AVE MARIA FOR FOUR-VOICE WOMEN’S CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA OR ORGAN, OP. 12
Recordings: Organ Version: North German Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena; Gerhard Dickel, organ [DG 449 646-2]
Orchestral Version: Danish National Choir and Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerd Albrecht [CHAN 10165]

Published 1861.

Brahms’s first published choral work is one of the his most simple, ingratiating, and straightforward pieces.  The work only lasts around four minutes, making it one of the shortest opus numbers in terms of performance length.  It forms a sort of pair with the contemporary Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13.  The two works show him presenting himself as a composer for women’s choir and for mixed choir, reflecting the two choral directorships he held at this time.  They also contrast Latin and German religious texts as well as subordinate and dominant accompaniments.  The Hamburg women’s choir would also be the impetus behind the four songs with horns and harp, Op. 17, the setting of Psalm 13, Op. 27, the three sacred choruses, Op. 37, and the twelve songs and romances, Op. 44, along with some folksong arrangements.  The Ave Maria and the choruses of Op. 37 are his only examples of Latin text rather than German, not counting some early unpublished mass movements.  In the gentle piece, Brahms largely eschews the complex and intricate counterpoint and canon seen in such works as the Op. 37 choruses or the Geistliches Lied for mixed chorus (Op. 30).  What counterpoint there is largely comes between the pairs of alto and soprano parts, who often sing in pleasing thirds. The 6/8 meter, with its pastoral implications, largely dictates the character of the piece.  Brahms only sets part of the prayer’s second stanza in a brief, but effective climax on “Sancta Maria.”  Even the second alto parts, which often become impossibly low in Brahms’s writing for women’s chorus, are rather reasonable here.  The piece is complicated by the situation of its accompaniment.  Brahms originally wrote it for organ in 1858, but orchestrated it a year later.  The orchestration adds a couple of woodwind lines to the otherwise exact reprise of the opening section, and creates a bit more color, but the organ accompaniment is perfectly adequate.  Brahms never again orchestrated a choral work of such modest length, the later one-movement choral/orchestral works (Opp. 53, 54, 82, and 89) all lasting over ten minutes.  The accompaniment itself is largely unobtrusive (in contrast to a work such as Op. 13 or Op. 27), and either doubles or lightly decorates the vocal lines.  The four-part structure includes a repeated opening section, a contrasting, text-rich portion, and the climactic “Sancta Maria” passage.  Despite its rather uncomplicated key scheme, remaining in keys closely related to its home key of F major, some of the harmonies are surprisingly dissonant and modern.

Note: The link to the English translation of the text is from Emily Ezust’s site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.  For the most part, the translation is line-by-line, except where the difference between Latin and English syntax requires slight alterations to the contents of certain lines.

IMSLP WORK PAGE
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (Orchestral Version--First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke--Orchestral version with organ part at bottom)
ONLINE SCORE WITH ORGAN ACCOMPANIMENT from the Choral Public Domain Library (Choral Wiki)


Ave Maria.  Liturgical Marian prayer.  Andante.  Four-part through-composed form (AABC).  F MAJOR, 6/8 time.

Latin Text:
Ave Maria gratia plena
Dominus tecum
benedicta tu in mulieribus
et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesus.

Sancta Maria
ora pro nobis

English Translation [Note: Brahms’s setting of the second part only includes the words “Holy Mary, pray for us.”]


ORGAN VERSION
First Part (A)
0:00 [m. 1]--Ave Maria.  No introduction.  The two soprano parts begin the flowing 6/8 melody in harmonious thirds in F major.  They sing the word “Maria” twice, moving strongly to C major on the second statement, breaking the constant thirds at the cadence.  The right hand of the organ doubles the vocal parts, while the pedals provide bass support in long notes.
0:16 [m. 7]--The two alto parts now sing the opening phrase in C major, beginning as the sopranos end their cadence.  Their second statement of “Maria” is shorter, breaking immediately away from the thirds and changing key yet again, to B-flat major.  They are doubled by the organ left hand, which deviates somewhat from them at the cadence.
0:25 [m. 11]--Gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Beginning with the cadence of the altos, the sopranos begin this text in descending broken chords, still singing in thirds.  The altos follow them at the distance of a bar, but their harmonies are not parallel thirds.  The second phrase moves back to C as the first sopranos reach one note higher for their first pitch.  The organ breaks into decorative rising arpeggios under this.  As the altos finish their second phrase, the sopranos begin a closing statement of “Ave Maria” based on the first melody in thirds, reaching a cadence.  The altos enter at that cadence, singing the same phrase an octave lower.  The sopranos add decorative chromatic interjections of “Ave” against the alto statement.  The organ doubles the altos.  Following the alto cadence, a descending pedal line leads back home to F major.
Second Part (A)
0:51 [m. 22]--Repetition of the opening music from the sopranos.
1:05 [m. 28]--Repetition of the alto response beginning in C major, as at 0:16 [m. 7].
1:14 [m. 32]--Repetition of the Gratia plena, Dominus tecum music and the closing “Ave Maria” phrases, as at 0:25 [m. 11].  The descending pedal line is changed to lead to the following minor keys.
Third Part (B)
1:41 [m. 43]--Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui.  This text is more compressed and sung to new music.  The sopranos in thirds are followed at the distance of one bar by the altos in thirds.  The first “benedicta tu” is in G minor, the second in A minor.  This second statement continues the text with “in mulieribus”  The second sopranos break away from the firsts, joining the altos on their second “benedicta tu” (the third one for the second sopranos), creating a more full harmony.  The rest of the text is begun by the sopranos, now not moving parallel, followed by the altos, who are again in thirds, now at the distance of only a half-bar.  All parts reach a half-close in C major.  The organ manuals provide continuous decorating harmonized lines against the bass foundation from the pedals.
2:03 [m. 53]--Jesus.  For the statement of the name of Jesus, the sopranos begin a long descending line with notes held across bar lines.  They reach a cadence in C major.  The altos, joined by the second sopranos (who are actually lower than the first altos), with the second altos singing long low notes, follow with their own descending line and move to A minor.  The organ continues its flowing line, which is now a single voice passed between the hands.  There is a general pause of a half-bar after the A-minor arrival.
Fourth Part (C)
2:21 [m. 60]--Sancta Maria.  All voices begin in unison on “C” without the organ.  Brahms directs that there should be a huge crescendo (swell in volume) over three notes.  At the second syllable of “Maria,” the voices break into a full chord while the organ also makes a grand entry with a loud chord in the left hand and pedal, the right hand playing the opening “Ave Maria” phrase.  The loud chord moves the music back to the long-absent home key of F major.  The entire passage is repeated for emphasis.
2:38 [m. 68]--Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis.  The voices sing together in unison on the note “F” and at a joyous loud volume.  The organ becomes more active, playing the original “Ave Maria” music under the voices’ long notes.  The left hand introduces a rocking rhythm, and the pedals play widely separated notes between the feet, mostly in octaves.  The word “ora” is stated twice.  On the second syllable of the second statement and the following words “pro nobis,” the voices harmonize and join the organ’s motion.  This last phrase is slightly chromatic.  All voices and the organ arrive together.
2:56 [m. 76]--Beginning on an upbeat, the organ plays a brief but powerful bridge, the left hand following the pedals.  The right hand enters with a chord as the voices again enter with three harmonized statements of “ora,” the first two beginning on a half-bar, and the second beginning on a downbeat.  As the third large statement of “ora” ends, the organ pedals begin a rocking octave motion on “F,” which they continue in a two-bar bridge that greatly diminishes in volume after the last “ora” had already begun a slight quieting.
3:17 [m. 86]--Two more statements of “ora” from the voices at a quiet volume, followed by the completion of the phrase with “pro nobis.”  The two alto parts have an active line on “nobis,” with the seconds following the firsts under the sopranos’ longer notes.  The organ doubles the voices’ very rich chords as the rocking octave in the pedals continue, breaking the pattern as the harmony changes and then landing on similar rocking octaves a few notes higher, on “C.”
3:32 [m. 92]--At the cadence of “nobis,” the second sopranos and first altos sing in thirds on the opening “Ave Maria” melody to the “Sancta Maria” text, the word “Maria” stated twice.  The outer parts, first sopranos, then second altos, join them on long “F’s” on “ora pro nobis,” singing “ora” twice.  All voices descend to a quiet cadence on “ora pro nobis” (the middle parts sing “ora” only once), the second altos trailing behind the middle voices.  The first sopranos hold long notes over this final motion.  The organ continues to double the voices over a very long pedal “F.”  After the vocal cadence, the organ continues the descending line from the second altos for one bar before two very quiet final chords.
4:07--END OF WORK [100 mm.]


ORCHESTRAL VERSION
First Part (A)
0:00 [m. 1]--Ave Maria.  No introduction.  The two soprano parts begin the flowing 6/8 melody in harmonious thirds in F major.  They sing the word “Maria” twice, moving strongly to C major on the second statement, breaking the constant thirds at the cadence.  The violins double the vocal parts, while the low strings provide bass support in long notes.
0:14 [m. 7]--The two alto parts now sing the opening phrase in C major, beginning as the sopranos end their cadence.  Their second statement of “Maria” is shorter, breaking immediately away from the thirds and changing key yet again, to B-flat major.  They are doubled by the violas, which deviate somewhat from them at the cadence.  The horns also enter on a long held note.
0:23 [m. 11]--Gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Beginning with the cadence of the altos, the sopranos begin this text in descending broken chords, still singing in thirds.  The altos follow them at the distance of a bar, but their harmonies are not parallel thirds.  The second phrase moves back to C as the first sopranos reach one note higher for their first pitch.  The strings break into decorative rising arpeggios under this.  As the altos finish their second phrase, the sopranos begin a closing statement of “Ave Maria” based on the first melody in thirds, reaching a cadence.  The clarinets, who entered earlier, double them while the flute enters to support the strings.  The altos enter at this cadence, singing the same phrase an octave lower.  The sopranos add decorative chromatic interjections of “Ave” against the alto statement.  The violas double the altos.  Following the alto cadence, a descending bass line leads back home to F major.
Second Part (A’)
0:48 [m. 22]--Repetition of the opening music from the sopranos.  A new oboe counterpoint, a line not present in the organ version, is added.
1:02 [m. 28]--Repetition of the alto response beginning in C major, as at 0:16 [m. 7].  A new clarinet counterpoint, not present in the organ version, is added.
1:11 [m. 32]--Repetition of the Gratia plena, Dominus tecum music and the closing “Ave Maria” phrases, as at 0:25 [m. 11].  The descending bass line is changed to lead to the following minor keys.
Third Part (B)
1:37 [m. 43]--Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui.  This text is more compressed and sung to new music.  The sopranos in thirds are followed at the distance of one bar by the altos in thirds.  The first “benedicta tu” is in G minor, the second in A minor.  This second statement continues the text with “in mulieribus”  The second sopranos break away from the firsts, joining the altos on their second “benedicta tu” (the third one for the second sopranos), creating a more full harmony.  The rest of the text is begun by the sopranos, now not moving parallel, followed by the altos, who are again in thirds, now at the distance of only a half-bar.  All parts reach a half-close in C major.  The strings provide continuous decorating harmonized lines against the bass foundation from the low strings.  Additional passages for flutes and clarinets, not present in the organ version, are added.
1:59 [m. 53]--Jesus.  For the statement of the name of Jesus, the sopranos begin a long descending line with notes held across bar lines.  The winds take over the flowing line, passing it between instruments.  The strings add doublings and harmonies.  They reach a cadence in C major.  The altos, joined by the second sopranos (who are actually lower than the first altos), with the second altos singing long low notes, follow with their own descending line and move to A minor.  The winds (reduced to flutes) and strings reverse their roles from the previous phrase.  There is a general pause of a half-bar after the A-minor arrival.
Fourth Part (C)
2:14 [m. 60]--Sancta Maria.  All voices begin in unison on “C” without the orchestra.  Brahms directs that there should be a huge crescendo (swell in volume) over three notes.  At the second syllable of “Maria,” the voices break into a full chord while the orchestra also makes a grand entry with a loud chord in the winds and lower strings, the violins playing the opening “Ave Maria” phrase.  The loud chord moves the music back to the long-absent home key of F major.  The entire passage is repeated for emphasis.
2:31 [m. 68]--Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis.  The voices sing together in unison on the note “F” and at a joyous loud volume.  The orchestra becomes more active, playing the original “Ave Maria” music under the voices’ long notes.  The violas and bassoons introduce a rocking rhythm, and the low strings play widely separated notes, mostly in octaves.  The word “ora” is stated twice.  On the second syllable of the second statement and the following words “pro nobis,” the voices harmonize and join the orchestra’s motion.  This last phrase is slightly chromatic.  All voices and instruments arrive together.
2:49 [m. 76]--Beginning with the preceding arrival, the strings play a brief but powerful bridge, the violins and violas following the low strings.  The winds enter with a chord as the voices again enter with three harmonized statements of “ora,” the first two beginning on a half-bar, and the second beginning on a downbeat.  As the third large statement of “ora” ends, the low strings begin a rocking octave motion on “F,” which they continue in a two-bar bridge that greatly diminishes in volume after the last “ora” had already begun a slight quieting.
3:08 [m. 86]--Two more statements of “ora” from the voices at a quiet volume, followed by the completion of the phrase with “pro nobis.”  The two alto parts have an active line on “nobis,” with the seconds following the firsts under the sopranos’ longer notes.  The strings and horn double the voices’ very rich chords as the rocking octaves in the bass continue, breaking the pattern as the harmony changes and then landing on similar rocking octaves a few notes higher, on “C.”
3:22 [m. 92]--At the cadence of “nobis,” the second sopranos and first altos sing in thirds on the opening “Ave Maria” melody to the “Sancta Maria” text, the word “Maria” stated twice.  The outer parts, first sopranos, then second altos, join them on long “F’s” on “ora pro nobis,” singing “ora” twice.  All voices descend to a quiet cadence on “ora pro nobis” (the middle parts sing “ora” only once), the second altos trailing behind the middle voices.  The first sopranos hold long notes over this final motion.  The winds double the voices over a very long “F” from the basses and horns in an imitation of organ pedals.  The cellos double the second altos when they enter.  After the vocal cadence, the cellos continue the descending line from the second altos for one bar, including two flute interjections, before two very quiet final string chords.  The long horn notes are held over beyond these before fading away.

3:49--END OF WORK [101 mm.]


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