Feature: Francisco Guerrero ( 1528 – 1599): Ave Virgo sanctissima

Guerrero’s fame and his music’s popularity lasted long – at least two hundred years after his death. He was devoted to the Virgin Mary and wrote many motets in her honour of the Virgin Mary their number and beauty are such that his contemporaries called him ‘El cantor de Maria’. Of all  of these Marian motets the five-part (SSATB) Ave Virgo sanctissima (Hail, most holy virgin) is the best known and arguably the most beautiful it’s also somewhat unusual amongst Guerrero’s compositions in it’s use of canon – the two sopranos sing in strict canon throughout with the second exactly echoing the first at two bars’ distance.1 Guerrero’s contemporaries considered it to be the perfect Marian motet and quite a few of them used it as the inspiration for a Mass setting. It’s not hard to see why it’s a serene, beautiful, and deceptively simple sounding piece of music that incorporates some of the loveliest choral writing of the Renaissance listen to what he does at Margarita preciosa (precious as a pearl) and you’ll hear what I mean.

Finally a note about the performance, there are many superb recordings of this motet available not least on YouTube I’ve picked this performance by the Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter because the two soprano voices have been placed left and  making it very easy to hear the canon. Enjoy :-)


Francisco Guerrero ( 1528 – 1599): Ave Virgo sanctissima

Ave virgo sanctissima,
Dei mater piissima,
Maris stella clarissima.
Salve semper gloriosa,
Margarita preciosa,
Sicut lilium formosa,
Nitens, olens velut rosa.

Old Spanish Antiphon for the Nativity of St John the Baptist

Hail, most holy virgin,
most holy mother of God,
most bright star of the sea.
Hail, ever-glorious one,
as precious as a pearl,
as beautiful as a lily,
shining and scented as a rose.

Performers: The Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter

  1. In other words at an eight-beat interval – mfi.

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