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A sublime “Ave Maris Stella” from Norway’s most beloved composer

J-P Mauro - published on 09/13/22

Voces8 blew us away again with another excellent showing, this time from a stunning church in Vienna.

Voces8 released this phenomenal recording of “Ave Maris Stella” in late August, 2022. The piece is a hymn to Mary and a prayer for safe travels, with a melody penned by Norway’s premier Romantic era composer, Edvard Grieg. 

The audio is filled with breathtaking music in another stellar performance from the world’s most active sacred choir, but it is rivaled by the beauty of the scenery. In this release, Voces8 sings from Vienna’s Stift Wilhering, or Wilhering Abbey. The vibrant setting of the 18th-century church is a delight to witness and we also appreciated the excellent aerial view of the abbey’s finely manicured grounds. 

“Ave Maris Stella” 

“Ave Maris Stella” is a hymn that appears in medieval manuscripts as far back as the 10th century, but is believed to have originated decades earlier. While it is unknown who wrote the text, it has been attributed to several people, including St. Bernard of Clarvaux and St. Venantius Fortunatus, a 6th-century bishop. While this early composer may be a stretch, his reputation as a hymnist, and trouble fastening a date for the piece has kept him in the running. 

The title translates to “Hail, Star of the Sea” which is another of the Blessed Mother’s titles, making it a Marian hymn. Debi Simons, who is dedicated to telling the stories behind songs on her blog, Behind the Music, points out that the use of the Latin “Maris,” which translates to the sea or ocean, is thought to be a scribal error. Be that as it may, the title stuck around and became allegorical for Mary’s role as a “guiding star” which leads all to Christ.

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg is the, most respected composer and musician in Norway’s history. Today, his hometown is adorned with statues of the influential composer, and many educational and artistic institutions bear his name. His focus was not solely on sacred works, but he has quite a few in his songbook, which is still enjoyed worldwide. 

Grieg held his Christian faith close to his heart and many of his most memorable quotes reference his staunch faith. One of our favorites is his comparison between his own works and the monumentally popular pieces of his predecessors. Here, he compares Bach and Beethoven to his own sacred style, which he suggests is more suited to common worship than to be played in a grand worship hall:

“Artists like Bach and Beethoven erect churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy at home.” – Edvard Grieg

His quotes also give us a glimpse into his respect for God’s creation and, in particular, his love of the sea.

In 1865, while on a vacation near the coast in Denmark, he expressed an affection for the ocean that may have explained why he felt drawn to writing “Ave Maris Stella”:

“Where does one sense God’s greatness more than in the roaring of the sea? In a moment one becomes, as it were, an impotent nothing who in gratitude dares only to call upon the Father whose omnipotence created his wonders! And how beautiful it is that he has endowed his creatures with powers by which they not only can enjoy [the world], but can even create works of art that are echoes of the feelings about God’s greatness which are planted in the human breast.”

Christian MusicHymnSacred Music
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