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The Iconic One-Hit Wonder: The History and Reception of Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria"

Matthew D Oltman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria is one of the most well-known small-scale choral pieces written in the latter half of the twentieth century. Since its introduction to American choirs in 1970, it has become an important part of the standard choral repertoire and is often performed perennially, especially at Christmas. It was integral to the rise in popularity of Chanticleer, the American professional male chorus, and remains closely associated with the ensemble thanks to it being recorded and published in the United States under Chanticleer’s auspices. Despite these facts, very little has been written about the composer or his iconic setting of the ancient prayer to the Virgin. This project attempts to collect currently available biographical and historical information from sources in Germany and the United States and to reveal new discoveries from personal interviews and previously unpublished letters and recordings. I begin with a comprehensive biography of the composer and the circumstances surrounding the composition of the Ave Maria. I then provide a musical analysis of the piece, uncovering its formal design and signature harmonies. A chronicle of the Ave Maria’s reception in the United States follows, with attention paid to its “discovery” by American collegiate glee clubs, its close association with Chanticleer, and its role in an important legal battle. I conclude with anecdotes and reflections pertaining to the Ave Maria that attempt to help explain why the piece has been so impactful to countless choirs and their audiences.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Oltman, Matthew D, "The Iconic One-Hit Wonder: The History and Reception of Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria"" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10607100.