The Prince of Peace Your Arms Embrace

There was a recent discussion in this space of whether Disney has or has not from the beginning been sinister and satanic. This piece of animation come up in the discussion.

I had forgotten by how beautiful it was, how luminous, aethereal,  mysterious, and fair.

It is the final set piece in the film: Ave Maria from Disney’s FANTASIA 1940. Surely the loveliest song in this film, perhaps in all films, but, alas, not the first one memory brings to mind. We are more likely to think of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or Rites of Spring.

Recall that animation before this point in time was regarded as a medium fit only for silly song and kiddy comedy. Disney boldly proved animation to be an art form equal in dignity to opera or any classical medium.

The gorgeous watercolor scene is of a holy procession whose morning prayer-bells drive the demon Chernobog of Bald Mountain (the previous song in the movie) back cowering into silent defeat. The matins welcome the sun.

The lyrics:

Ave Maria!
Heaven’s Bride.
The bells ring out in solemn praise,
for you, the anguish and the pride.
The living glory of our nights, of our nights and days.
The Prince of Peace your arms embrace,
while hosts of darkness fade and cower.
Oh save us, mother full of grace,
In life and in our dying hour,
Ave Maria!

I could not make out the words by ear, so I looked them up. I discovered what the lyrics are not: this is not the traditional Latin prayer of the same name.

Nor is it the hymn by Schubert, even though this is his music. Here are the opening words of “Hymn to the Virgin” by Sir Walter Scott (The Lady of the Lake, Canto Three, verse XXIX.)

Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria

And Storck’s translation used by Schubert:

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!

To my surprise, I found that the text for this version of Schubert’s hymn, sung in English, was written by Rachel Field. Only the third stanza of her poem is sung here.