‘O beatae viae’ was published in 1620 in Lorenzo Calvi’s Symbolae Diversorum Musicorum
. Its text is an antiphon for the Feast of San Rocco (16 August), a saint venerated in Venice as a protector against plague and as the patron saint of one of the city’s richest confraternities. Celebrations of the saint’s day at the home of the confraternity, the Scuola di San Rocco, were accompanied each year by elaborate music-making, with singers and instrumentalists bought in from St Mark’s to boost the Scuola’s own musical forces (a notable account of the celebrations for 1608, when Giovanni Gabrieli was organist of the Scuola can be read in Thomas Coryate’s Crudities
, published in 1611). Monteverdi’s two-voice setting of the antiphon reflects the approach to duet-writing adopted by his assistant choirmaster at St Mark’s, Alessandro Grandi, in which the end-phrase of a solo melody is treated in imitation to build a large musical paragraph. Triple-time writing is used for the word ‘cantemus’ (Let us sing) and for the extended final ‘Alleluia’.
from notes by John Whenham © 2004