Ave Stella Maris is a hymn that was originally attributed to St. Bernard, who lived in the 12 century, but actually precedes him by several hundred years. The poem is seven stanzas, or stropes, each being four lines, and was very popular in the Middle Ages as a musical setting for the Mass, specifically the Divine Hours. It was written in honor of the Virgin Mary. The poem’s English translation from the Latin is as follows:
Hail, Star of the sea! Blessed Mother of God, yet ever a virgin! O happy gate of heaven!
Thou that didst receive the Ave from Gabriel's lips, confirm us in peace, and so let Eva be changed into an Ave of blessing for us.
Loose the sinner's chains, bring light to the blind, drive from us our evils, and ask all good things for us.
Show thyself a mother, and offer our prayers to him, who would be born of thee, when born for us.
O incomparable Virgin, and meekest Or the meek, obtain us the forgiveness of our sins, and make us meek and chaste.
Obtain us purity of life, and a safe pilgrimage; that we may be united with thee in the blissful vision of Jesus.
Praise be to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus, and to the Holy Ghost: to the Three one self-same praise.
V. Hail Mary, full of grace, alleluia.
R. The Lord is with thee, alleluia.
Guillaume DuFay’s setting of the Ave Maris Stella is composed with plainchant melody preceding each stanza, and is written for three voices. His compositional style in this piece is an excellent example of the use of fauxbourdon. The middle voice is a fourth lower than the highest voice. The lower voice is very active. Parts of the plainchant melody can be heard in the stanzas. Careful attention seems to be taken in the placement of the text.
In comparing this with his Kyrie from his Missa L’homme arme, I noticed that in the voicing there was more use of thirds and sixths, rather than the interval of a fourth between the upper and middle voices. This could be due to the fact that in the Kyrie, there are four voices as opposed to three in the Ave Maris Stella. Also, Dufay was probably influenced by the English style which made extensive use of those intervals.
Simply put, this is, a beautiful piece of music. One can only imagine how it would sound in the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, with its unique acoustics. It stands as an excellent representation of the Early Renaissance “sound” and style, and is easy to see why it is a significant part of the canon of Western Art Music.