Ave Maria: Hymns to Mary Program Notes

Marian Devotion: Notes by Henry Doktorski

Christians have always honored saints, especially the greatest saint of all—Mary, the Blessed Mother. Historians have long granted that Marian teaching and devotion dates from the earliest days of the church, and that devotion to Mary was not discarded even by Protestant Reformation leaders such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

Mary is an integral part of scripture and liturgy. There are countless Marian prayers and hymns (one source estimates 15,000). Works of masterpiece art and music display the many aspects of Mary’s spiritual significance. The name Mary is one of the most popular names given to girls. Cities, streets, schools, hospitals, religious orders, shrines, and churches, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, have been named to honor Mary. She is the patroness of the United States.

The church celebrates dozens of Marian Feast Days, including:

The entire month of May is dedicated to Mary. Devotions include May Crownings that date back to the 16th century. Pope Pius VII originally sanctioned this tradition. May Crownings include prayers, a procession, singing Marian hymns, and placing spring flowers on a statue of Our Lady. Violets are symbols of Mary’s humility, lilies symbolize her purity, and roses symbolize her beauty. In fact, the rose is considered the queen of flowers. It is no surprise that Mary is sometimes identified as the Mystical Rose or the Queen of the Universe.

Marian Hymns have long been beloved by Catholic laymen and women. Although the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s may have shifted some emphasis away from Mary, Marian hymns remain popular none-the-less, and are often requested by members of Catholic congregations, as I can readily attest, having served as organist for several Catholic Parishes.

The Accordion and the Church

The accordion—a hand-pumped reed organ first patented in Austria in 1829—is a relative newcomer on the musical scene, compared to much of the music which appears on this compact disc. Yet the accordion and Marian hymns have one important factor in common: they are both loved by the common people. The European immigrants who came to the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s brought with them from their homelands their beloved ethnic Marian hymns, and also their beloved accordions.

The accordion has appeared in church probably since the early nineteenth century. Many small parishes with insufficient funds to purchase a pipe organ or reed organ undoubtedly employed the services of a volunteer village accordionist to accompany the singing of hymns, but not without some controversy. Due to the accordion’s “profane” characteristics and history (it was predominantly known as a “tavern” instrument), some self-appointed “Defenders of the Faith” considered the instrument inappropriate in church, and campaigned with some success to have the accordion banned from Catholic services. However this naturally caused some dire concerns for those parishes which were forced to do without music to accompany the congregational singing during mass.

The heated controversy came to a resolution in 1943, when the Dallape Accordion Company of Stradella, Italy, was granted an audience with Pope Pius XII, and presented to and demonstrated for him a custom-built accordion played by virtuoso classical accordionist and composer GianFelice Fugazza (1922-2007). Fugazza played for the Pope religious music, transcriptions of classical works, and some of his own original compositions. It was also claimed that Dallapi intended to sell accordions to the Italian churches whose small organs were destroyed or damaged in WWII.

This accordion was reputed to be the most valuable accordion built at the time, valued at $5,000. The instrument had six ranks of reeds each for the right- and left-hand manuals, and had 33 different stops. It weighed 32 pounds, about fifty percent heavier than the average full-size accordion. The Pope respectfully listened to Fugazza play the Dallape instrument and subsequently decreed that henceforth accordions may be played in all Catholic Churches.

All the compositions on this CD were recorded with solo accordion, except for Stabat Mater (accordion quartet), Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod (violin, accordion, harp), Ave Maria by Maria Parkinson (accordion quintet), and Magnificat (accordion sextet).


Henry and Mary Kay play Wagner’s Bridal Chorus during the processional for her brother’s outdoor wedding ceremony in Minnetonka, Minnesota (August 17, 2002).

This CD is the fruit of my dear former wife, Mary Kay, who suddenly decided one day in February 2007 that I should record an album of Marian hymns to help raise funds for the proposed Prayer Garden with grotto and statue of our Lady of Lourdes at our local parish, Saint Columbkille in Imperial, Pennsylvania.

At first I resisted, knowing too well the vast amount of time and energy and funding needed to see such a project to completion, and the likelihood that it probably would not be financially profitable.

However Mary Kay was stubborn and her enthusiasm contagious, so like the proverbial fool who leaps where angels fear to tread, I began choosing hymns, writing arrangements, practicing many hours, rewriting arrangements, recording, editing the recorded tracks, researching and writing liner notes, and trusting that our Lady, if she was pleased with our endeavor, would provide the necessary means required to complete this ambitious undertaking. I am grateful for the opportunity to create an album of music dedicated to our blessed mother.

The Hymns

1 Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly (PLEADING SAVIOR) was published in Joshua Leavitt’s Christian Lyre (1830). This popular Marian hymn can also be found in some Protestant hymnals.

2 Hail, Holy Queen (SALVE, REGINA CÆLITUM), a German melody published in Hildesheim (1736), is a classic-hymn setting of the Latin chant Salve Regina which appears on track 16. It was also published in Choralmelodien zum Heiligen Gesänge (1808).

3 Immaculate Mary (LOURDES HYMN) was published by Grenoble (1882). It is believed that Abbe Gaignet wrote the words for Immaculate Mary to a traditional Pyrenean tune. At the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, up to sixty different verses are sung at Marian Feast Days.

4 Tracks 4, 8, 12 and 16 are the four Marian Antiphons: ancient medieval Latin chants which are sung at the conclusion of the daily Compline or Vespers Service. Alma Redemptoris Mater (Loving mother of the Redeemer) is sung from the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Presentation.

5 Serdeczna Matko (Beloved Mother) is a traditional Polish hymn to Mary. In Polish Catholics in Chicago, 1850-1920, Joseph John Parot described the incredible popularity of this hymn to the immigrant Catholics in Chicago: “some of these pieces—such as Serdeczna Matko at the Marian devotions . . . were intensely moving and emotional. Entire congregations, within the first few bars, were known to weep or be uplifted as one, as if to express that mass collective sense of either joy or sorrow which was at the heart of the Polish Catholic liturgy.”

6 O Sanctissima (O DU FRÖLICHE) was published in the United States in Tattersall’s Improved Psalmody (1794). This melody is also known as “The Sicilian Mariner’s Hymn to the Virgin,” although no early Italian publication of the melody has been found. This arrangement is by Willard A. Palmer. O DU FRÖLICHE was also set to a popular Christmas carol, although the original text glorified the Blessed Mother:

7 Ave Maria (Hail Mary) is a traditional Catholic and Eastern Orthodox prayer calling for the intercession of Mary. The first part of the prayer is the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel as reported in the Gospel of Luke 1:28 “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” The second is from the greeting given to Mary by her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:42 “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” The Hail Mary is the essential element of the Rosary.

Numerous composers have set this text to music, including Jacques Arcadelt, Josquin Desprez, Orlando di Lasso, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Charles Gounod, Antonín Dvorák, Giuseppe Verdi, César Cui, Dmitri Stepanovich Bortniansky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Igor Stravinsky, and many others, including 20th-century Catholic folk composers such as Carey Landry and Maria Parkinson, whose compositions appear later in this CD.

Ave Maria by Franz Schubert was published in 1825 and titled Ellens dritter Gesang (D 839, op. 52, no 6). It was originally set to a text from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, and was translated into German by Adam Storck. Schubert’s song was not originally a setting of the traditional text: Ave Maria, although Scott’s poem Ellens dritter Gesang opened with the words “Ave Maria.” Today the tune is often sung to the traditional Ave Maria text.

8 Ave, Regina Cælorum (Hail, Queen of the Heavens), the second of the four Marian Antiphons, is sung after the Presentation to Holy Saturday. The author is unknown. The earliest plainchant manuscript stems from the 12th century.

9 Hail, Queen Of Heav’n (STELLA) was published in H.F. Hemy’s Easy Hymn Tunes for Catholic Schools (1851).

10 Star Upon The Ocean, Maria (MUNSTER), from Choral-Buch für katholische Kirchen (1840), is one of the few Marian hymns in a minor key.

11 Stabat Mater (Sorrowful mother, also known as At The Cross Her Station Keeping) is a thirteenth-century Roman Catholic sequence attributed to Jacopone da Todi (c. 1230-1306). Its title is an abbreviation of the first line, Stabat mater dolorosa (The sorrowful mother was standing). The tune was published in Maintzisch Gesangbuch (1661).

Stabat Mater, one of the most powerful and immediate of extant medieval poems, meditates on the suffering of Mary during her son’s crucifixion, and is sung regularly today at Stations of the Cross during Lent. This hymn is also found in some Protestant hymnals.

Stabat Mater has been set to music by many composers, among them Joseph Haydn, Antonín Dvorák, Antonio Vivaldi, Emanuele d’Astorga, Gioacchino Rossini, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Gounod, Krzysztof Penderecki, Francis Poulenc, Karol Szymanowski, Alessandro Scarlatti, Pedro de Escobar, Arvo Pärt, and Giuseppe Verdi.

This setting of Stabat Mater by Henry Doktorski was composed as a canon for three voices, reminiscent of the famous Kanon in D by Johann Pachelbel, and recorded with an accordion quartet.

12 Regina cæli, lætare (Queen of heaven, rejoice), the third and most recent of the four evening Marian antiphons, is sung from Easter to Pentecost. The authorship has been attributed to Gregory V, but with no foundational evidence. The oldest musical score is retained in St. Peter’s at the Vatican in a manuscript dated from 1171.

13 Virgin, Great And Glorious (ORIENTIS PARTIBUS) is attributed to Pierre de Corbeil (1199-1221), the archbishop of Sens, and was composed around 1210. Originally the tune was used for a hymn praising the ass which Mary rode from Nazareth to Bethlehem and begins: “Orientis partibus Adventavit asinus” (From the East the ass has come). This hymn was part of the Fete de l’Ane (The Donkey’s Festival) which celebrated the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and was a regular Christmas observance in Beauvais and Sens, France in the 13th century. During the mass, it was common for a donkey to be led or ridden into the church.

14 Joyously We Sing To Mary (known as TRIER or ALLE TAGE SING UND SAGE) was published in Alte Katholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng (1695). Trier is a city in Germany on the banks of the Moselle River. It is the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 A.D. The original Latin text is attributed to Bernard of Clune (Morlaix), c. 1140.

15 Blessed Virgin Mother, Daughter of Your Son (UNE VAINE CRAINTE) was published in Grande Bible des Noëls Angevins (1766). This hymn tune is also sung to a Christmas text.

16 The best known and perhaps most frequently sung Marian antiphon is the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), which can be found in contemporary Catholic hymnals. It is attributed to a wide variety of authors: Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter of Compostela (b. 930) who may have translated it from the Greek, Adhemar de Monteil of Puy (c. 1080), Hermannus Contractus (Hermann the Cripple) (1013-1054), Athanasius, John Damascene, and Pope Gregory IX. The earliest known manuscript was found at Reichenau, latest early 11th century. This chant is sung after Pentecost until the First Sunday of Advent.

17 On This Day, O Beautiful Mother (BEAUTIFUL MOTHER) was written by Louis Lambillotte (1796-1855), a Belgian Jesuit, organist, choirmaster, composer and paleographer of Church music, who is chiefly remembered in connection with the restoration of Gregorian music, which he inaugurated and greatly promoted by his scientific researches and publications. He wrote volumes of cantiques (French hymns or sacred songs), a vast number of motets, short oratorios, masses and secular cantatas, mostly for four-part chorus and orchestra, including some hymns which are still popular today, such as Panis Angelicus and Come Holy Ghost.

18 Mother Dear, O Pray For Me is an excellent example of a Marian hymn in a sentimental popular style. It was recorded by Perry Como, Bing Crosby and the Lennon Sisters. The author/composer is unknown.

19 Mother, At Your Feet Is Kneeling by Sister S.C. is another example of a Marian hymn in popular style, and was published in 1949. Apparently the humble author/composer (or perhaps her Mother Superior) did not permit her name to be published with the music, so she just inscribed her initials.

20 This musical setting of Ave Maria is one of the earliest: a Latin Chant, Mode I, from the 13th century, which still appears in Catholic hymnals today.

21 Hail Mary, Gentle Woman was written by Carey Landry (b. 1944), a former priest and an American folk composer of Catholic liturgical music, and published in 1975. Landry has a master’s degree in theology from Catholic University of America. Among his better known songs are Abba Father, Peace Is Flowing Like a River, and Only a Shadow.

Landry currently serves as a hospital chaplain certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and uses music in various aspects of his ministry. His wife Carol Jean serves as a volunteer chaplain. Together they have given workshops and concerts throughout the United States and Canada, Australia, Europe, Ireland and Scotland. Carey and Carol Jean are coordinators of liturgical music at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Indianapolis, where Carey directs the choir. In November 2000 they received one of the first Unity awards from the United Catholic Music and Video Association for their collection Gentle Sounds 4 in the category of instrumental album of the year.

22 Ave Maria, As I Kneel Before You by Maria Parkinson (b. 1956) was published in 1975. This arrangement by Henry Doktorski begins gently with a solo accordion, leads into an exuberant middle section with a five-part chorale for accordion quintet with a soaring descant, and concludes with a coda and cadenza for solo accordion.

23 The Magnificat (also known as the Song of Mary) is a canticle from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55). This canticle also appears in the Book of Odes, a liturgical collection drawn mainly from the Old Testament.

According to the Bible, after the annunciation by which Mary is informed by the archangel Gabriel that she is pregnant with Jesus, Mary responded by visiting her cousin Elizabeth. In the narrative, after Mary greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s unborn child (the future John the Baptist) moved in her womb, and when this was noticed, she sang the Magnificat in response (scholars, ancient manuscripts, and English translations of the Bible, differ on whether it was Mary who sung it, or whether it was Elizabeth).

In Nicaragua, the Magnificat is a favorite prayer among many peasants and is often carried as an amulet. During the 1980s, the dictators of Guatemala outlawed the public reading of the Magnificat because of its revolutionary tones.

The Magnificat has been a popular text for many composers. Perhaps the best known Magnificats are that from Vespers of 1610 composed by Claudio Monteverdi, those composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, and Charles Villiers Stanford who wrote a Magnificat in every major key. Many other classical composers (from Vivaldi to Rachmaninoff) have set extended versions for orchestra, chorus, and solos. Nearly every composer in the 19th- and 20th-century Anglican choral tradition has composed one or more settings of the Magnificat. Herbert Howells published twenty settings of the Magnificat during his career. More recently, an extended Magnificat setting was composed by John Rutter in 1990.

This setting of the Magnificat was composed in 1980 by James. J. Chepponis (b. 1956), a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, ordained in 1985. He received his B. A. in music from St. Fidelis College/Slippery Rock University with a major in organ and a minor in voice, and his M. Div. and M. A. in systematic theology from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Since 1996, Father Chepponis has served the Pittsburgh Diocese as Director of the Office for Music Ministry, and his work includes providing music for all Diocesan liturgies, directing the Diocesan Choir and Schola Cantorum, and serving as music resource person for parishes throughout the Pittsburgh Diocese.

He has led workshops on pastoral music throughout the country, and his published articles on liturgy and music have appeared in Pastoral Music, The Hymn, and GIA Quarterly. Father Chepponis has over 75 published compositions. His publishers include MorningStar, GIA Publications and World Library Publications. This recording of Chepponis’ Magnificat is performed with an accordion sextet.

24 Bogurodzica Dziewica (Mother of God, Virgin) is the oldest-known text and written music in Polish, and dates from the 13th century. This simple and beautiful medieval melody was for centuries the favorite song of all social classes, an anthem at national festivities, sung even on battle fields. By the 15th century it was considered a national anthem, sung at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 and at national celebrations, such as the coronations of Polish kings. This jewel of Polish culture is ever alive, sung to this day, a symbol of the continuity of Polish spiritual traditions.

25 Ave Maria is the famous 1859 adaptation of the first prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by Charles Gounod (1818-1893). Gounod was a French composer, best known for his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette, and his Messe Sollennelle, also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass. This recording of Ave Maria features Henry Doktorski on accordion along with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra violinist and concertmaster Hui Sheng Kao, and PSO principal harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen.

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