Franz Schubert

Ave Maria (original: "Ellen's Third Song")

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 2–6 Minutes (Depending on the Number of Verses Sung)
Genre: Art Song
Time of Creation: 1825
World Premiere: Unknown (First Printed in 1826)

Table of Contents

Schubert's Ave Maria in 5 Sentences

Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria actually has a different name: it is “Ellens dritter Gesang,”, German for „Ellen’s Third Song“, one of 7 songs Schubert composed in 1825 based on texts by the Scottish poet Walter Scott. The opening words are “Ave Maria”, which is why Schubert’s song is known by this “nickname” and is also often performed at church services, weddings and funerals. Often the original text is not sung (see below under “Questions and Answers”), but the Latin text of the Ave Maria prayer is added. The original text is about a girl who hides in a cave with her father and asks the Virgin Mary for help.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Schubert's Ave Maria

Highlight 1: Pulsating introduction

The piano begins the song with a pulsating introduction that swells and ebbs:

Highlight 2: Famous first phrase

Then the vocal joins in with the famous first phrase:

Highlight 3: Plea for help

This is followed by the plea for help, “Hear a virgin’s plea!” At the end of the phrase, Schubert musically maps the German word “wehen” („wafting“) by distributing it to a “wafting” movement:

Highlight 4: Recursions to the familiar

Finally, Schubert completes the form by falling back on what is already familiar: the rising and falling from the introduction (Highlight 1) reappears in the piano, and the vocal part ends the verse with the same Ave Maria phrase with which it began:

3 Questions and Answers about Schubert's Ave Maria

Question 1: Is Schubert's Ave Maria used in other contexts?

Yes. Schubert’s Ave Maria is a popular background music for movies and even computer games (“Hitman”, “Rainbow Six”…).

Question 2: What is the text of Schubert's Ave Maria?

The original text of Schubert’s so-called “Ave Maria” is a German translation of Sir Walter Scott’s „Hymn to the Virgin“:

Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem with down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer,
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled.
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!
Ave Maria!

Question 3: How many Ave Marias are there?

This is impossible to answer, because the prayer has been set to music by countless composers. For example, there is a CD collection at JPC with 68 Ave Maria settings from 7 eras.

2 Recommended Recordings of Schubert's Ave Maria

Recording 1: Ruth Ziesak, Ulrich Eisenlohr (Studio, 2013)

Ruth Ziesak performs Schubert’s Ave Maria in this recording together with song accompanist Ulrich Eisenlohr in Schubert’s original instrumentation (female voice and piano) as well as with the original (German) text (see English original above, “Question 2”):

Recording 2: Luciano Pavarotti, Zubin Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Music Center Opera Chorus (live, 1994)

Schubert’s original song (“Ellens dritter Gesang”) is very often arranged for other instrumentations and underlaid with a different text, namely the Latin Ave Maria. Such a version can be heard here – it is sung by the famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti in a concert of the “Three Tenors” in Los Angeles in 1994:

1 Quote about Schubert's Ave Maria

One is also very surprised about my piety, which I have expressed in a hymn to the Holy Virgin and, as it seems, seizes all minds and makes them devout. I believe this comes from the fact that I never force myself to devotion....

Franz Schubert (1825 in a letter to his father and stepmother)

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