Fourth Sunday of Advent: Offertory, Ave Maria
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517

    We may not often think about the sources of the “Hail Mary”; it is often called the “Angelic Salutation,” leading us to assume that it consists only of the words of the Archangel Gabriel. The Gospel of St. Luke gives us precise information: the first phrase “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum,” consists of the words of Gabriel at the Annunciation. The following words, however, are those of Elizabeth at the Visitation, “Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.” The composer of this offertory most likely was quite aware of these differences, since the melody makes a clear distinction in range between the two messages. Gabriel’s words form the first half of the piece, marked by a colon; Elizabeth’s the second half, beginning with an expansion of the range, representing the female voice by higher pitches, at least at the beginning.
    The piece is in mode eight, which has an interesting pitch structure. The main strong notes of the system, regardless of mode, form what is called a chain of thirds: A-C-D-F-a-c-e (Capitals are the pitches A–G completely below middle c; lower-case letters represent a–g which surround middle c; doubles represent the sequence of pitches aa–ee entirely above middle c; these are the medieval designations commonly identified with Guido of Arezzo. ) Mode eight has a final of G, which is not one of the strong notes, and a reciting tone of c, which is a strong note. The result of is that a frequent melodic figure in this mode is the triad below the reciting note, F–a–c, and some of the most interesting melodic action is between this chain of thirds and the G final.
    Thus Ave Maria begins with a figure on “Ave” centering first upon F–a, then, moving through G–E, the triad D–F–a, leading to G. The G–E third leads down to the D, but also establishes an expectation of a return to G, which then provides the final of the passage. On “Maria” the melody rises to the reciting tone, reviews the chain of thirds downward and back up again and down to arrive at the G; thus the closest connection has been made here between the F–a–c thirds and the G–c final and reciting tone.
    That G–c fourth is mirrored by the fourth below the final, G–D, in the next phrase, “gratia plena.” Then that fourth below is complemented by the fourth above on “Dominus tecum,” but here there is more development: the first incise (to the first quarter bar) outlines the G–c fourth; the next repeats it exactly, but extends it, touching on the F below the final, and then on “tecum,” the two fourths are placed in immediate juxtaposition leading to the final: G–D–G–c . . . G, an emphatic conclusion to the Angel’s salutation.
    The address of Elizabeth, “benedicta tu . . . ,” distinguishes this female speaker by setting the melody higher; in fact it rises a step higher than the theoretical ambitus of the mode permits; thus it is a pointed featuring of the voice of Elizabeth; this figure develops the chain of thirds a third higher, a–c–e, descending then from c to G, re-establishing the G¬–c relationship. This is developed on “in mulieribus” by reiterating the fourth a step higher, progressing to the a–c third, which in turn leads to a cadence on b, an unusual cadence note for the G-mode, a cadence which leaves a sense of being incomplete and demands further motion forward. The following phrase fulfills that expectation by descending through the chain, c–a–F–D, reiterating the D¬–F–a figure upward and downward and rising finally to the G final.
    The piece is somewhat more melismatic than most offertories, but it is significant that all the melismas occur on accented syllables of important words; thus, in contrast to graduals and alleluias, which often place melismas upon final unaccented syllables, departing somewhat from the text, these melismas emphasize and decorate the text itself. The overall contour of the melody is shapely and graceful, as one would expect of the words and actions of both of the speakers.
    It is interesting to note that there is another mode-eight offertory on the same text, Ave Maria, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is the same text, except that it ends with “alleluia.” It is very unusual that the same text in the same genre should be represented by two different melodies in the same repertory. When the only textual difference is the addition of an alleluia, the tradition simply added an alleluia to an existing piece. I would guess that the occasion for this piece was the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, at which time the text was probably proposed and someone at Solesmes composed a new chant.
  • rsven
    Posts: 43
    Dr. Mahrt, Your comments have sent me back to Dom Johner, whom I had quite given up because a)the print is so small and b) his way of explaining the groups is note-oriented and rather tedious. But I have dug out my book to read what he has to say. Both you and he use the letter names of notes to discuss the chant, which I must reorient to click into. After all this time learning solfegge... But I do like the geographical orientation which it gives, an almost visual perspective of the range of the chant. What I find most illuminating is your discussion of the "chain of thirds", which occurrs in juxtaposition to the tonic/dominant groupings, and gives a whole new perspective to the structure: I immediately think "harmonic movement", which is a question I have had about the chant. Is there an implied harmonic movement taking place? But it happens so quickly and with such economy of movement, that I cannot be sure. If it is true, that blows my mind. I have had thoughts of analyzing the Solesmes accompaniments to see what they do with the chant line, but have not yet gotten to it. Because, here we are, the week before the fourth Sunday of Advent, and my schola is rehearsing not only those chants, but Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and then we have the next Sunday to face. Not to mention preparing organ music. But your analysis is quite helpful on many levels, not the least of which is the practical implementing of the chants: analysis cuts practice time significantly. Thank you!
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    I admit the Fourth Sunday of Advent is one day when I never mention the word "proper" around my parish, or suggest that our hymn choices ought to reflect their texts...

    ("You were chosen, from all women, and for woman...")

    But isn't that a glorious chant? (I'll just... think it during the Offertory procession.)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517

    There is certainly a "harmonic" aspect to the organization of Ave Maria, but is is not one of functional tonality, the striking difference being that the most prominent note of the chain of thirds in mode eight is F-natural, whereas functional tonality would require the leading tone, F-sharp. Ancient and medieval theorists talked about the harmony of such melodies, without there ever being chords with them, so their sense of harmony is somewhat different. Still, I think there is much of a tonal direction to these melodies,the direction created by the shift in emphasis upon F to emphasis upon G. And it is in those modes whose finals are not part of the chain of thirds that this directionality is most evident.

    There still can be a similar shifting in the modes whose finals are in the chain of thirds; here, the chain including the final is most prominent: D-F-a-c-e, while alternate thirds provide the contrast: in mode one, C-E-G-b, for instance. One of the simplest introits is for the Midnight Mass, Dominus dixit ad me. Here the first cadence to D on "ad me" is approached by the third, C-E, and that is about all of it there is of the alternate chain; still that point creates a sense of movement from one pitch focus to another and underlines the cadence. Or take the communion for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Ecce Virgo concipiet: "Ecce virgo" centers around D-F; "concipi-" shifts to C-E-G and then returns to D-F on "et." that kind of "harmonic movement" is common in chants and helps to create a sense of overall movement.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 992
    G and I will share the cringing today. Dr. Mahrt's comments I'll have to review after the trials of today's Mass hymns - and a tenor who will be attacking Handel at the offertory.
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    "a tenor who will be attacking Handel"
    LOL at your choice of verb.

    We have a chorister of whom my husband says, "It's like he just aims his voice in the general direction of the note and pulls the trigger..."

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • rsven
    Posts: 43
    Dear G and Mjballou, My sympathies are with you. I do not have a tenor who ever even dreamed of singing Handel, thus the poverty of the chant! Dr. Mahrt, in mentioning tonality, I was not thinking of functional, typical Western tonality, but rather a modal "tonality" or movement of suggested harmony. This is not to be overstated, but I am much taken by the discussion of a chain of thirds. I seem to remember that you wrote an article on this for Musicam Sacram some months back, and I will dig that out. Meanwhile, your analysis is much food for thought, and I will slowly digest it. I've just come home from Sunday Mass, at which we sang all of the chants, including the Offeratory, and all was blessed.
  • JDE
    Posts: 588
    Does anyone have any idea when this Offertory chant might have been written? No doubt there are clues in the music itself whose subtleties are lost on me, but would mean something to Professor Mahrt or the other learned minds here. Neither the Graduale Romanum nor the Gregorian Missal nor the Liber Usualis shows any date information.

    Tomorrow night I am chanting this beautiful Offertory in our Lessons and Carols service followed immediately by the Ave Maria, op. 93, by Gabriel Fauré.
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Here is a recording (YouTube) of the medieval music ensemble "Euouae" (love that name) singing this same Ave Maria "as it appears in the earlier 9th century manuscript Laon 239."

    Euouae actually uses an image of that manuscript as their cover photo on their website.

    Here is a more familiar rendering of the chant as sung by Cantarte Regensburg.
  • Dear Prof. Mahrt, thank you for the very thorough analysis. The text even apart form Alleluja is not the same as for the Immaculate Conception. In the latter feast, "et benedictus fructus ventris tui" is lacking, so the text is shorter. It would be difficult to adapt it to the original melody. The new melody was written by Dom Fonteinne of Solesmes (so Dom Johner writes). Apparently the definition of the dogma occasioned the Holy See to issue new proper texts which then required melodies for them.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Thank you, Mark M., for plugging where you can indeed see the St. Gall notation for the Ave Maria offertory chant in addition to the Laon notation found in our video.

    To answer JDE's question, the presence of this chant in both of these manuscripts places it along with the earliest compositions in the repertory, dating from the 9th century at the latest, but possibly several hundred years earlier.

    I would add that the verses for this chant are particularly stunning. Euouae is currently working on a recording project that will include several offertories with extended melismatic solo verses.
    Thanked by 1Mark M.
  • We sang a the 5-voice Parsons Ave Maria today.

    In a smaller Parish I would recommend the Arcadelt Ave Maria followed.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Which we, from Noel's anthology's unique edition, doth rendered this morn in CA.