Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Charles Gounod

Ah, the famous Bach/Gounod Ave Maria. So familiar and lyrical, a wedding music standard, it seems to be a naturally pious work. And yet it has a little-known history that reveals a different kind of devotional intent. The melody that Gounod wrote to go with the first prelude from Book One of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier began as an improvisation made one evening after dinner with friends. The arpeggiated chords of the prelude work as the accompaniment to the cantilena melody, not unlike a song by Mendelssohn or a Bellini aria. Gounod's father-in-law wrote it down and not only had a violinist and choir perform it for Gounod, but also sold it to a publisher (he did give the money to Gounod). The Méditation, as the first published version for violin and piano was named, was an instant success, with publishers rushing out various arrangements for different instruments. How the Latin text of "Ave Maria" ended up attached to the melody is the real story. The composer, with his penchants for romance and drama, would frequently become infatuated by young, married women. According to the family story, Gounod was at one time enchanted by a young woman by the name of Rosalie. He found a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine, Vers sur un album, which he set to the Méditation's melody, thinking it would be an appropriate gift for Rosalie. Although the text is innocent enough, Rosalie's mother deemed the gift inappropriate. She politely suggested the "Ave Maria" text as an alternative. Taking the hint, Gounod made minor changes to adjust the melody to the text, and a classical music hit was born.

-- Patsy Morita