Ronald Corp

Conductor & Composer


Ave Maria

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Programme Notes

The ‘Ave Maria’ or ‘Hail Mary’ is a traditional biblical prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The prayer is used by Catholics and Anglicans as well as many other groups within the Western tradition of Christianity.  The first parts of the text, a salutation of Mary by the Angel Gabriel, can be found originally in the Gospel of Luke 1:28 and 42.  As a prayer It seems probably not to have been used before about 1050, and it would appear that the ‘petition’ part of the prayer (‘Pray for us sinners…’) was probably added later.  Here is the full text:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

This is the second setting of Ave Maria by Ronald Corp (the first dates from 1991) and it presents a fascinating blend of quasi-Renaissance style writing and contemporary minimalism.  The ‘old’ is expressed by melismatic writing (the spreading out of a syllable over several notes), imitative writing (the way one voice will copy a phrase from another voice) and a final section of extensive ‘Amens’.  By contrast, the permeation of the texture by a distinctive melodic/rhythmic cell – six short notes and one longer one – which is not significantly developed or altered, allies the piece with the simplicity and concentration of minimalism.  A yearning, supplicatory feel is reinforced through the use of unresolved harmonies and chords packed with added seconds, sixths or sevenths resulting in warm and rich sonorities, especially when the vocal parts divide to form chords of five or even six pitches.  The familiariy of such a harmonic language from the world of jazz and other less ‘highbrow’ fields renders a music that is both contemporary sounding and approachable but which still expresses a quietly intense reverence.

© David M. Hoyle, 2011

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