The antiphon Salve regina
was a vivid part of the medieval soundscape. It was sung at Compline in many monasteries and churches; at the Church of St Magnus in London there was a Guild of the Salve regina
whose members would gather at the end of the day to hear the antiphon. (There were many such guilds.) The story told in the song performed here relates how two young boys join a monastery of Black Monks (that is, Benedictines); despite their having been exemplary in all things, one hot summer day they disobey their master and bathe in the monastery stream. Satan makes a golden cup appear in the water—it is a ghastly parody of the grail—and as the boys try to reach it they are drowned. The great Cistercian, Bernard of Clairvaux (d1153), then has a nocturnal vision in which he is led into hell and sees the souls of two boys on a fiery mountain. The Virgin Mary appears and, as she passes, the two boys sing the Salve regina
which they have composed. They are saved (of course!) and so are we all, the poem assures us, if we sing the Salve regina every day
The song, designed to be sung to any melody for the well-known hymn Pange lingua, has seventy stanzas in all, and is here performed in an abridged version which retains the essentials of the story, culminating in a performance of the antiphon itself.
from notes by Christopher Page © 1996