Hail, Lady, Sea-Star Bright

I was pleased to participate in the Old Hispanic Office project as one of twenty composers selected to attend workshops with Bristol Cathedral Choir, the choir of Christ Church Oxford, and the Kokoro Ensemble as part of the project.

I have been fond of the Ave maris stella text since studying it for an improvisation class while at Trinity College of Music, but it is also relevant to this project because of the long association between Bristol and the sea. Some of the tombs in the Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral are in ‘stellate’ recesses and it was while looking at these that I thought this would be an appropriate text; I was pleased to then find that it was in the manuscript.

However, I didn’t only want to set a Latin text. I chose a translation by Herebert which I found at Clerk of Oxford’s blog because at the time that the Old Hispanic Office manuscripts were in use, Spanish was beginning to develop out of various Latin and other dialects. I imagine Latin would have been understood, but it might have sounded slightly strange and archaic; using an older English text recreates this effect. Unfortunately the Herebert is old enough that it doesn’t quite make sense on first hearing and so I asked Eleanor Parker if I could use her translation: this is still slightly archaic as she has kept some of the older words, but is likely to be more understandable by a modern congregation than Herebert’s earlier version.

Looking at the manuscript I could see that there was not much variation from one verse to the next in terms of the musical notation. There are a few substitutions of symbols, but it follows the same basic four-line pattern throughout. Of course there is no pitch or intervallic information there, so I had to make that up, but there is some internal consistency in terms of what the shapes are and the melody I used. I chose a minor mode with a major sixth because the Roman chant for the Ave maris stella uses it and I wanted to allude to that. The manuscript doesn’t have any rhythmic information either, so I decided to use rhythmic development to explore different ways it might have been interpreted, starting with a very plain section, almost free-rhythm, then moving to a more regular 6/8 feel, and by the middle verse overlaying the English and Latin texts and using a more intricate rhythm. This process is reversed in the last three verses, and the leading voices switched, resulting in a structure reminiscent of the cathedral arches.

I’m pleased to say that the .pdf and .midi files are available on the Choral Public Domain Library, as usual. If you prefer a hard copy you can buy one from my Lulu shop. In either case, the music is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which means you can photocopy it, record it and charge money for the recordings, filk it, use it as the background to your music video, write it out by hand and send it across the sea in old wine bottles, or distribute it in any other way you wish: but you must attribute the creator (that’s me, and also Eleanor Parker), and you must share any derivative works under a similar license.

My main income from composing is from crowdfunded patronage, but there are other ways to support me if you’d like to.