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Ave Vera Virginitas: or, more music that isn't what it seems

Submitted by Katherina Weyssin on December 29, 2017 - 5:32pm
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I'm trying to become more fluent in playing and singing from medieval and renaissance notation, so I'm finding facsimiles of lots familiar pieces to practice on. Unsurprisingly, there are a few surprises on the way ...

Ave Vera Virginitas, Josquin

I learned this from the Big Lochac Snogbook (sic) - a fabulous collection of gorgeous pieces. The SATB setting of Josquin's Ave Vera Virginitas is indeed lovely.

From CPDL (Choral Public Domain Library) I learned that the "Ave Vera Virginitas" I know is an excerpt from a larger Ave Maria.

From that, I found what I wanted on IMSLP:

  • this piece was tremendously popular in its day
  • it survives in lots of MSS and 2 printed versions
  • there are facsimiles of the 1502 printing by Petrucci on IMSLP

Voila! I have a delightfully readable facsimile to play with.

There are a few slight differences (!) from the version I've learned

  1. There's a lot more of it - quite a long section before the part I know starts. Brilliant! More to sing!
  2. It's a tone higher - also unsurprising.
  3. There's another unfamiliar section in the middle of the bit I know. Surprising, but exciting.
  4. The tenor line doesn't seem to go quite as I remember - the rhythm is different in "nostra fuit purgatio". The soprano line is what I expect (apart from the extra bits).
  5. On examination: tenor and soprano are still in canon, but the off-set is one note, not three ("A-Ave" not "Ave Ve-Ave ve"). That explains the unfamiliar rhythm in the tenor - it's 2/3 of a bar longer than the one I learned.
  6. (I haven't thoroughly compared alto and bass lines).

So, what I've found a facsimile for (and lots of good-looking modern editions for) is in fact a related-but-different piece of music: longer, and with something close-but-not-identical to "my" Ave Vera Virginitas in the middle.

I don't know where the version I learned came from. There are lots of 16th copies of this song (including versions that add extra voices) so it could be that the version I know simply comes from a different source. Equally possible, it could be a modern arrangement. It could even be a blend of the two. I'll post an update if I find out.

Until then: I have a new version to learn!


There are a bunch of lovely recordings under the name "Ave Maria Virgo Serena".


Aside: it's great to have a facsimile to consult, even more fun if it comes in a form that can be printed into a booklet.

Petrucci's 1502 "Motetti A", which contains the long-form Aver Maria by Josquin, was printed in "Choirbook format. Landscape quarto-in-eights. 56 folios." (so says IMSLP).

That means (I write with authority, having consulted Wikipedia) that the pages are very roughly A4 landscape (give or take an inch or so) but a bit squarer. There are 8 leaves (16 pages, 4 thicknesses of paper) in each quire, the pages having been printed as quartos (four sheets to a page - 2 on the front side and two on the back).

Getting this into printable format might be a fun project. To print using using modern habits into quires at the original size, in landscape, you need big paper: A2 would work. (Unless, of course, I misunderstand how quartos-in-eights work in landscape, and actually the original is half that size; then A3 would do). A3 (for ~A5 landscape finished booklet) would be a readable size. A4 (for A6 landcape finished booklet) strains the eyes.


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