Jacob Obrecht wrote at least three settings of the popular Marian prayer, one each for three, four, and five voices. All three use the Gregorian plainsong associated with the text as a cantus firmus, but all three also display a more progressive outlook towards musical structure, which uses textural shifts, close imitation, and strong harmonic planning to organize the progress of musical sound. His setting for six voices partakes especially of a sonic grandeur, and has proved one of his most popular motets in our own time.
The text to "Salve regina," liturgically appropriate to worship after the service of Compline throughout the Advent season, is divided up into sections of composed polyphony, which alternate with plainchant: the technique of Alternatim common to settings of Psalms and hymns as well. The chant melody, in this setting, is assigned to the Tenor voice, though echoes or previews of its motives in other voices lends an aural unity to the music. The chant (quite well-known to any listeners in Obrecht's day) is somewhat drawn out rhythmically, but more often than not its speed and level of ornamentation mesh with the other voices.
Within that (somewhat archaic) structural framework, Obrecht fills the motet with a variety of sounds and textures. Two movements begin with strict points of imitation, one with stark homophony within which hides deep imitation of this point of the chant melody (the text here is on the name of Christ: et Jesum, and the texture possibly signals an affective Italian style of chordal writing for Elevation motets). Other notable moments in the music include the sudden dip into the lowest three voices, and the ponderous length of the section setting lacrimarum valle, the "valley of tears," and the sprightly syncopations in the counterpoint setting the last moments of polyphony.
Salve, regina, mater misericordiae. Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus, exules, filii Evae. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exilium ostende. O clemens. O pia. O dulcis virgo Maria.
Hail, queen, mother of mercy. Our life, our sweetness, and our hope, hail! To you we cry out, banished children of Eve. To you we sigh, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Come then, our advocate, turn your eyes of mercy upon us. And Jesus, blessed fruit of your womb, show him to us after our exile. O gentle, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.