Ave regina coelorum
Another of the wave of Franco-Flemish composers to overtake the musical landscape of Europe in the 16th century, Jacob Regnart was born in Douai in Northern France, one of five musical brothers. It was in the 1570s that his immensely popular volumes of three- voice Teutsche Lieder (German songs) appeared; they sold very well and were reprinted several times. By the 1580s, his popularity as a composer was so great that none other than Orlando di Lasso recommended Regnart for Kapellmeister to the Saxon court at Dresden (Regnart would turn down the appointment).
His five-voice setting of Ave regina coelorum appeared in his earliest published volume of sacred music in 1575. A slight alteration of the more common Marian antiphon, the motet opens with an upward moving head motive, directly imitated in all five parts. The dense imitation thins very rarely, often only at the onset of new text. Midway through the motet, Regnart cleverly inserts the recognizable “Ave Maria” chant into the texture, first in the bass voice, then in the soprano. Upward motion (perhaps aural imagery of our prayers rising
to heaven) dominates the texture until the final stanza, where descending scales, notably in the bottom two voices, remind Mary of the “fidelium” (“faithful”) down on Earth. Regnart seems to have been particularly drawn to this alternate text, as he would set it again for four voices in his Mariale (1588).
Ave regina coelorum,
Hail, Queen of heaven,