Johannes Brahms

Ave Maria, for female chorus & keyboard (or orchestra) in F major, Op. 12

    Description by John Palmer

    Composed for four-voice female choir and orchestra (strings and paired winds) with an organ part to be used in lieu of an orchestra, the Ave Maria and the contemporaneous Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13, are Brahms' first attempts to combine vocal and orchestral forces. Both were composed in the autumn of 1858. The Ave Maria was first performed on December 2, 1859 in Hamburg by Brahms' Frauenchor (Women's Chorus), under his direction.

    Brahms' early preference for female voices is evident in his selection of forces for both the Ave Maria and the Begräbnisgesang. His choice of female chorus was not a practical matter dictated by his direction of his Frauenchor in Hamburg, for both of these works were written before he took that position.

    Evidence suggests that Brahms conceived and wrote the organ part of the Ave Maria first, expanding it for orchestra only later. This may account for the rather calculated manner in which instruments are used, especially when compared to the Choruses, Op. 17, in which the female voices are supported by the unique combination of horns and harp. In the Ave Maria, the upper strings often double the voice parts, clouding the female vocal tone color.

    Brahms freely repeats several passages of the text, including an Offertory from the Roman Catholic liturgy. Each time the words "Ave Maria" appear, they are set to the same melody, which, in the very opening, is presented antiphonally by the high and low voices. When the worshipers ask Maria to speak on the their behalf, the chorus sings in rhythmic unison, making the text declamation as clear as possible. After several repetitions of this line, however, the opening melody returns for the final intonation of "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis." Aside from a hint of G major in the middle and a touch of F minor near the close, the piece remains firmly in F major throughout, its clearly articulated 6/8 meter creating a rocking feel.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Signum Classics SIGCD 430
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794220
    2015 Bergen Digital / Bergen Digital Studio BD 7052
    2014 Lawo Classics LAW 1054
    2014 Carus CV 83332
    2012 Naxos 8572694
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94412
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94211
    2010 Hyperion 55346
    2010 American Boychoir AR 1007
    2009 Carus 83221
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2008 Thorofon / Zebralution
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2007 Koch Schwann 312562
    2007 Marquis Records 813612
    2006 Hyperion CDA67559
    2005 Brilliant Classics 92330
    2005 Oehms 535
    2004 Brilliant 92179
    2004 Chandos 10165
    2004 Brilliant 92392
    2004 St. Olaf Records stolafmanitou2
    2002 Concerto Royale 206215
    2002 Carus 83117
    2001 Carus 83201
    1999 Naxos 8 553877
    1998 Thorofon DCTH 2385
    1998 Delos 3238
    1997 Orfeo 026974
    1997 Guild GMCD7134
    1997 Women's Chorus WCD1CD
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449 646-2GJB4
    1996 Ars Musici 3024
    1991 Hyperion 66389
    Studio SM 2442
    VQR 2046
    AMR Music 92046
    Brilliant 92179/8
    Brilliant Classics 93554/44
    Brilliant 92392/26
    Conifer 53522
    Philips Classics 426054