Vladimir Vavilov’s Ave Maria

Newtown, Sydney

I was delighted the upload of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence resonated with you. It was touching to read from one young person that listening to the spoken lyrics by Leonard Cohen helped him during some difficult days. And to hear from my dear friend, the country and western singer Sand Sheff himself, who emailed to say the song also holds a special place in his heart. Music is indeed, the universal language. It is the common space, the hearth, where we have met for thousands of years to “speak” though we might not have understood each other’s tongue.

Encouraged by this warm response I share with you another beautiful song from my “soundtrack”. This time it is an aria (an expressive melody) from the Russian guitarist and composer Vladimir Vavilov (1925-1973),[1] the enrapturing Ave Maria.[2] The composer recorded it and published it himself on the Melodiya label ascribing it to “Anonymous”.[3] It is dated to 1970.[4] Since the death of Vavilov it has often been incorrectly attributed in one of the great musical hoaxes, to the late Renaissance composer and instrumentalist Giulio Caccini.[5] It is distinct from the more well-known Schubert and J.S. Bach/ Charles Gounod versions.

There are grand pieces of ART which transcend cultures and creeds. They are profound creations which resonate throughout the ages. And this melody which speaks to us of the great grace of the Mother of our Lord, and indeed of the love and benevolence of mothers everywhere, is one of these grand pieces. One does not have to be religious to appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this song, any more than one has to be atheist to have compassion for the suffering and philosophical insights of a Friedrich Nietzsche.

Of interest the text has only the two words… the Ave Maria.   

It is a spiritual mantra, or a prayer of the heart.

Any attempts to find cynical or political influences in Vavilov’s composition have yielded no results. The composer died in poverty suffering from pancreatic cancer, at the early age of 48.

The aria became known to a wider audience when it was performed by Inese Galante and then released in her debut album Debut in 1995. The composition gained even more recognition and worldwide interest four years later in 1999 when Andrea Bocelli performed it and released it in his Sacred Arias. Also of note is the incredible performance of the counter-tenor, the Korean David DQ Lee. There are now many covers here as well. The very best of these performances given the high calibre singer who will attempt the aria (normally the classical female singing voice of a mezzo-soprano) are often referred to as performances of “effortless perfection”. Below I have selected the singers which have specifically appealed to me. Each of the performances is truly moving and magnificent in their own right. And yet if you only have time to listen to just one, then please let that be the “irreproachable” Irina Arkhipova.

Irina ArkhipovaAndrea BocelliInese GalanteDenyce GravesEwa IzykowskaSumi JoElisabeth KulmanDavid DQ LeeOlga Pyatigorskaya

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Vavilov_(composer)

[2] Ave Maria (Hail Mary) also referred to as “The Angelical Salutation”, is the traditional and most familiar prayer in the Roman Catholic Church in honour of the Blessed Lady. It is inspired by the angel’s salutation of the Blessed Virgin (Lk 1:28).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ave_Maria_(Vavilov)

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.origenmusic.com/ave-maria-vavilov.html