Sancta Maria a 2 e B.c.
In the Roman liturgy (though not in the liturgy of St Mark’s) ‘Sancta Maria, succurre miseris’ was the antiphon commonly sung before the Magnificat at first Vespers on Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Monteverdi’s exquisite setting for soprano duet, first issued in a anthology published in 1618 by the Milanese choirmaster Giovanni Battista Ala, would thus have found widespread use within the Roman Catholic church. It is tempting, though, to think that the unusual petition ‘intercede for the devout female sex’ (‘intercede pro devoto femineo sexu’) might also have prompted its use by nuns as a more general devotional motet, for in Venice, as elsewhere in seventeenth-century Italy, sacred music flourished not only in establishments with all-male choirs, but also in convents. In this setting Monteverdi makes use of the litany plainsong that he also employed for the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria
in the 1610 Vespers
. The first two sets of petitions are begun in plainsong and then extended by the second voice in a freer, more passionate, recitative style. For the final petition, Monteverdi treats the plainsong as a duet, rising in urgency before a release into triple-time writing and an extended treatment of the final two lines of text.
from notes by John Whenham © 2004