If You're Going To Be A Classical "One-Hit Wonder," You Could Do A Lot Worse Than This

Franz Biebl was a 20th-Century German composer with an interesting (if obscure) past. The eleventh child of a Bavarian family, he studied composition in Munich in the late 1920's, then "served as Choir Director at the Catholic church of St Maria in München-Thalkirchen (from 1932 until 1939), and as an assistant professor of choral music at the Mozarteum (beginning in 1939)." He was drafted into the German Army in 1943, was captured in 1944, and spent several years as a prisoner-of-war at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan, After the war, he returned to Germany, where he served as director of the Fürstenfeldbruck town chorus.

Speaking about himself, he said that "I am just a little composer of little songs," and the fact that he is known nearly exclusively for a single piece -- his setting of the "Ave Maria" -- would suggest that he was right. In fact, searching through my Classical Music Bible (otherwise known as "NaxosMusicLibrary, The Best Place On The InterWebs"), I can find only eight pieces (other than the "Ave Maria") that have made their way into the Naxos catalog (which is enormous and exhaustive). One of them, "Still, wer Gott erkennen will," is a barely-minute-long slip of beauty. Another, "Maria Himmelsfreud," is an entire minute-and-a-half (and also lovely). There's a trio of Christmas carols -- nice, but not particularly memorable -- and a few other choral odds-and-ends. Put together, this handful of pieces suggests that he was thinking rightly about his space in the compositional cosmos when he called himself and his songs "little."

The "Ave Maria," though, is not a forgettable little song. It's a gorgeous and special one. (Chanticleer's performance is a famous one, and did a lot of the heavy lifting that moved Biebl to the One-Hit Wonder category; otherwise, he might well have languished as a Complete Unknown forever. But I prefer something with a bit more basement. Also, that key change is just spine-tingling. Gets me every time he uses it.)

Attribution(s): The Magnificat (Le magnificat) by James Tissot (source) is in the Public Domain via Wikipedia.