This Sunday, we have the Catholic prayer Ave Maria set to the melody by Schubert. There are many versions on YouTube but I have chosen this one for its quality.
The melody was composed by Schubert in 1825 as part of his Opus 52, a setting of seven songs from Walter Scott’s popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake, loosely translated into German. The words, however, differ from the traditional Catholic prayer, Ave Maria (‘Hail Mary’).
Schubert’s melody is now so frequently used with the Latin version of the Ave Maria that it has led to the misconception that he originally wrote it as a setting for the prayer. It is by far the best-known adaptation, and my favourite.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was neglected for most of the nineteenth century and dismissed as a mere ‘conventional music-machine, contentedly turning out work after work, day after day.’ Today he is recognised as one of the greatest of all songwriters.
During his tragically short life – he died at only 31 – Schubert composed more than six hundred songs. No other composer has displayed such an ability to match music to poetry so closely that the words seem to have been written expressly for this purpose.
His tombstone in Vienna bears the epitaph: ‘The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even fairer hopes.’
This is a favourite at weddings, including mine.