The Eton College Choirbook was compiled around 1500 and contains English works which date from the late 15th to early 16th centuries. The manuscript is historically important as it is an example of the English style of writing during a period of considerable political and social turmoil. Musically, the Eton Choirbook is quite valuable, as it is the only surviving example of late 15th century English writing. Its main predecessor, the Old Hall manuscript, dates around 1460, leaving us with a period of nearly half a century unexplained in terms of English compositional style.
During the second half of the 15th century English music was developing a style of its own, independent of what was happening on the Continent. The Eton manuscript typifies this style and is a tremendous advancement upon the style of writing displayed in the Old Hall manuscript. For example, many of the Eton works are based around original material, allowing more freedom in the lower voices, and there are a few examples of works written for 7, 8 and 9 parts.
In order to gain some insight into the Eton style of writing, I have chosen to study settings of the Salve regina, thus giving me control of one element - text - in my study. These works are quite unique in themselves and hence, this study will begin with a discussion of the characteristics of the Eton Choirbook itself, its role in English musical history and how these fifteen settings are situated within this realm. I will then present a detailed analysis of these works, examining such musical characteristics as form and structure, text setting, vocal arrangements, cantus firmus setting, rhythmic and motivic configurations, time signatures and cadences. Finally, owing to the controversial nature of the following area, a detailed analysis of the modal structure of these pieces will be a major feature of this study.
It is hoped that as a result of this thesis, more light may be shed on the Eton College Choirbook , and on the Salve regina settings themselves, in particular as to the modal practice used in English music during the Renaissance era.