OME WEEKS AGO, A MEMBER OF MY CHOIR asked, “Do we have a polyphonic setting of Ave Regina Caelorum?” I racked my brain. We have a couple of polyphonic Salve Reginas (I’ve written here before about the lovely setting by Alvez Barkoskie IV). We sing settings of Alma Redemptoris Mater by Palestrina and Salazar (I’ve written about the latter). We’ve sung the Aichinger setting of Regina Caeli for years, and we sang deCristo’s setting one Easter.
But that’s only three of the four traditional Marian antiphons. I suddenly realized that in my repertoire selection, I had neglected the fourth one. So after rehearsal, I did what many of you have probably done countless times: I went home and looked for a good setting on Choral Public Domain Library. CPDL seldom disappoints, and I soon headed to YouTube to listen to a couple of possibilities. It was there that I happened across another option: a setting by Steven Talley.
I know nothing about Mr. Talley other than the fact that he is a living composer who maintains a YouTube channel. But after listening to his delightful Ave Regina Caelorum on YouTube, I immediately wanted a copy. I scrolled through the comments under the video and saw that Mr. Talley was willing to send the score to anyone who emailed him. So I sent him a message and went to bed. By the time I got up the next morning, he had already sent me a PDF with his gracious best wishes. This may be the first time anything good has ever come from reading YouTube comments.
Inside Ave Regina Caelorum
Mr. Talley’s setting is in F major. He keeps the traditional chant melody present through most of the piece. It begins in the tenor incipit and then passes to soprano. The basses pick it up at “Gaude Virgo gloriosa.” From there, it appears briefly in other voices, surrounded by embellishments.
Here’s a multitrack recording of the inimitable Matthew Curtis singing all four parts:
What to Look and Listen for
What I love about this piece:
It’s bright and sweet, providing a break from heavy Lenten repertoire. Any of my choir members who happen to read this article will be shocked to read that last sentence. I gravitate towards dark motets such as Victoria’s O Vos Omnes, Palestrina’s Super Flumina Babylonis, and Gluck’s De Profundis. But why shouldn’t a motet for Our Lady be sweet, regardless of the season?
It’s simple. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an “easy” motet, but this one is simple in its construction. This piece has been a nice change for my choir at a time when we’re learning a very challenging motet with lots of divisi for Easter Vigil plus a new polyphonic Mass for Easter Sunday. I brought Ave Regina Caelorum to a Thursday rehearsal and we ran through it on solfege a couple times, then moved to text and polished it up. We sang it at Mass the following Sunday. It was a “quick win” for us and sent the message to my singers that I trust them to sing well even on minimal rehearsal. This motet should be within reach of any choir that has adequate coverage and typical range on all four parts. Even if you’re new to polyphony, give this one a try!
It fills a void. As I mentioned, my choir hasn’t had a polyphonic Ave Regina Caelorum until now. There were many options on CPDL, but most choirs have a full plate at this time of year. The Talley setting provides a satisfying option for choir directors who, like me, wanted to sing this antiphon without devoting an inordinate amount of rehearsal time.
A few tips:
Decide where you’ll lift. There are several cadences in this piece at which all voices have the same rhythm. Choose which ones are inflection points that need a lift, and which ones your singers should carry over. I sang through the motet with my choir and then asked them for their opinions on lifts. We ended up deciding to lift after beat 2 in measure 5; after measure 7; after measure 16; after measure 20; after beat 2 of measure 23; and after beat 3 of measure 29. But you’ll make the best decisions for your singers.
Encourage sopranos and altos to sing out at measure 8. The texture thins to SA at Ex qua mundo. But don’t let the sound be timid. Encourage your sopranos and altos (especially altos) to give generously while maintaining a sweet sound.
Consider taking the alternate ending. If you get a copy of this piece, you’ll notice that Mr. Talley provides an alternate ending in which the tenor moves downwards in the penultimate bar (the recording above uses the standard ending). I recommend you use it and have your tenors make a slight ritardando to help ease this piece to a graceful conclusion.
We sang Ave Regina Caelorum for Laetare Sunday and will sing it again for the Feast of the Annunciation. Many thanks to Steven Talley for his generosity. If you’re interested in getting a copy for your choir, see the comments under the above video for Mr. Talley’s email address.