Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” is a piece of music that I was lucky enough to sing in my chorus in eighth grade. From the minute I was introduced to a recording, I was transfixed by its beauty. It wasn’t until studying Gadamer’s “The Relevance of the Beautiful” and Pieper’s In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity that I realized why Biebl’s “Ave Maria” is one of the most beautiful pieces of art that I have encountered.
Rehearsal of “Ave Maria” was quite complex. Split into seven groups with distinct melodies, the chorus was forced to reconcile dissonance and countermelody through intense listening and concentration. I first established a connection with the piece through its element of play: it had a “constantly repeated movement” in its rhythm that was unstoppable (Gadamer 22). This movement was not stifled, but rather complimented with an intentionality of phrasing and theory which only enhanced the meaning of the prayer. In response to the dichotomy of movement and intent that Biebl infused within the piece, I felt invited to “[play] along with” (Gadamer 23). I found myself moving ever so slightly to the notes, raising my eyebrows to the soaring crescendos, and tapping my fingers to the pulse.
Over time, I became unified through the symbolic nature of the piece that at first seemed like a foreign jumble of lines and dots on the score. The Hail Mary, a prayer which in church I tended to say without much conviction, was imbued with new meaning through my exploration of musical technique and theory. What was previously veiled to me became visible: I realized that I was just one of millions in history to adore Mary in this sacred musical way and felt united with them in our shared devotion. It was in this way that I experienced Gadamer’s concept of the symbol being “a fragment…that promises…to make whole whatever corresponds to it” (32). Biebl’s masterful marriage of harmony and lyric made me feel as one with the piece, one with my chorus, one with all those around the world who utter this ancient prayer, one with God.
Performance day dawned and with it a great sense of excitement, as the festal beauty of “Ave Maria” came to fruition. This excitement was a result of the anticipation that had built in my mind over the rehearsals leading up to this day, “Such moments represent[ing] the primacy of something that happens in its own time” (Gadamer 42). As a ritual festival, the concert’s cause was spiritual: it was an exaltation of God and Mary, a celebration of the gift of earthly and eternal life through the vehicle of song. While singing the piece, all present were invited to contemplate. I let my mind wander past the worldly realm of the work that awaited me when I got home and as a result was invited to “[confront] the higher realities on which the whole of existence rests” (Pieper 17). I was able to concentrate solely on the beautiful music engulfing me and the connection I felt with my fellow chorus members and the audience we were singing to. As the audience applauded our bows at the end of the piece, the “affirmation of the world” that Pieper describes as the core of festival was obvious to me (Pieper 30). We were all unified in joy, and our willingness to gather for joy’s sake.
Thus, through the lenses of Gadamer and Pieper’s essays regarding play, symbol, and festivity, Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” is one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork that I have encountered. Its call to participation, veiled meaning, and opportunity for contemplation offers an experience of beauty that astounds me anew every time I listen to it.