Ave maris stella

Cecilia McDowall (1951)

Ave maris stella 2001

Text Author 

Ave Maris Stella was commissioned by Portsmouth Grammar School for the Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir and was first performed by them in Portsmouth Cathedral on 11th November 2001 accompanied by the London Mozart Players under the direction of Nicolae Moldoveanu at Portsmouth Cathedral. Ave maris stella is recorded on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7146.

The text has a special significance for Portsmouth with its great naval heritage; the central section “they that go down to the sea in ships” being particularly poignant as the piece was originally written for performance on Armistice Day. McDowall, like so many of us, was horrified by the events of 11th September 2001, and with Ave Maris Stella successfully composed a simple peace anthem which cannot fail to touch the hearts of all those who experience it. The initial inspiration for the work came from a quotation of Woodrow Wilson, whose words appear at the head of the score: “the freedom of the seas is the sine qua non of peace, equality and co-operation”.

Ave Maris Stella, with its modest scoring for soprano solo, mixed chorus and string orchestra consists of seven short sections; the whole piece structured symmetrically around the tempestuous central section. McDowall’s intelligent use of text helps shape the entire work; the first and final parts using the ancient Latin antiphon Ave Maris Stella, while the more turbulent central section uses words from Psalm 106. Acting as a sort of musical buffer before and after the central section, there are two hauntingly beautiful recitatives for solo soprano, using the words of Psalm 26, The Lord is my Light.

Ave Maris Stella bears the dedication pro pace and the beautifully tranquil choral and instrumental writing, which pervades the whole work, gives it an almost mystical aura.

© 2011, George Vass

11.11.01 Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral: Portsmouth Chamber Choir / London Mozart Players / Nicolae Moldoveanu
18.6.11 St John the Evangelist Church, Kingston upon Thames: Kingston Orpheus Choir / Bartholdy Orchestra / Ben Palmer
9.10.11 St John's Smith Square, London: City of Canterbury Chamber Choir / Orchestra Nova / George Vass
15.10.11 Homewood Methodist Church, St Albans: St Albans Chamber Choir / Orchestra Nova / George Vass
3.12.11 St Michael and All Angels Church, Chiswick, London: Addison Oratorio & Chamber Choir / George Vass
17.11.12 Southwark Cathedral, London: Wimbledon Choral Society / London Mozart Players / Neil Ferris
26.10.13 Sacramento, CA, USA: Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra / Donald Kendrick
14.6.14 Wisborough Green: Leconfield Singers / English Philharmonia / Graham Wili
Selected performances only. For full listing, please visit www.ceciliamcdowall.co.uk