This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of our parish magazine.
This well known prayer has been set to music by many, many composers through the centuries. This arrangement is less well known as it was written in the last 10 years specifically for a small group of musicians known as “Madrigirls” based at the University of Glasgow.
I have written about other musical settings of this prayer previously, often in March, linking with Mothering Sunday. This year I am linking it with Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the Feast of the Purification of Mary. Mary and Joseph, like so many other Jewish parents, took Jesus to the temple to dedicate him to God. He was theirs to raise, but they were themselves in loco parentis for God. Furthermore, having recently given birth, Mary was required to go for ritual purification, a practice still observed by Jewesses today.
Some readers of these articles will know that for the past couple of years I have attended conducting courses run by an organisation called Sing for Pleasure. I have progressed from Foundation through Intermediate 1, and in the summer of 2018 I attended the Intermediate 2 summer school at Keele University. It was 10 days of intensive and extensive instruction, practice, and performance. One of my studies was this piece: Ave Maria, composed by SfP tutor and Madrigirls MD, Katy Cooper. The notes are straight forward enough for singers, but the time signatures are challenging for the conductor! It is written in irregular time signatures, and alternates every couple of bars between 5/8 and 7/8. Furthermore, the 5/8 bars were sometimes duplet/triplet and sometimes triplet/duplet, and the 7/8 bars varied between duplet/duplet/triplet and triplet/duplet/duplet. Fellow conductors – feel my pain! I mastered it though, and the performance went well. My feedback was not to concentrate so much and smile at my singers. Easier said than done when being assessed.
Katy Cooper did not use the entire text of the prayer in this setting, but instead chose this extract:
|Ave Maria||Hail Mary|
|Gratia plena||Full of Grace|
|Dominus tecum||The Lord is with thee|
|Benedicta tu in mulieribus||Blessed art thou among women|
|Ave Maria||Holy Mary|
|Et benedictus fructus ventris tui||Blessed is the fruit of thy womb|
|Ave Maria||Holy Mary|
Written for three female voices, soprano 1, soprano 2 and alto, it starts quietly and reverently, repeating “Ave Maria” numerous times. Gradually it builds to a climax for “et benedictus frucus ventris tui Iesus” with a high A in the upper part. It then fads away again peacefully with repetitions of “Ave Maria”. You can view a video of my group singing Ave Maria in the University Chapel here: https://youtu.be/vH6XwN0LU8c