Friday Factoid: Biebl’s “Ave Maria”

Franz Biebl
Franz Biebl
–By Brandon
Franz Biebl, who wrote Ave Maria, served as a choir director and assistant professor of choral music in Germany and Austria, punctuated by World War II, when Biebl was drafted into the military in 1943 and served as a prisoner of war from 1944 to 1946 (being detained at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan). Biebl’s Ave Maria fuses portions of the Angelus (a Catholic devotion on the Incarnation) and the Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”). Although the piece was written in 1964, it did not gain popularity until the Cornell University Glee Club brought the song to the United States in 1970. It also became a staple of men’s vocal ensemble Chanticleer, which finally raised its popularity in native Germany. In 2009-10, Biebl’s Ave Maria made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, when a school district prohibited an instrumental arrangement of the piece due to its religious connotations. While the Supreme Court declined to hear the case (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school’s decision), Justice Samuel Alito referred to Biebl’s Ave Maria as “relatively obscure” compared to other settings of the piece.
–Member Reflection by Eric
A few years ago, Choir of the Sound sang this piece in Benaroya Hall, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of a smaller second choir that performed in one of the high private boxes right in the audience with the main choir on stage. It was truly the best of all worlds for a choral singer, as I got to be an audience member and listen to our fabulous group but also got to sing in a tightly knit small ensemble in a unique performance space. Biebl’s Ave Maria is a piece that resonates with me as it builds from a pure and simple prayer into some of the richest chords I have ever sung. I am so grateful to be able to sing this again.