Ave Maria by JS Bach

1760-08-wdheq-if-300.jpgI received a note saying someone was desperately trying to find history of the JS Bach “Ave Maria” and was not finding anything online.

Bach never wrote the Ave Maria. Aha! It was Gounod that took a prelude by JS Bach, and then put a melody on top with lyrics to the Ave Maria.

JS Bach was an unwitting partner in the collaboration. Charles Gounod was a French composer who lived from 1818-1883. Read the Wikipedia Page on Charles Gounod. So google “Gounod Ave Maria” and you’ll find it readily available from most sheet music suppliers.
Here’s a bit of the music to refresh your memory:


Photo of composer Charles Gonoud


Musical settings of the Ave Maria

The Ave Maria has been set to music numerous times. Among the most famous settings is the version by Charles Gounod (1859), adding melody and words to Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Antonín Dvořák’s version was composed in 1877. Another setting of Ave Maria was written by Giuseppe Verdi for his 1887 opera Otello. Russian composer César Cui, who was raised Roman Catholic, set the text at least three times: as the “Ave Maria,” op. 34, for 1 or 2 women’s voices with piano or harmonium (1886), and as part of two of his operas: Le Flibustier (premiered 1894) and Mateo Falcone (1907).

This text was also very often set by composers in the Renaissance, including Jacques Arcadelt, Josquin Desprez, Orlando di Lasso, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Before the Council of Trent there were actually different versions of the text, so the earlier composers in the period sometimes set different versions than the ones shown above. Josquin, for example, himself set more than one version of the Ave Maria. Here is an example of a text set by Josquin which begins with the first six words above, but continues with a poem in rhymed couplets:

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