Ave Maria, gemma virginum
is a canon 8 ex 4 at two breves’ distance at the octave. (In the Parisian print of 1534 in which the motet appears, no indication of the canonic interval is given: it would therefore be technically possible to perform it as an eight-part unison canon, though this would create an extremely congested texture.) Perhaps because a canon at the unison is even more restricted than other intervals—the danger of repetitious harmony being ever-present—Ave Maria
is only thirty-five breves in length, less than half the duration of Nesciens mater
. Modally speaking it presents a relatively unusual case of a D-mode with B flat, corresponding more closely to the modern minor mode than is usual for so early a piece. The resulting plangent tone of supplication is highly suitable for the text, which pleads for Mary’s intercession at our time of death. As its title suggests, this motet is a miniature gem, which deserves to be better known.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2012