CBC Radio 2's Choral Concert wants to build a list of the top 10 motets, and we need your suggestions. Peter Togni starts the list with Franz Biebl's Ave Maria. What's your top pick?
The official definition of a motet, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “A polyphonic composition based on a sacred text and usually sung without accompaniment.”
The motet is one of those forms that composers love, because a definition like this doesn’t impose many restrictions on their musical inspiration. It’s open to loose interpretation and almost anything goes. Well, anything that is both vocal and religious, that is. In the baroque era, composers wrote a lot of motets, and even back then you could use free poetry if you weren't inspired by anything biblical.
One of the world’s best known motets is Ave Maria by Franz Biebl. Biebl was a German composer who died in 2001. For a contemporary composer his music sounds surprisingly like it belongs in the 19th century. His Ave Maria is a beautiful piece that took root in North America back in 1970. It all started with the Cornell University Glee Club. The ensemble met Biebl while on tour in Germany, during a recording session at a radio network where Biebl was music director. The club’s conductor Thomas A. Sokol, was given a number of Biebl's works and the club started performing them after returning home. It was Ave Maria that was an immediate hit.
Since then, performances of Biebl’s Ave Maria have spread across the world. A YouTube search came up with 170 different versions. Here’s my favourite of those versions, a performance by Cantata Venlo, an all-women choir from the Netherlands. Beautiful.
There are lots of motets to choose from: Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus, William Byrd’s Ave Verum, the Allegri Miserere, just to name a few. Which motet tops your list? Let us know in the comments below, or send an email to email@example.com. We'll publish the list here at CBC Music, and we'll play your choices on Choral Concert in the weeks to come.
Listen to Allegri's Miserere at the Sistine Chapel
William Byrd's Ave Verum