Ave Verum Corpus – W.A. Mozart

mozart_1.jpgAve Verum Corpus by W.A. Mozart – MP3 Sample, Free Sheet Music Download and History. Motet in D, “Ave verum Corpus” (K. 618) – Composed in June 1791 by W.A. Mozart. He would die on December 5, 1791.

1 – Sheet Music Download for Mozart’s AVE VERUM CORPUS

2 – MP3 Audio File of AVE VERUM CORPUS

3 – MP3 of William Byrd’s AVE VERUM CORPUS

While working on this post I have listened to Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus about a dozen times. I have heard this piece hundreds of times in my life, and each time it becomes a little more beautiful to me. It is my absolute most favorite piece ever written. If I could only listen to one musical work for the rest of my life, this would be it (and I would have few complaints about that!).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TfAyX8l5-g
Enjoy the free sheet music download of Ave Verum Corpus. It also includes the middle two bar interlude which to my ears is correct (some editions only have a bass continuo line).

I sang this piece as a boy soprano with the Northwest Boychoir in Seattle, WA. This Sunday I am leading our church choir in Ave Verum Corpus for our service. At our rehearsal tonight (somewhere in the Bible it must be written that church choir rehearsals have to be on Wednesday nights!) the choir was so absolutely beautiful in their final run through I was nearly brought to tears. I would not let them sing anything after that – why? There is nowhere to go after hearing Ave Verum Corpus sung well. It is THAT powerful.

At a glance I can see the theory of the piece easy enough – but when coupled with a reverence for the text; I know of no piece more powerful than this. To say “his side was pierced and out flowed blood and water” in one line, and a few paces later to say “to give us a foretaste of death”, or more properly “to give us an examination of the death experience” – AND THEN to know that WA Mozart wrote this piece within six months of his own death. Let this settle on you for a bit.

When all things are stripped away and we are at our core, we have the beauty of our relationships and the base denial and unbelief of our own eventual death. Which of us can truly accept and admit our own pending death? Not in passing, but to absorb that thought. I actually think it is beyond the scope of our imagination. But we have a composer like WA Mozart who can create a piece so powerful and solemn that we are humbled to our knees to accept the fact – and perhaps to bend our thoughts to the sublime mystery of Christ’s crucifixion.

Working with our choir has given me a rebirthed passion for this piece. In rehearsal we are able to think about the slow passing of each line of text, and how we want to express each syllable, word and phrase. It is how I think a sculpture must feel – slowly chipping away til the art takes form.

And as our church choir works on each minute detail to make this piece our best, as countless choirs have also done on this piece for two centuries; I start to smile as I realize this is our worship, the musician’s time to worship, the way we relate to the mystery of the Trinity and our mortal coil – our worship takes place between the notes as we practice and work. It is delicate as a flower.

HISTORY OF AVE VERUM CORPUS
mozart_2.jpgAve verum corpus is a short Eucharistic hymn dating from the 14th century and attributed to Pope Innocent VI (d. 1362), which has been set to music by various composers. During the Middle Ages it was sung at the elevation of the host during the consecration. It was also used frequently during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The hymn’s title means “Hail, true body”, and is based on a poem deriving from a 14th-century manuscript from the Abbey of Reichenau, Lake Constance. The poem is a meditation on the Catholic belief in Jesus’s Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and ties it to Catholic ideas on the redemptive meaning of suffering in the life of all believers.

AVE VERUM CORPUS by W.A. MOZART
mozart_3.jpgIn April of 1791, Leopold Hofmann, who was Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, fell gravely ill. Mozart, who had never been an avid composer of sacred music, nonetheless saw an opportunity to enhance his income, and maneuvered to succeed Hofmann. Towards this end, he turned his attentions again to sacred music, culminating ultimately with his Requiem. (As it happens, Hofmann survived Mozart, and died in 1793.)

Mozart set the Eucharistic hymn Ave verum corpus in June 1791. This setting was dedicated to his friend, Anton Stoll, who was chorus master of the parish church in Baden, and it was first performed in Baden at the Feast of Corpus Christi.

It is possible that Mozart set this hymn, mindful of the Imperial ban on elaborate concerted music, or it is possible that he was working with the limitations of Stoll’s choir. One way or another, his setting is remarkable for its compact simplicity. There are a mere forty-six bars of music, with orchestral writing that serves to provide introduction, transition, and ending, and double the choral parts. The choral setting is simplicity itself, with the choir mostly singing the same text at the same time. This direct approach would suited a reform-minded Austria where textual clarity and brevity were all-important in church music.

Mozart’s setting is far from pedestrian or undistinguished. (It actually isn’t even complete; the text below includes the last two verses, which Mozart omitted from his setting.) There is an unusual modulation from D major to F major at the text, “whose side was pierced, whence flowed water and blood,”, and the simplicity is the sort that Artur Schnabel famously described as too simple for children and too difficult for adults (after all, simple music like this exposes any lapses of rhythm, intonation, or ensemble). And the music seems to encompass a universe of feeling in forty-six short bars.

Ave Verum Corpus – W.A. Mozart
Latin Text and English Translation
Ave / verum / Corpus, natum / de / Maria / Virgine:
Hail / true / Body / born / of / Mary / Virgin,

Vere / passum, / immolatum / in / cruce / pro / homine:
truly / suffered / was sacrificed / on / cross / for / mankind

Cujus / latus / perforatum, / unda / fluxit / et / sanguine:
Whose / side / was pierced / from where or water / flowed / and / blood

Esto / nobis / praegustatum / in / mortis / examine.
Be / for us / foretaste / in / of death / testing

PARAPHRASED ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary,
who has truly suffered, and was sacrificed on the cross for mankind,
whose side was pierced, whence flowed water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste of heaven, during our final trial.

SINGING IN LATIN VS. ENGLISH

Latin and English are very different languages. Latin has fewer words which are often longer, due to the varied endings. Because the part that the word plays depends on its ending rather than its position in the sentence, word order is flexible. The poetry of Latin derives from the position and the rhythm of the words. For example, “Stabat mater dolorosa” and “Mater dolorosa stabat” both mean “the sorrowful mother was standing”, but the former emphases the standing because that word comes first. In English there is a greater choice of words but their order is fixed within the sentence, and the poetry derives more from the choice and rhyme of words.

Latin anthems are printed with an alternative English translation below the Latin words, with the same number of syllables and often in rhyming couplets. Unfortunately the English words cannot correspond exactly to their equivalent in Latin. When composers set Latin texts to music they emphasize crucial words or phrases, by repeating them, having suspensions, changing the harmony, or other musical devices. When sung in English, these devices often emphasize the wrong words and so the musical sense is lost. Moreover, because of trying to shoehorn the Latin into foursquare rhyming couplets, the effect in English often borders on doggerel. At St Peter’s, when the choir sings the anthem in Latin we have tended to print this English verse in the service sheet rather than the Latin text.

35 thoughts on “Ave Verum Corpus – W.A. Mozart

  1. Like you, I believe this to be the most sublime music this side of eternity. Thank you for making this available.{AVE vERUM}

  2. Thank you very much for posting this. You’ve described exactly how I feel about this piece as well!

  3. Thank you for posting the most beautiful piece of music written. It lifts my heart to hear it.

  4. Why does the third line in so many versions of Ave verum read: unda fluxit et sanguine, instead of unda fluxit cum sanguine.
    Sanguine is the ablatif form of sanguis and as such requires a preposition NOT the conjunction ET. It reads: water flows with blood, not water and blood. Unda fluxit et sanguine is grammatically incorrect

    Jef

  5. It is possible Mozart’s Latin is lacking – every print I have seen of Mozart’s version reads “et”. The phrase in the original Latin hymn is “Cujus latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine”, whose approximate translation I have used here. However, in the available editions of both the Byrd and the Mozart score, the word ‘aqua’ (‘water’) is omitted and the word ‘unda’ (‘whence’) inserted. The ‘et’ (and) is also omitted in the Byrd text, but not in the Mozart, which makes for rather awkward Latin.

    Update January 2011:
    I received this email regarding “unda”:

    Dear Conrad,
    I saw now a message you posted in 2007! saying that the word water was
    ommited from Morzart’s Ave Verum, instead is used ‘unda’ but unda is not
    whence, whence is ‘unde’. ‘Unda’ is liquid or water!!!!
    Sorry for so late correcting you. I am sure that by now you discover this
    already!!!!
    Many thanks for all the information
    Gloria

  6. Thanx a lot for info, I really appreciate the English translations of lyrics, though recently there appear some bands, that tend to use reverse process, or write in Latin. I admire classical music, for it creates the impact nothing else can produce.

  7. Ave verum corpus is fantastic and I think it is one of Mozart’s best ever. Please may I know the name of the choir that sings the above composition. It’s very moving and I listen to this piece over and over again. Thanks.

  8. Thank you for posting the “Ave Verum Corpus” . This sublime Mozart’s piece, always moves me to tears. I can listen to it for ever …

  9. “Unda” means “wave” or by extension “water/flow.” It’s a pretty obscure word, but the modern English word “undulate” derives from it. “Unde” is the word for “whence” as mentioned above, but I think in this case the words are supposed to be “unda et sanguine,” and both are ablative — because “fluxit” (I think) takes the ablative rather the normal accustaive direct object (OK it has been 21 years since I took Latin, so my grammar is rusty). In a English word order, the clause in question would be:

    “(Corpus), cuius perforatum latus fluxit unda et sanguine,”
    or
    “(The Body), whose pierced side flowed forth water and blood,”

    Hope this helps!

    PS: We’re singing this tonight as a communion anthem.

  10. Thank you so much for posting this. Not only did you help to be able to learn about this song, but I was able to improve to report. This song always moves me, I was chosen along with an Alto, Tenore, and Basso to sing this song for my choir. It was extremly lovely and very emotional.
    Thank you.

  11. I agree, this is perfection in its simplicity. Extremely hard to sing well because of this, nothing can go wrong.

    Regarding the Latin, I wouldn’t say that ‘unda et sanguine’ is incorrect, though it is strangely worded. It’s probably intended to be in the ablative of mode or instrument, so:

    cuius latus, perforatum, unda fluxit et sanguine
    whose side, pierced, flowed WITH water and blood.

    So ‘latus’ is the subject and ‘fluxit’ the leading verb. I think ‘unda’ for ‘aqua’ must have been chosen because of the phonetical beauty of the word ‘unda’ – a good choice, I think!

  12. If a more beautiful piece exists,it has been well hidden for centuries. The lower voices are the foundation on which the upper voices are sustained. Brilliant. I will be playing trumpet, along with F Horn and organ with the choir for Mass sometime in May.The music, along with the understood text,surpasses all.

  13. Thankyou for the translations and the discussions, to one and all.

    The Ave Verum Corpus transports me to a sublime space and soothes the heart so. The rendition that I have at home and listen to (constantly) is with the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge – conductor George Guest and Peter White playing the organ. It will wear out anytime soon for sure…. Can there be any better? I have another but much prefer this.

  14. Thank you for posting the sheet music and information.

    I am a 67-year-old who sings during Mass for a retired priest in a nursing home who says Mass there for the residents.

    Your posting will be most helpful.

    Best wishes

  15. I play clarinet in my band and this song sounds really good! I love this song! Thank you mozart for making this! ( I know Mozart is dead)

  16. Thank you. I have beautiful childhood memories of hearing this sung on Good Friday, and now I would like my choir to sing it this year. Your notes are very helpful in getting them into the appropriate “mood” for this hymn’s rendition. Thank you again

  17. My choir is singing this song for competion… its my favortie and it really moves our choir. Im very excited to sing it. Its so beautiful

  18. Pingback: My Favorite Song
  19. can someone answer one question please? what is a shorter explaination of this songs history???
    THANKS!!!!

  20. Here is a short explanation:
    Ave Verum Corpus was written by Mozart as an audition piece in applying for a new job. The lyrics are about Christ on the cross. Lyrics date back to 14th century Catholic texts.

  21. Hello All.

    I am teaching my Polynesian choir at our parish (Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand) this beautiful piece of music for communion on the Feast of Corpus Christi on Sunday 14 Jun.

    The discussion is gratefully appreciated. Like the last line of the song this creation is surely a foretaste of heaven.

    Interesting enough, the version we obtained and sing to has it “…unda fluxit cum sanguine…”

  22. I add my thanks. Could not help remembering a comment by a co-worker many years ago: He was a cook, a decade younger than I. He called Ave Verum “…the most beautiful music ever written…” Hyperbolic, I thought to myself. Yet, the comment remained with me. Last month–twenty years later–I accompanied some friends who performed Ave Verum for a group of elderly, well-lived, individuals. My ears heard for the first time. Disarmingly simple, yet deeply wise, it is suffused with intelligence. Nothing superfluous. Spare, clear, pure. I am grateful for the tutelage of life – now I get it.

  23. Do you think you could find a sheet music download (for free) for a violin and violincello of this piece?

    It would be awesome, as I have yet to find anything on my ensemble list of pieces.

    I’m sure my duet partner would love this one as well! Thanks!

  24. Thank you so much for making available,both, the audio performance, as well as the sheet music for this splendid work of Mozart. It literally takes you into heaven. What more can one ask for? Thank you once again.

  25. Thank you so much for providing this. I love this music, I used to sing this in a previous choir, but I have separated from them a couple of years ago. Now, my interest is reinvigorated and a prospective choir that I’m thinking of joining has this on their repertoire. I can’t wait to do this again, if I hopefully make it there.

  26. For years I have been trying to find an English Carol which was set to Mozart’s Ave Verum. I remember only few words which makes it almost impossible for me to search for it. However, the few words I do remember are:

    . . . in a manger, we adore thee, all hail . . .

    Would appreciate any feedback. Grateful Thanks.

    Marian Cooper

  27. I received this email and wanted to pass on the info to you:

    Dear Conrad,
    I saw now a message you posted in 2007! saying that the word water was
    ommited from Morzart’s Ave Verum, instead is used ‘unda’ but unda is not
    whence, whence is ‘unde’. ‘Unda’ is liquid or water!!!!
    Sorry for so late correcting you. I am sure that by now you discover this
    already!!!!
    Many thanks for all the information
    Gloria

  28. Dear Conrad, Thank you so much for the free download of the choral version of Ave Verum Corpus. This gives me the opportunity to sing an alto part whenever I hear it. Our choir sings it frequently during Communion and as a Eucharistic minister, I hear the music and tears well in my eyes as this precious prayer is offered to God. Sometimes I barely remain composed as the True Presence I am sharing with the congregation is met in worship with this piece. It is also my ringtone on my phone, so I get to hear it every day.
    God bless you.
    Maryanne

  29. This received via email:

    Many thanks for making available the sheet music of Ave Verum of Mozart, but yours has mistakes. In the Soprano part first it does not start in F but in A!!! And there are other mistakes….
    Better to correct them if you want to make it available to all of us…!!
    Many thanks

    Response:
    Thank you so much for letting us know about that. If anyone has specific notes on other mistakes in the score please let us know. I won’t be making changes to the score because of time restraints but appreciate the info.

  30. thank you and commenters for the translation help esp. regarding ‘unda’. I like knowing what I’m singing about and was bothered that so many people said Mozart’s version didn’t make sense.

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