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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Ave Maris Stella, Otto Olsson

Otto Olsson (1879 – 1964) was a Swedish organist and composer. He was one of the most renowned organ virtuosos of his time. He studied organ with August Lagergren (1848−1908) and composition with Joseph Dente (1838−1905), both teachers having been employed at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Later Olsson himself joined the faculty there, becoming teacher of harmony (1908–24) and then organ (1924–45).[1] Meanwhile he was also the organist at the Gustaf Vasa Church in Stockholm. He became a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music in 1915.[2]

Olsson used his strong background in counterpoint, combined with an affinity for French organ music, to develop his late Romantic style of composition. He also had an interest in early music and in plainchant. At times he explored polytonality in his output, an advancement not found in other Swedish compositions of the time. In addition to many fine pieces for the organ, he produced various choral works, the most often performed of which is his setting of the Te Deum, which requires not only chorus but string orchestra, harp, and organ.

As a teacher, Olsson influenced many Swedish musicians (especially church musicians), and he was important in the development of church music in Sweden, which had suffered a long period of decline before 1900. His activities included serving as a member of official committees that supervised the liturgy and hymnology. He also composed Psalm settings for congregational use and wrote two instructional books, on the art of choral singing and psalm singing respectively.[3]

The hymn Ave Maris Stella ("Hail Star of the Sea") was likely written around the 8th-9th centuries. But it has traditionally been attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). It was a particular favorite of those chanting it as part of the Divine Office in the Middle Ages.

Ave Maris Stella has been set to music over the centuries by such famous composers as Palestrina, Dufay, Monteverdi, Dvorak, and Grieg. It is still used today in the Divine Office and what is known as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Hail, bright star of ocean, God's own Mother blest, Ever sinless Virgin, Gate of heavenly rest.

Taking that sweet Ave Which from Gabriel came, Peace confirm within us, Changing Eva's name.

Break the captives' fetters, Light on blindness pour, All our ills expelling, Every bliss implore.

Show thyself a Mother; May the Word Divine, Born for us thy Infant, Hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling, Mildest of the mild, Freed from guilt, preserve us, Pure and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless, Make our way secure, Till we find in Jesus, Joy forevermore.

Through the highest heaven To the Almighty Three, Father, Son and Spirit, One same glory be. Amen.


  1. (Astrand, Grove Music Online)

  2. ^ (Slonimsky et al., p. 2657)

  3. ^ (Astrand, Grove Music Online)


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