Song of the Week: Ave Maria


(Photo Provided by Charles Platiau) Joining together in song, hundreds of Parisians fill the streets surrounding the Notre Dame, and look on as flames burn through 800 years of history.

Ave Maria. Hail Mary. The original “Ave Maria” as we know it was written by Franz Schubert in 1825. It was part of a series of seven accompaniment songs to Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem Lady of the Lake. Since its birth, the song’s ethereal melody and religious background has inspired countless other arrangements and compositions, as well as been a crucial building block of Roman Catholic music.

Strong dynamics are countered with easing decrescendos, making for a peaceful listen that tells a story.

On April 15 around 6:20 pm, the first fire alarm went off at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. 30 minutes later the entire roof was ablaze. That night Parisians and people everywhere watched the 8 century old building burn. Overcome by grief, bystanders in the streets of Paris began to sing a hymn: “Ave Maria.”

Though Schubert didn’t originally intend for his melody to be set to words, it eventually became the setting for this Roman Catholic prayer. The hymnal loosely translates from Latin to English as “Mary, full of grace. The lord is with thee. Blessed be the fruit of thy womb. Pray for us sinners. Now and at the hour of our death.”

The hymnal is a prayer to the Virgin Mary to intervene and protect on behalf of those in suffering.

The religious text and melody have been the feature of many modern works such as Walt Disney’s Fantasia. In the 1940 film Disney uses the song during a scene in which travelers carrying light, wander through the darkness, looking for salvation. From the darkness, the wanderers emerge to the dawn of a new morning. The song’s brings solace to the pilgrimage just as it does to the mourners of the Notre Dame.

The song’s timeless hope has acted as a beacon of light in dark times and will continue to do so for centuries to come.