One of my amateur pursuits is composing pieces of church music, sometimes for the Birmingham Oratory choir which I sing in for high mass and vespers. I have completed a four part setting of the Alma Redemptoris antiphon, when I was on retreat in Downside Abbey three weeks ago. It can be downloaded either in PDF or MIDI format.
For those of you who are not aware the Alma Redemptoris is one of the four Marian antiphons of which it is customary to sing at the end of vespers or the evening service, and occurs during the season of Advent up to Candlemas on February 2nd. Here it is in plainsong notation. The other antiphons are of course Ave Regina (sung after Candlemas up to Easter), Regina Caeli (during Paschaltide) and Salve Regina (rest of the year).
In medieval England very elaborate settings of the Marian antiphons were composed for a popular evening devotional service called the 'Salve'. This consisted of prayers and litanies to the Blessed Virgin ending with the singing of the antiphon to the Virgin, and later on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was inserted. From this developed the marvellous rite of benediction, which established its contemporary form in the nineteenth century. As this happened the Marian aspect became less prominent and gradually fell into disuse. Nevertheless it is still very fitting to sing the Marian antiphon at the end of an evening service of Eucharistic adoration and benediction.