Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano


uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...



Motet Notes

Igor Stravinsky: "Ave Maria"

Stravinsky was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. Though he was inactive in his faith during his early adult years, he returned to the fold in 1926, becoming a regular congregant at a church that served the large Russian émigré community in Paris. At that time Stravinsky composed a setting for unaccompanied chorus of The Lord’s Prayer. He followed this with similar settings for two other prayers, Credo and Ave Maria, in 1932 and 1934, respectively. In 1949, following his move to the United States, the composer reissued all three motets with their texts translated from Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of Russian Orthodox services, into Latin.
The year 1920 marked the beginning of Stravinsky’s neoclassical compositional period with the ballet Pulcinella, and ended in 1951 with his opera The Rake’s Progress. In contrast to The Dove Descending, a twelve-tone composition, heard a few weeks ago, Ave Maria is simple and austere. "I can endure unaccompanied singing in only the most harmonically primitive music,” proclaimed Stravinsky and his aim was “a simple harmonic intonation of the words.” The resultant sound is, in the words of Craig Smith, “a curious combination of Debussy-like watery harmony and an almost medieval choral texture.”

©Ryan Turner

All during the 1920s, when Stravinsky was radically changing his style of composition to a cooler classical esthetic, he was writing occasional small-scale religious works in addition to the more well known dance works. These small pieces reflect his sincere and deeply orthodox faith, as well as his continuing exploration of early music. Today’s Ave Maria, from 1924, is a curious combination of Debussy-like watery harmony and an almost medieval choral texture. The resultant sound is, however, unmistakably Stravinskyian.

© Craig Smith