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Roman Catholic Marian music shares a trait with some other forms of Christian music in adding another emotional dimension to the process of veneration and in being used in various Marian ceremonies and feasts. Marian music is now an inherent element in many aspects of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic Mariology.

Throughout the centuries Marian music has grown and progressed, and witnessed a resurgence along with the Renaissance, e.g. with the composition of the Ave Maria motet by Josquin Desprez. The tradition continued with a number of great composers up to the late 19th century, e.g. with Giuseppe Verdi's Ave Maria in 1880 followed by his Laudi alla Vergine Maria..

Marian music varies by season (e.g. Christmas, Easter, etc.) and by form (e.g. chant, art song, etc).

Saint Ambrose

One of the oldest Marian intonations is credited to Saint Ambrose of Milan (339-374). The Church names an ancient liturgy after him (Ambrosian rite), which actually existed before him, but for whose today’s form he is called the main author. Some 870 parishes in the diocesis in Milanmarker still use the ancient Ambrosian rite. Several Ambrosian rite Marian texts were intonated, for example the famous Gaude:

:Gaude et latare
Exultation angelorum
Gaude domini virgo
Prophetarum gaudium
Gaudeas benedicta
Dominus tecum est
Gaude, que per angelum gaudium mundi suscepisti
Gaude que genuisti factorum et Dominum
Gaudeas que dignas es esse mater Christi

Marian hymns by Ambrose include the Confractorium from the Christmas liturgy, and in a poetic creation of Saint Ambrose, celebrating the Mother of God: Intende, qui Regis Israel.

Marian Music for the Liturgy of the Hours

One of the earliest medieval Marian compositions is the popular Salve Regina in Latin from a Benedictine monk at the Reichenau Island (Lake Constance), which exists in serveral Gregorian versions. The liturgy of the hour includes several offices to be sung. At the close of the Office, one of four Marian antiphons is sung. These songs, Alma Redemptoris Mater Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli, and Salve Regina, have been described as "among the most beautiful creations of the late Middle Ages."

Other Marian supplications exist in numerous Latin versions as wellIt is difficult to trace the beginning of non-Gregorian Marian liturgical music. In the year 1277 Pope Nicholas III prescribed rules for liturgy in Roman churches. Three years later, in 1280, Petrus de Cruce published his Marian anthem Ave virgo regia, Ave gloriosa O maria Maris stella. Later, composer Perotin followed with his Alleluja, Navitatis gloriosae virginis, to be sung at the feast of the birth of Mary. Marian motets became very popular in the Middle Ages. A large collection of which is in in St Paul Cathedral in London Pope John XXII 1316—34 issued the apostolic constitution Docta SS Patrum about Church music. It was the first music modern regulations for musical presentation during the liturgy

Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Mozart, Haydn and others are well known composers who contributed to Marian music. Less known is the fact, that before 1802, the secularisation, many religious congregations had their own composers. A totally unknown Father Valentin Rathgeber OSB, (1682-1750) wrote 43 masses, 164 offertories 24 concerts and, 44 Marian antiphones. Missa de Beata Virgine and the Messe de Nostre Dame are examples of individual contributions. Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine contains distinctly Marian texts among its 13 movements, though the composer's intention for the work as a whole is debated. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed in honour of the Virgin Mary Latin masses and several shorter opera: Other known classic composers with Marian compositions mainly in Latin include Orlando di Lasso and Franz Schubert.

Marian plays and songs

In Francemarker begins in the 12th century the tradition of Christmas dramas, in which the nativity events are reproduced by actors. This becomes popular in other European countries as well, and is seen as the origin of popular Christmas carols, which were an integral part of the Christmas drama. These early Christmas songs are largely devotions to the Mother of God. Early manifestations are in Bavaria in the 12 century At the same time, Easter songs are often converted into Marian hyms, for example the hymn Te virgini Mariae laudes concinant Christianae. The assumption of Mary is praised in numerous songs from the 10th century, In several songs, Mary is praised to be above all saints and angels and participates in the kingdom of her son. Her assumption is “wished by the faithful people” in a song from the 12th century The Marian songs and hymns in this epoch are too numerous to mention. They include pious excitement even some exaggerations, and valuable insights into the Marian belief, especially in the assumption.

Ave, salve and gaude hymns

Examples of Ave (Hail Mary) songs include,
Ave dei genitrix, caelstium terrestrium infernorum domina;
Ave spes mundi, Maria, ave mitis, ave pia;
Ave plena, signulari gratia

Examples of Salve songs include the
Salve regina, mater misericordiae
Salve prodis Davidis

Gaude (Rejoice) hymns include:
Gaude Maria templum summae majestatis
Gaude mater luminis
Gaude, plaude, clara Rosa

Vale (farewell) and Mater dolorosa (mother of sorrows) are also subjects of numerous Marian hymns.

Holy Mass Music

The ancient Latin Gregorian Chant masses include two Marian musical masses In solemnitatibus et Festis Beatae Mariae Virginis and in Festis et Memoriis It seems that vocal compositons of Holy Mass music, - always including Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, benedictus and Agnus Dei sections,- were developed after music was composed for the Liturgy of the Hours. Palestrina is among the more well-known composers, and the list of compositions by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina includes numerous Marian masses:

  • Missa Salve Regina
  • Missa Alma Redemptoris
  • Missa Assumpta est Maria
  • Missa Regina coeli
  • Missa de beata Virgine
  • Missa Ave Regina coelorum
  • Missa Descendit Angelus Domini
  • Missa O Virgo simul et Mater

Marian music during the Baroque period

The Marian music in the baroque period is strongly influenced by the Latin tradition, but develops its own characteristics. Marian songs venerate her exceptional sanctity. Many Marian songs have the form of litanies, expressing adoration of Mary. Others moralize the faithful in light of her virtuous life. In Polandmarker and Hungarymarker, baroque Marian compositions stress her national protective powers for the Polish and Hungarian nation, an aspect largely missing in Italy, France and Germany, where Mary is likely to be called upon to protect a city or region rather than a nation. Many Latin Marian hymns are now translated into vernacular language, especially in Germany under the influence of Lutheran use of the vernacular in liturgy. Latin texts are often enriched with flowery adorations and Marian praises. Marian poetry, and based on this, Marian music flourishes most in countries without reformation influence, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.

Marian music in the Enlightenment era

There are less but important composition in this period. Joseph Haydn wrote several Marian composition including two famous Marian Masses. Mozart and Franz Schubert made major contributions as well.


  • Marian Music Collection at the University of Dayton [669881]
  • Konrad Algermissen, Lexikon der Marienkunde, Pustet, Regensburg, 1967
  • Remigius Bäumer, Leo Scheffczyk (Hrsg.) Marienlexikon Gesamtausgabe, Institutum Marianum Regensburg, 1994, ISBN 3-88096-891-8 (cit. Bäumer)


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