Ellens Gesang III, D839, Op 52 no 6, 1825
The piece is often referred to as Schubert's Ave Maria; but it was originally composed as a setting of a song from Walter Scott's popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake, in the German translation by Adam Storck, and thus forms part of Schubert's "Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See". In Scott's poem the character Ellen Douglas, the "Lady" of "the Lake" (Loch Katrine in the Scottish Highlands) has gone with her father to hide in the "Goblin's cave" nearby to avoid drawing the vengeance of the King on their host, the Clan-Alpine chieftain Roderick Dhu, who has been affording them shelter since the King had exiled them. She sings a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary, calling upon her for help. Ellen is overheard by Roderick Dhu who is higher on the mountain, raising the clan for war.
The piece is said to have first been performed at the castle of Countess Sophie Weissenwolff in the little Austrian town Steyregg and dedicated to her, which led to her subsequently becoming known as the lady of the lake herself.
The opening words and refrain of Ellen's song, namely "Ave Maria" (Latin, "Hail Mary"), may have led to the idea of adapting Schubert's melody as a setting for the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer Ave Maria. The Latin version of the Ave Maria is now so frequently used with Schubert's melody, that it has led to the misconception that he originally wrote the melody as a setting for the Ave Maria.
Ave Maria! Jungfrau mild,
Erhöre einer Jungfrau Flehen,
Aus diesem Felsen starr und wild
Soll mein Gebet zu dir hinwehen.
Wir schlafen sicher bis zum Morgen,
Ob Menschen noch so grausam sind.
O Jungfrau, sieh der Jungfrau Sorgen,
O Mutter, hör ein bittend Kind!
Ave Maria! Unbefleckt!
Wenn wir auf diesen Fels hinsinken
Zum Schlaf, und uns dein Schutz bedeckt
Wird weich der harte Fels uns dünken.
Du lächelst, Rosendüfte wehen
In dieser dumpfen Felsenkluft,
O Mutter, höre Kindes Flehen,
O Jungfrau, eine Jungfrau ruft!
Ave Maria! Reine gemacht!
Der Erde und der Luft Dämonen,
Von deines Auges Huld verjagt,
Sie können hier nicht bei uns wohnen,
Wir woll'n uns still dem Schicksal beugen,
Da uns dein heil'ger Trost anweht;
Der Jungfrau wolle hold dich neigen,
Dem Kind, das für den Vater fleht.