Copied in the first few years of the sixteenth century, the Eton Choirbook bears witness to the devotional culture of pre-Reformation England at its zenith. The compositions found in the choirbook are traces of the soundscape of the English church when the young Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509.
It is one of the largest and most sumptuous music manuscripts. When completed, it contained 93 pieces: 67 'votive antiphons' or motets of prayer and praise to the Virgin Mary, 24 settings of the Latin Magnificat, a setting of the St Matthew Passion as sung on Palm Sunday, and a canon based on the text of the Apostles’ Creed. Although 98 of its original 224 folios have been lost, the Eton Choirbook contains 50 performable pieces (a further 15 pieces survive in varying states of fragmentation), 35 of which have been been recorded commercially since 1951. Some have received intensive (even excessive) attention: William Cornysh’s miniature, Ave maria mater dei, has been recorded at least a dozen times and is an evergreen item in the repertories of many cathedral and collegiate chapel choirs. But most pieces have been recorded once or never, however, and the neglected compositions include some off the most interesting and important pieces surviving in Eton.
The Eton Choirbook Project seeks to identify all known extant recordings of this repertory, and to provide interim recordings of previously neglected pieces, in order that they might be available to scholars, students and music lovers. The web site also includes indexes of the choirbook which can be used alongside the facsimile edition published by the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music in 2010. The Eton Choirbook Project acknowledges with great pleasure the support of the CETL for Music & Inclusivity and the International Centre for Music Studies, Newcastle University.