Even in a musical era often defined as "eclectic," Franz Biebl's 1964 Ave Maria is remarkable for its straightforward, largely diatonic tonality and its gentle warmth. The work largely reflects the nature of its creator. Although largely unknown to the general public, Biebl is well known among choral conductors and performers. A modest musician, he was drafted into the Austrian army towards the end of World War II, was captured, and interned stateside. His captors soon came to realize his talent and regard his kindly nature, allowing him to organize concerts while a POW. Biebl likewise had a high regard for his captors and the concept of "Democracy." After the war, the composer returned to his homeland to resume musical activities on an international level, particularly in the choral field. His wide-ranging exploration of all ethnic and national vocal idioms shows a universality of outlook. As of this writing, Biebl is still active as a composer and conductor.
This lovely setting of the Hail Mary, Biebl's best known work in America, is firmly rooted in tonality yet sounds wonderfully fresh, largely through its unpretentious purity of expression. Beginning with the Angelus preface, the Ave Maria proper commences and is unified by an ascending five-note phrase, etherial and soaring as so many cathedral arches, yet intimate as a chapel. Its subtle modernism can be found in its use of unusual chord relations drawn from the popular idiom (e.g., flattened six chord), yet never straying long from the tonic. Effortlessly, Biebl weaves passages of plainsong into the overall musical fabric. Without any posturing, the composer draws all of these elements naturally together to produce a sensitive and beautiful miniature.