Nicolas Gombert

(c.1500 - after 1556)

Franco-Flemish composer. Probably a pupil of Josquin Desprez, he entered the service of Charles V's chapel as a singer in or before 1526, and within a few years had become master of the boys, a post he still held in 1537 and which gave him many opportunities to travel abroad, especially to Spain. Around 1540 he was sentenced to a period of exile on the high seas for gross indecency, but he earned his release by composing his'swan song'--perhaps a set of Magnificats. He later held a canonry at the cathedral of Tournai, where he spent the last few years of his life.

Gombert was one of the leading figures of the generation between Josquin and Palestrina. He wrote some ten Masses, about 160 motets, eight Magnificats and sixty chansons; the tally of his sacred works shows the general ascendancy of the motet over the Mass at this period. The Masses themselves demonstrate the modern trend towards the parody technique. One of the great polyphonists of the Renaissance, Gombert wrote in a consistently polyphonic style, based on imitative entries for each phrase of text, without variations of texture or chordal passages. He tended to avoid cantus firmus and canonic treatment, and his music is on the whole severely modal, lacking in Italianate tonal feeling. His harmonies are often dissonant, and his melodic lines planned for striking musical effect rather than clear verbal declamation.

IVA: The Netherlanders around and after Josquin