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Ellen's Ave Maria

Classical Academy | ComposersRomantic Period


Although we all know it as his Ave Maria, Franz Schubert's song actually belongs to Ellen - Ellens dritter Gesang (Ellen's Third Song) is named after Ellen Douglas. So who is Ellen? She is the star of Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake, which Schubert set to music in seven songs, including this third piece. (The poem had been translated into Germna by Adam Storck and it is this version that Schubert draws on for his music).


In the poem, Ellen goes with her exiled father to stay in 'Goblin's Cave' but they are being pursued by the chieftain Roderick Dhu with whom her father has quarrelled. Ellen sings a prayer to the Virgin Mary to call on her help. The premier of Schubert's piece in 1828 is thought to have taken place in the castle of Countess Sophie Weissenwolff, and dedicated to the very same - she too became known as the Lady of the Lake.


An extremely popular piece, Schubert's Ave Maria has infiltrated popular culture in a myriad of ways. Walt Disney, in one of his most famous pastiches, linked the song to Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia 1940. From features in popular television shows such as The West Wing to on the biggest pop music albums, such as Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, the song holds as much power to touch the soul as it did when Ellen first made her poetic plea. Enjoy this special recording of Ellen's song.