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Marian Music

 
Devotion to Mary during the month of May is a longstanding custom among Catholics. With much of the world under stay-at-home orders during Covid, Pope Francis encouraged families to pray the rosary together daily. Musical expression of prayer is part of spiritual practice for many of us. Below is a listing of Marian songs and hymns for congregation and choir. Enjoy!
 
Here is a YouTube Playlist.
 
Ave Maria

 

Whether for solo, congregation, or choir, singing the text of the "Hail Mary" is a foundation of musical expression about the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This started it all. The great solo settings like Schubert and choral settings like Biebl draw their inspiration from it. While Catholics associate Mary with the month of May or feasts like Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, this chant is positioned by the church as the proper for the Preparation of Gifts on Advent 4, paired with the Gospel Reading recounting the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary.

Most widely known of the solo “Ave Maria” settings, the origin of this piece is a German folk song. The Latin text was a later development. This recording features soprano Renee Fleming.

The second most popular solo setting, many refer to this as “the other Ave Maria” and it combines a keyboard work of J.S. Bach with a melody by Charles Gounod. This recording featuers cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott.

Choirs find this foundational choral setting accessible. The SJB choir has made use of it in conjunction with other works. It might be the shortest “Ave” and would otherwise result in a need to reprise during mass.

One of the most beloved choral settings, its thick sound comes from its double choir texture. While not new, the piece was given a boost by the American male choral ensemble, Chanticleer.

The familiar opening of this choral setting featuers a technique known as incipit. Along with Arcadelt, it is one of the older settings. SJB choir has found it an interesting compliment to Arcadelt, as polyphony gives some challenge to singers.

Most adult SJB parishioners have not heard this setting, as it is in the repertoire of our school choir. Some of the higher notes present challenge to young singers. Yet, some of our more musically inclined children latch on to the soaring melody.

The SJB choir has come to appreciate the choral writing of Philip Stopford but do not all share the same affinity for this contemporary British composer's complicated musical aesthetic.

You will notice the chant melody woven into the background of this congregational setting. If it sounds familiar, that is because it has made an annual appearance at Advent 4 masses in which the choir does not sing. Enjoy musical features not heard when led solely by instrument and cantor.

 

Marian Antiphons

 

The Church’s Night Prayer, or Compline, concludes with a Marian chant.

Four texts are divided over the course of the liturgical year:

  • Alma Redemptoris Mater – Advent 1 to Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd
  • Ave Regina Caelorum – Presentation of the Lord to Holy Saturday
  • Regina Caeli – Easter Sunday to Pentecost
  • Salve Regina – Pentecost to Advent 1
Alma Redemptoris Mater

This classic choral setting is often heard during Advent Lessons & Carols and is used at the beginning of the service as a bridge from Night Prayer. SJB choir traditionally begins the prelude of Christmas Midnight Mass with it.

Ave Regina Caelorum
Regina Caeli

As the Marian text of the Easter season, choral settings of the Regina Caeli abound. This setting was the first added to the SJB choir repertoire and has become a traditional prelude for Mother’s Day or Easter Sunday.

While in many respects an easier setting than Aichinger, this setting can be sung with double choir. The double choir part can be substituted by instruments. Plans for the Easter Sunday 2020 that wasn’t included this as a prelude with SJB choir singing choir 1 and brass functioning as choir 2.

Salve Regina

The "ethereal" haunting style of Pärt's choral music has a way of enveloping the listener in the text. 

 

Magnificat

 

This text is drawn from the Gospel of St. Luke and is a hymn of praise it is believed was offered by Mary in response to Elizabeth’s acknowledgement that she was bearing the Savior of the World.

Majestic hymn setting that places the entire canticle on the lips of the congregation.

In refrain/verse format, this setting gives a majestic treatment of the text but allows for variation by congregation and choir or cantor.

Also in refrain/verse format, this setting offers a more introspective treatment of the text, capped off with a lovely part for oboe.

This congregational setting of the Magnificat takes a translation of the text done by folk/contemporary Catholic composer, Rory Cooney, and pairs it with the Irish ballad, Star of the County Down. 

This setting is beloved of the Taizé community and makes a mantra out of the first phrase ("My soul magnifies the Lord"). The choral sound is formed by delaying the start by a couple of measures, known as a round. 

This choral setting for children’s voices is beloved by the SJB school choir. Accented with a flute part, it has made an appearance as an anthem for 8th grade graduation in prior years.

  • John Rutter

Not to be outdone by monumental works of sacred music such as Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, a work also dedicated to Mary, the Rutter Magnificat has a duration of 40 minutes. Rutter is a leader in 20th century English choral music. You will hear in the vocal solos the soaring melodies that have made Rutter popular.

 

Hymnody

A newer hymn text is offered by Alan Hommerding, senior editor of World Library Publications. The text pairs with the tune THAXTED (O God, Beyond All Praising). The text is grounded in Mary’s role in salvation history as God-bearer. This hymn is arranged by Charles Thatcher, retired music director of the Diocese of Orlando and St. James Cathedral.

One of the most beloved Marian hymns (think Sister Act), this arrangement, again, by Charles Thatcher was used during Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the United States.

Of equal popularity with Hail, Holy QueenImmaculate Mary holds a special place in the Catholic Church in the United States. This arrangement was done by Daniel Laginya, music director of St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, OH. Beautiful choral writing is accompanied by strings.

Hymn setting done by Leo Nestor, former music director of the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, DC. Text is attributed to Ephrem the Syrian, a 4th century hymn writer of the Eastern Church.

This refrain/verse hymn reflects on that most ancient of Marian feasts, Mary as the Mother of God, known as Theotokos (“The God-bearer") in the Orthodox tradition. A lovely oboe part weaves throughout the piece.

 

Other Marian Choral Music

This text, used most frequently in Advent Lessons & Carols, uses the metaphor of Mary as rose and recounts her bearing the Savior. Here is a setting by Philip Stopford. You will notice Middle English in addition to Latin phrases at ends of verses.

This English text offers a metaphor of the holly producing its berry to paint Mary bearing the Savior. It is believed to be a 19th century text and has been set by many composers. This setting is by contemporary American choral composer, Stephen Caracciolo, current faculty at the University of Maryland – Baltimore.

Richard Proulx offers this lovely Marian hymn, popular among Hispanic Catholics, as a choral setting with strings. The publisher offers an English translation within the text.

English composer Martin Dalby “macaronically” combines English and Latin in a setting of an ancient Marian text. He composed the setting in the early 1980’s for a high school choir but it is far from easy. Choristers are accustomed to patterns in the way pieces are put together. Not so here. Once learned though, it is worth it.

Benjamin Britten wrote this piece, based on an anonymous English poem also using English and Latin, in call-response form between choir and quartet. Britten is regarded as one of the finest English composers of the 20th century. This particular piece was written when he was 16 and is performed here by Voces8.

A combination of Latin refrain and English verses, we are told “Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is born of the Virgin Mary!” This Renaissance carol is set by Robert Batastini using percussion (hand-drum and finger cymbals) on refrain and handbells on verses. Its simplicity and versatility allows for a range of use, from children’s choir to adults, and its rhythmic excitement contrasts with other pieces sung at SJB Christmas in prior years.

Recounting the Annunciation, this carol often referred to as “The Basque Carol”, observes that Mary is “most highly favored”. This recording features an arrangement by English choral composer, Malcolm Archer.

 
Folk/Contemporary and World Styles

Michael Joncas takes a text by M.D. Ridge and weds it with an Irish folk-tune, The Flight of the Earls. When looking at the text as a whole, we come away with an account of Mary’s role in the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection. Once at a workshop, Joncas related a presentation he gave in Ireland in which he shared the piece with attendees. He was confused when they began snickering. The tune is used by a local soccer club as their team song.

Here, Tony Alonso weds text from the Litany of Loreto with the refrain of Immaculate Mary (LOURDES HYMN).

If you would like to see it in liturgy, here’s a video of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ annual Celebration of Cultures Mass. The selection begins around 6'.

Composer Ricky Manalo frames the text of this piece aptly: “The text of the assembly ostinato (repeated refrain) places Mary praying with and in the midst of the gathered assembly. This is not to strip away any of the privileges Mary had received throughout her life. The theme of this song, after all, centers around her role as Mother of the Church. The cantors who sing the descants simultaneously evoke a Trinitarian theology of intercessory prayer: to God, through Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Part of Hispanic Christmas custom, this song depicts Mary’s journey through the birth of the Savior.

The traditional observance of Our Lady of Guadalupe involves arising early and beginning with an extended prayer that concludes with mass.