Mercoledi Musicale

One of the selections at a recent Christmas concert was a version of Ave Maria, the angel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary at the Annuncition.  Several people mentioned to me that it was not the version they knew.  They were familiar with the Franz Schubert setting* of the Angelic Salutation but not the Bach-Gounod that was being presented.  Though both are beautiful I have always preferred the unlikely combination of the great Baroque composer and the French romantic.

In 1853 Charles Gounod took the opening prelude from Bach’s Das Wohltemperirte Clavier of 1722, altered it slightly and superimposed an improvised melody over it.  It was published as an instrumental piece with the title Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach.  In 1859 music publisher Jacques Léopold Heugel issued it as a vocal piece using the Ave Maria as the text.  It has since become a favourite of singers (instrumentalists) in arrangements for various instrumental combination from guitar to organ to full symphony orchestra.

Here is a version sung by Kathleen Battle with Christopher Parkening on guitar.

I thought it would be interesting to hear just the Bach prelude as it originally sounded.  It’s played here by Glenn Gould in that highly individual style that was a mark of all his playing but particularly his Bach.

And while searching around I found this rather amusing and ultimately touching version by Bobby McFerrin and the audience at a Montreal concert in 2005.

*It should be noted that Schubert’s piece was composed as part of a song cycle based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.  It is a setting Ellen’s prayer to the Virgin Mary from a German translation of this story of Scottish clans and clashes.  It was only later that it was adapted as a setting of the Latin prayer.  Like the Bach-Gounod it was never intended as a sacred piece or for liturgical use.

On this day in 1812:   The New Orleans, the first steamboat on the Ohio River or the Mississippi River arrives its namesake, New Orleans, 82 days after departing from Pittsburgh.