Schuberts Ellens Dritter Gesang (1825), often referred to as Ave Maria, because of its first words, brings together poetry and music in a beautiful way. We have five different saxophone quartet combinations. The challenge is to give the soprano or the alto saxophone the expression of the human voice, while the others play the accompanying chords, gentle, but dynamic, giving the piece its dreamlike or even hypnotic quality. Schubert called this state of mind Andacht or attention, a religious concentration that transcends discussions about theology and focuses instead on the contemplation of the mysteries of life.
The Lady of the Lake
The lyrics of this Gesang or song is a translation by a German school teacher, named Adam Storck, of a part of Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake. Sir Walter’s poem was originally published in 1810, and a best-seller at the time. It tells about a war between the lowland Scots, led by King James V, and the clans in the Highlands.
Ellen Douglas, the Lady of the Lake, has to hide herself with her father in a hole, in the rugged Scottish highlands, to escape the king’s revenge. In her despair, she prays to the Virgin Mary to save her. The emphasis on the value of emotions and awe for nature and religion, are typical for the Romantic Era of the early nineteenth century.
Find your own interpretation
For almost two hundred years Ave Maria has been covered by so many different artists, in concert halls, in churches, at funerals and weddings of countless people. There are so many versions: Callas, Pavarotti, Nana Mouskouri, Céline Dion (who by the way adds a nice touch by singing a few lines of Sir Walter Scott’s original poem) and Beyoncé, to name but a few recent ones.
This makes it important to find out what your own interpretation is. Perhaps the lyrics can help you,. Yes, saxophone players, let us for a moment discuss lyrics. Please read the poem, in German or English, and you will understand what we mean: there’s power in those words.
The importance of lyrics
Often you find that interpreters of Ellens Dritter Gesang sing the traditional Catholic prayer Ave Maria (Hail Mary) instead of Adam Storck’s lyrics. Every time we wonder why. One could argue that this traditional prayer is more appropriate when the music is performed in a church. We feel that by doing this you change its meaning, from the powerful expression of a girl praying to be redeemed from difficult circumstances, to a general hymn to the mother of Jesus. It may be a personal preference, but we think that some of its power is lost by this change The interpretor no longer has a story or a strong emotion to relate to. And this is as much true for a singer as for a saxophone player, even more so when you mimic the human voice.
So, therefore we ask not only to study the music, but also give attention to the poetry and its effect on you. Your thoughts, images and emotions about the music and lyrics colour the performance of your saxophone quartet in many ways, sometimes very subtle. The listener will appreciate it.
product details for Schubert: Ave Maria for Saxophone Quartet
- level: intermediate
- price: € 5.57 (full score at concert pitch + all parts)
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sample page (transposed) click to enlarge