The Eton Choirbook (Eton MS 178) is to be inscribed on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register [LINK TO: https://www.unesco.org.uk/designation/memory-of-the-world-inscriptions-in-the-uk-uk-register/], which honours documentary heritage of outstanding national and regional significance. The register records items spanning nearly 900 years which capture the history of the UK and its communities, including the Domesday Book, the Magna Carta, and the death warrant of Charles I. The Choirbook is the first manuscript of music to be included in the UK register.
The Choirbook is a volume of manuscript music created between 1500 and 1504 for use in religious services in Eton College Chapel. Through its survival – at the site for which it was made – the Choirbook gives us access to a form of worship and a musical tradition that was violently disrupted and almost obliterated by the Reformation. It captures a sound-world of late medieval England which would otherwise have been lost to silence.
The large and handsome volume played an integral part in the worship of the chapel, resting open on a lectern whilst the choir stood around it to sing its music. Most of the music is finely wrought settings of the Magnificat or of motets devoted to the Blessed Virgin, responding to the Marian cult as practised at Eton as a site of pilgrimage. It contains a repertory which is almost unique, as it is the earliest and most complete early Tudor choirbook to have survived to the present. Its music is the subject of considerable scholarly attention and its music has been performed and recorded repeatedly over the last 120 years.
We are delighted that the Choirbook is to be recognised in this way, especially as it continues to play a role in the life of the school. In May the Choirbook was displayed in College Chapel during a concert celebrating its music performed by The Sixteen and the Chapel Choir which was streamed live on Classic FM: http://www.classicfm.com/artists/sixteen/news/eton-college-facebook-live/