In 1624 Monteverdi published a number of works in both sacred and secular anthologies. Among them were the three sacred motets he contributed to the Seconda raccolta de sacri canti, edited by Don Lorenzo Calvi. The solo-voice motet Ego flos campi is the first of these fine pieces. For all intents and purposes, Ego flos is an aria; it might as well have been plucked from an opera and furnished with a different text, nothing particular in its style indicates that it is sacred music. Monteverdi in fact later took his extremely famous Lamento d'Arianna and replaced the operatic text with a religious one. Clearly, in his Venetian musical milieu, no fundamental distinction was felt to be necessary any longer between religious and secular music. Monteverdi, apparently a life-loving, sensual man by nature, was lucky to live at a time when he could give such idiomatic personal expression of his religious impulses, borne of a nature steeped in the joys of music above all.
Ego flos campi is in fact such a beautiful piece that listeners can genuinely imagine elevation to the state of grace suggested by the Song of Songs text, itself an unusually evocative piece of writing. Stunning lines like "I sat down under the shadow of him whom I desired..." poke out through the chords and make their own mark on listeners' hearts. The solo voice part is composed in the alto range, so it can be sung by either a male countertenor or a female alto. It calls up all the adjectives associated with Monteverdi's best arias -- languorous, bittersweet, passionate, and to these might be added timeless. Ego flos has a flatness and a cool unhurriedness to it. The melody isn't especially tuneful, as if it's really not trying that hard because it knows it doesn't need to, and it is all the more moving for that. It's a work about the purest pleasure of melody; the texture never changes from solo voice over continuo. The slow, aching chromatic melismas are probably the most engaging aspect. Pulling out of little sequenced passages, they buoy up on the air, butterfly-like, hanging there in unpredictable but slow movements that are absolutely captivating.