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'Schubert: Ave Maria' (D. 839), Arranged for String Quartet

'Schubert: Ave Maria' (D. 839). Arrangement for string quartet by Christoph Emmanuel Langheim. Score and parts. UT Orpheus Edizioni, €15.95.

Schubert: Ave Maria (D. 839).

Schubert: Ave Maria (D. 839).

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the transcription of a favorite musical composition must be a close second. What string player has not longed to play Schubert’s lyrical songs with their meltingly beautiful melodies? Schubert himself proved that he found them irresistible by using some as themes for variations in his chamber music.

The “Ave Maria,” a young girl’s plea to the Virgin for help in saving her father’s life, is one of Schubert’s most famous, universally beloved songs. Composed in 1825, it is No. 6 of seven poems taken from Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake” in a German translation by Adam Storck. Though a good choice for a string-quartet transcription, Christoph Emmanuel Langheim’s arrangement has certain weaknesses. By assigning the vocal line entirely to the first violin, it allows only one player to “sing” the melody—the harmonic background of arpeggiated chordal figures is divided between the other three instruments, all playing pizzicato until the final held note. The plucked effect seems appropriate to the piano’s short, detached notes, but lacks the sustaining function of the pedal. Also, it makes the accompaniment sound too much like a guitar, giving the song the character of a serenade rather than a prayer.

Due to its devoutly religious nature, the song is often used in sacred ceremonies (with the Latin liturgical text). This arrangement may be useful for occasions where no piano is available.

The music is printed in large, clear type and carries bar numbers. The preface, in German and English, includes Schubert’s own comments on the song and the text of all three verses.

*This article appeared in Strings November 2011
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