Shinichi Suzuki and Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song” (Ave Maria)

Shinichi Suzuki (1898 – 1998) invented the international Suzuki method of music education. It is considered an influential pedagogue in music education, especially of children. During his lifetime, he received several honorary doctorates in music including from the New England Conservatory of Music (1956), and the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and he was proclaimed a Living National Treasure of Japan and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

When he was seventeen, Shinichi heard a recording of Franz Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song,” played by a famous violinist named Mischa Elman. (Suzuki supposedly likened listening to this composition to hearing the voice of God.) It was based on Walter Scott‘s popular epic poem The Lady of the Lake. It became one of Schubert’s most popular works, recorded in different versions under the title of Ave Maria, with various lyrics which often differ from the original context of the poem. It was arranged in three versions for piano by Franz Liszt.

But it is one of the most melodious pieces of music that I’ve ever heard.

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2 thoughts on “Shinichi Suzuki and Schubert’s “Ellen’s Third Song” (Ave Maria)

  1. Yes, Suzuki has done a lot in the field of music pedagogy (I am a pro musician, been practicing seriously 3 instruments for 30 years, I cannot remember a single day without having been studied or performed music). In Japan and other parts of Asia, there’s tons of incredibly polished classical performers. Their skills are second to none, my theory is that other areas of their culture, such as martial arts, make these people incredibly disciplined. I have never seen a Japanese classical performer that was not top notch.

    As for Schubert, he was a god of music. Exceptional composers such as Beethoven would often revise their work, but Schubert would never do that. “I write a piece, and as soon as I finish, I just write another!”, he used to say. Before dying, Beethoven saw some scores by Schubert that a friend of Beethoven brought him (Schubert was not known yet), and Beethoven said “Truly, in this Schubert lies the spark of genius!” (this story seems not to be historically well documented, as tons of stories have been made up about Beethoven , as he pretty much was a mega star).

    One well documented story is that Schubert was one of the torch bearers at Beethoven’s funeral, which was attended by thousands of people. Sadly, Schubert himself died prematurely about a year later, maddened by the effects of tertiary syphilis 🙁

    But even though he lived a short life, he has always been considered a genius. Have you heard “ Erlkönig “ ? It is a piece based on a poem by Goethe, about a father trying desperately to save his child from a malignant spirit, the Erlking.

    Powerful, powerful stuff. There will never be another Schubert. And yes, his Ave Maria is such a soulful and magnificent piece of music.

    Thanks for your article.

  2. PS. if you love the Ave Maria, try the Romance in F op.40 no. 1 by Beethoven, I think you’ll like that one too 🙂

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