the Latin lyrics to it. And that’s usually the version you here sung, which is more appropriate for a liturgical setting."  (http://www.conradaskland.com/blog/2011/11/email-qa-who-wrote-ave-maria/)

Askland has several other pieces about "Ave Maria" listed on this page that are worth a read.

So now we are finally ready to deal with Aretha Franklin's performance of "Ave Maria" (full album).

There are undoubtedly thousands of pages left to be written about Aretha Franklin.  Her career, up to this point, has been incomparable and she is still going strong with rumors that she is currently working on a new album as part of a deal with a new label.  I am not an Aretha Franklin fanatic.  I simply appreciate her skills and the beauty of what she makes.

Franklin chose to use not just Schubert's melody but also lyrics that closely mirror those of his original work.  So, one thing I appreciate is that Franklin is not just singing the Ave Maria/Hail Mary prayer.  But what really makes me drawn to her version is her ability to wring emotion out of every syllable.

Those emotions are not even somewhat happy.  The pain, fear, and sorrow in her voice is most abundant in the sections where she is vamping and barely making any actual syllables or words. 

I have tried to transcribe what Franklin sings below.  The first stanza was fairly easy as it follows very closely the original Schubert text.  It is also the part of the performance that has the least impact.

Franklin becomes difficult to understand in terms of language in the remainder of the piece but the emotions she is projecting seem to substitute actual language.  There is something primal in her calls to Mary.

The way Franklin is able to modulate her voice on the word "hour" in the line "now and at the hour of our death" makes goose bumps rise on my arms.

And isn't facing our own mortality part of the sadness around the holidays?  Each holiday season is a chance to notice that the world has changed, that we have gotten older, and that it might be harder for us to find joy.  "Ave Maria," in any version, is about our desperate attempts to find meaning and feel safe when we really feel "banished, outcast, and reviled."

Schubert's "Ave Maria" as performed by Aretha Franklin:

Ave Maria, maiden mild
Oh, listen to a maiden's prayer
Oh, Thou can't hear though from the wild;
Oh, Thou can't save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish'd, outcast and reviled –
Oh, hear a maiden's prayer;
hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria

Ahh, Ave Maria
thou art a favorite
God is with thee
blessed are thou, are thou
but above all oh lord within
blessed be thy offspring
blessed be they son
Be thy the son of God
the lord most high

Ahh, Ave Maria
blessed Maria, Oh Maria
pray Oh, pray, pray for us
for us wretched oh sinners
now and at the hour of our death
our death oh takes us all

Uhh, uhh, uhh, us all

No, no.

25 Days Of Christmas Angst
Day Song Download/Purchase Info
2 "Ave Maria" by Aretha Franklin Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Don't settle for the version from the This Christmas album. Get the older and better version from One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.
1 "White Christmas" by Uncle Crow
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Get this free album from C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply. There are other Christmas cigar box guitar albums discussed here.

Click this link to preview the remaining days of angst:  http://www.carneylentz.com/p/25-days-of-christmas-angst.html

Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)

Hail Mary - Latin Version

The Well-Tempered Clavier

Ave Maria (Schubert)

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