Settings of the exclamation ‘O’ are a prominent feature of Salut de la veille des ‘O’
. In a tradition dating back to eighth-century France, these seven antiphons would have been performed before and after the Magnificat at Vespers during the week before Christmas. In Charpentier’s cycle, probably dating from the early 1690s, these are preceded by a setting of ‘O salutaris hostia’. The texts of the seven antiphons implore God to come to earth and save his people. The first letter of each word following the ‘O’ form a reverse acrostic, spelling ERO CRAS (‘I will be tomorrow’), a response from God to his Church’s prayers. Four of the antiphons (and ‘O salutaris’) are scored for an ensemble of haute-contre (high tenor), tenor and bass voices and continuo. The sixth ‘O’ is scored for a solo haute-contre, two obbligato violins and continuo. Interestingly, Charpentier labels the vocal line ‘Mr Chopelet’, a singer known to be associated with the Paris Opéra. Given that Opéra singers regularly sang at the Jesuit church of Saint-Louis, where Charpentier was employed between 1688 and 1698, this annotation strengthens the possibility that the Jesuits commissioned this set of pieces. The two remaining antiphons (four and five) are scored for a four-part choir and orchestra. These both make use of expressive harmonies at the text ‘sedentem / sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis’ (‘sitting / who sit in the darkness and in shadow of death’).
from notes by Shirley Thompson © 2004