Ave Maris Stella

Dufay Guillaume | Pomerium

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6m 3s
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Guillaume Dufay - Ave Maris Stella
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- Composer: Guillaume Dufay (Du Fay, Du Fayt) (5 August 1397(?) -- 27 November 1474) - Ensemble: Pomerium - Conductor: Alexander Blachly - Year of recording: 1998 Ave Maris Stella ("Hail, star of the ocean"), hymn for 3 voices, written c. 1440. Twelfth century Cistercian mystic Bernard of Clairvaux passionately explored new symbols for the beauty of the Virgin Mary. He called her portal of heaven, the vessel for the coming of Christ, and simultaneously the gateway for mankind's ascension. He read her name, Maria, as maris stell (star of the sea). His graceful exegesis of her name led to a mistaken attribution to Bernard of the Vesper hymn to the Virgin Mary, Ave maris stella. In fact, the hymn predates Bernard of Clairvaux by centuries. However, the luscious Latin of this hymn, from its opening "Ave" which echoes the greeting of the Angel Gabriel, through its series of petitions to Mary the mediatrix of sinners eloquently fits Bernard's devotion to the Virgin. Similarly, by the dawn of the Renaissance, the Gregorian chant hymn Ave maris stella inhabited chantbooks throughout the churches and chapels of Europe. When Guillaume Dufay set about to write his cycle of polyphonic Vespers hymns, he lavished loving care on the crafting of his Ave maris stella. As all of Dufay's surviving hymns, Ave Maris Stella is set for three voices, with the well-known chant melody the obvious foundation. In this case, Dufay gives to the highest voice a melody based upon an embellishment of the chant. Despite the graceful passing tones with which he mediates the chant's striking opening leap, and the relatively high level of embellishment that continues, the chant melody remains audible throughout. Dufay even subtly responds to its features: the plainchant melody ends two phrases with graceful melismas, and Dufay reflects them in a series of extended cadences. Accompanying the elegant chant paraphrase are two lower voices, of which several different versions survive. The most common fulfillment of the polyphony is a three-voiced setting following the improvisatory principles known as fauxbourdon. Dufay wrote an intricate tenor voice, and it is possible to perform the hymn with an unnotated middle voice singing parallel fourths beneath the melody at all times. In this case, the tenor provides much of the piece's rhythmic drive and interest. However, there also exists a notated contratenor part. In the three-voiced "composed" version, this contratenor voice lends even more spark to the setting, with quasi-imitation, voice crossings, and a greater level of syncopation. Yet another extant version provides Dufay's melody with a completely different (and somewhat more bland) pair of lower voices. Church choirs, even the pope's own singers, were performing and adapting Dufay's hymn for decades. Many of Dufay's compositions were simple settings of chant, obviously designed for liturgical use, likely as substitutes for the unadorned chant, and can be seen as chant harmoniz