Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Charles Gounod (1818–93)
ABOUT THIS PIECE
The “Ave Maria” (“Hail Mary”) is a Catholic prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking for her intercession on behalf of sinners. As a text, it has been set to numerous melodies and in countless works, but the best-known of these must be Gounod’s arrangement, a discant written over J.S. Bach’s 1722 Prelude and Fugue in C Major (BWV 846). Originally transcribed by the composer’s father-in-law from Gounod’s improvisations at the piano, this work was first published in 1853 for violin and piano as Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach. While several texts were set to the Méditation, Gounod eventually landed on the text of the “Ave Maria.” This more recognizable verse has been tied to the work since. Gounod’s Ave Maria has been arranged for almost every ensemble imaginable, including his own arrangement for violin, orchestra, and chorus (using the text of Revelation 7:12 instead of the “Ave Maria”)—and the arrangement for flute and harp we hear today.