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The Story Behind the Music "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert

Schubert’s Finest Creative Work: "Ave Maria"

"Ave Maria," better known as "Hail Mary" in Latin or "Ellens Gesang III" in German, not to be confused with "Ave Maria" by Gounod and Bach, is an 1825 song by Austrian maestro Franz Schubert. The text itself is a derivation from Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem, “The Lady of the Lake”. The song’s words have inspired its usage with the Roman Catholic prayer, which bears the same name. 

Ellen's Isle painting

Despite being composed as a prayer, Schubert’s piece was not written with any planned religious utilization for Catholicism. Although there are occasional confusions that this piece is the same as the religious Hail Mary, it is not so. The United Kingdom has seen immense popularity with the piece, with two separate versions having reached the Top 40 on the charts, with a number 16 rating for the version performed by Lesley Garrett and Amanda Thompson (1993).

The woman ‘Ellen’ mentioned in the German title was Ellen Douglas, who was the primary character and heroine of Scott’s poem. Schubert encountered Das Fräulein vom See, a German iteration of Scott’s poem, written in 1819 by Adam Storck, and immediately recognized its viability as a musical composition. His composition was crafted with one singer and one pianist in mind. This was subsequently rearranged into different piano versions, three in total, by Franz Liszt.

Schubert’s Ave Maria is a part of his Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See. Scott's original poem was set in the Scottish Highlands and written in English and adapted the legendary romance, with regard to the Arthurian legend. Schubert published his piece in 1826 in the form of D839 Op 52 no 6, and depicted as a prayer to the Virgin Mary, although never intended as a real-life usage for a prayer. 

Although Schubert died at the early age of 31, his Ave Maria was already considered to be an exquisite musical work, even getting published before his passing, as opposed to most of his compositions. The most prominent exposure that it received was as a part of 1940’s Fantasia by Walt Disney, where it introduced a wonderful serenity to the performance. 

Ave Maria is one of the most cherished and financially successful works of Schubert. As already mentioned, this never had liturgical purposes in mind nevertheless found tremendous acceptance and popularity among Roman Catholics, particularly in Latin. In a letter to his father, Schubert stated that Ave Maria was successful in captivating its listeners and devoting them completely to it, heart and soul. This is a testament to the melody’s brilliance and ingenious composition. 


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