Franz Biebl (1906-2001)
Biebl wrote small, solidly constructed, highly inventive works primarily for church and community choruses.
Franz Biebl | Ave Maria (1964)
“Biebl has said of himself, ‘I am just a little composer of little songs.’ It is a humble assessment that is only partly true. The true part is that his work consists mainly of songs and smaller compositions. But there is nothing ‘little’ about the quality of his compositions.”
— Composer Wilbur Skeels
Franz Biebl was immersed in music all his life — church musician, organist, music professor, conductor of community choirs, highly skilled composer and arranger, director of music for German radio — yet he and his music are not well known, with the exception of his Ave Maria.
Biebl was born in Pursruck, Bavaria, September 1, 1906, his parents’ eleventh child. His formal music studies began in 1926 at the Musikhochschule in Munich, where he studied composition and conducting. He began his career as a church musician in 1932 at a large Catholic parish, and in 1939 was appointed as assistant professor of choral music at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.
World War II intervened. Drafted into the German army in 1943, Biebl and his unit were captured by American forces in Italy in 1944. He spent two years as an American prisoner of war at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan. He was involved in music there as well: “It was a good time. I learned to know the Americans and a little bit of American life and democracy. We got enough to eat. Good food, just like the American soldiers had. ... I was allowed to arrange a choir and songs for it. The Americans helped me to arrange concerts with choir, soloists and chamber music.”
He returned to Austria after the war, then moved to Germany, where he continued his work as organist, choirmaster, and teacher. In 1959 he became the founding director of the Department of Choral Music at Bayerischen Rundfunk, the Bavarian State Radio Broadcasting Company. As director, he met and recorded many choirs from around the world, including the Cornell Glee Club, which brought the Ave Maria and some of his other pieces back to the United States for performance.
Biebl had written Ave Maria when he was organist and choirmaster in a parish at Fürstenfeldbruck. A member there had asked Biebel whether he would compose a piece for a chorus of his coworkers. Biebl agreed — and wrote the original Ave Maria for a double chorus of firemen. The work was made internationally famous by a Chanticleer recording several decades later, and is now available in many editions for a variety of vocal ensembles.