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ClassicsOnline Home » GOMBERT, N.: Motets and Chansons (Urquhart)
By William Yeoman
The nine-strong Capella Alamire projects both texts and music [of the opening Salve Regina] with great clarity; the subtle use of dynamics further assists the listener to distinguish over-arching shapes and motivic variations. The chansons are equally beguiling, the use of viols in place of voices (either option is sanctioned by authentic performance practice) lending a deceptive simplicity to the writing by foregrounding the singer. Noël Bisson’s soprano is sweet and affecting, with a boyish quality…Recorded sound is excellent; director Peter Urquhart’s booklet notes are a model of clarity and concision.
Nicolas Gombert (c.1495–c.1560)
Motets, Chansons and a Magnificat
Salve regina (alternatim) (1541, Liber II à 4, Venice: Scotto)
A quoy tient il à4 (1531, Paris: Attaingnant)
Je suis trop jonette à3 (1560, Nürnberg: Berg & Neuber)
O gloriosa Dei genitrix à4 (1534, Paris: Attaingnant)
Ave Maria à5 (1539, Liber I à 5, Venice: Gardano)
Mort et fortune à4 (1538, Lyon: Moderne)
Triste depart à5 (1544, Antwerp: Susato)
O malheureuse journée à5 (1550, Antwerp: Susato)
Tous les regretz à6 (1544, Antwerp: Susato)
Pleust a Dieu à3 (1560, Louvain: Phalèse)
Or suis je prins à4 (1544, Antwerp: Susato)
Aspice Domine à4 (1532, Lyon: Moderne)
Ave regina caelorum à5 (1541, Liber II à 5, Venice: Scotto)
Par un regard à3 (1569, Louvain: Phalèse)
En attendant à6 (1545, Antwerp: Susato)
Magnificat quarti toni manuscript Madrid M 2455 (1552)
Of all the musical resources invented by the Franco-Flemish school of composers during the Renaissance, imitative counterpoint was perhaps the most important. Imitation as a strict procedure, canon, goes back to the medieval period, as does the occasional use of imitation as a special texture to highlight certain passages, but imitation as the primary structural element, systematic or "pervading" imitation, the art of motivic self-reference that allows large-scale works to be constructed without the use of pre-existing material such as a cantus firmus, had to wait until the late fifteenth century for its development by the Franco-Flemish composers Antoine Busnoys and Josquin Des Prez. Nicolas Gombert inherited his style of imitation from these direct predecessors, and brought it to such a highly developed and flexible level, that it would pervade music for the next two hundred years. Through the Baroque form of the fugue, and academic exercises based upon it, one might claim that Gombert's influence reaches us today.
Nicolas Gombert was a singer and later master of the choirboys under the Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V. The imperial court travelled widely to maintain the Emperor's domains, especially to Spain, Austria, and southern Germany. Gombert, originally from south Flanders, was thus exposed to international musical currents; nevertheless, his style remained arguably the purest expression of northern polyphony after Josquin Des Prez. This style is often described in terms of what the composer did not do: Gombert liked to avoid strong cadences and clear-cut phrases; he was less interested in the cantus firmus or tenor-orientated style so favoured by the previous generation; he avoided canon entirely; and his text setting shows a lack of concern for declamation or text painting. As with his great predecessor Johannes Ockeghem, we almost lack words to describe Gombert's style: the predominant characteristic is a seamless web of imitative polyphony which evokes a mystical intensity and sense of self-absorption.
On this recording the Capella is performing three different kinds of works by Gombert: sacred works in Latin with a clear liturgical purpose and musical foundation, sacred works without a clear liturgical connection, and secular works with French text. Despite the evident differences in purpose and compositional models, Gombert's style maintains a remarkable consistency throughout. The motet Salve regina and the Magnificat quarti toni are both chant-based works; in these "alternatim" works, the polyphonic setting by Gombert alternates with verses of the plainchant upon which it is based. In the Salve regina, one voice of the four tends to carry the original chant melody, which is also heard unadorned in between the polyphonic sections created by the composer. Most often that voice is the tenor or the superius, a continuation of the old cantus firmus tradition that was Gombert's heritage. In most of the composer's music, however, the imitation is so all-pervading that this structural voice is completely obscured. All four voices partake of the original melody, which, although not presented clearly in any one voice, appears to be present in all of them. Chant-based works were probably liturgical in purpose, and represent an elaboration of the liturgical text and melody for important events performed at a royal or imperial chapel.
The line between chant-based motets and the freer non-liturgical motets is not as obvious as might be supposed. The biblical text of the motet Ave Maria had a clearly liturgical function. The chant melody is also very much in evidence at the beginning of the motet, but through Gombert's technique of imitation it is shared by all voices of the texture; it is not possible to point to any one line as the primary cantus-firmus voice, and as the motet unfolds, its reference to the chant becomes more and more difficult to perceive. It is as though Gombert's concentration on the imitation of motives drawn from the chant takes over any concern for quoting the entirety of the chant, as his musical purpose begins to rely more fully on the play of the imitation itself.
The para-liturgical motets Aspice Domine and O gloriosa Dei genitrix share in this intensely imitative approach. They partake in the imitative technique worked out in the chant-based motets, but present it without adhering to quoted melodies. Although chant references are present, the motets are freer to express the text, or explore particular melodic motives, imitations, or harmonic ideas of interest to the composer. To the modern ear, largely unaware of the chant melodies that might or might not underlie the counterpoint, the difference is slight; only in highly charged settings like Aspice Domine is it clear that the composer is not restrained from his expressive purpose by the presence of a liturgical melody.
Gombert also composed some 75 chansons for three to eight voices. These secular works resemble the sacred works in style, and were probably sung by the same highly trained chapel singers, but within the context of the court. Our performance of some chansons with viols and one voice was suggested by their publication in prints by Tylman Susato. Although all parts were published with text, performance with instruments may have been the norm, as the title-pages announce: "convenables et proprie a jouer de tous instruments". Instrumental participation serves to lighten the dense motet-like texture of an all-vocal performance. Only occasionally does Gombert's style approach that of the popular Parisian chanson, a style glimpsed in some passages of Or suis je prins or Tous les regretz. In the latter work, the composer seems to take delight in creating a polyphonic trap at the very end, resulting in a riot of harsh cross-relations for the text "when suddenly I see her". Indeed, cross-relations seem to be an intrinsic aspect of Gombert's counterpoint; although rarely explicitly notated, diminished fifths and imperfect octaves result frequently from the flow of the lines, which seem arranged in order to produce clash, especially at important cadences in the texture. Although the chansons present a strikingly melodious aspect of our composer, Gombert's music is never far from the expressive density of motive that results from his technique of pervading imitation.
Salve Regina misericordiae,
Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve:
Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Hevae;
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 exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Maria.
Hail, Queen of mercy.
Our life, delight and hope, hail.
To thee we cry, exiles, children of Eve.
To thee we sigh, moaning and lamenting
in this vale of tears.
Come then, our advocate,
Turn thy merciful eyes towards us.
And show Jesus, the blessed fruit
of thy womb, to us after this our exile.
O merciful, O kind, O sweet Mary.
A quoy tient il dont vient cela,
Que ie suys tant amoureulx delle,
Et quant ie suys aupres delle,
Ie ne luy ose demander cela.
A quoy tient il dont vient cela.
Where does this come from
That I am so much in love with her?
And when I am near her,
I do not dare ask her this.
Where does this come from?
Je suis trop jonette pour faire ung amy
Se suis je bien preste d'en fair ung joly
S'il est a ma poste, il aura mon cuer,
Et laisra mon pere, ma mere,
mon frere et ma seur.
M'en iray seullette au boys avecq luy
Cueillier violette pour passer ennuy.
I am too young to take a lover.
But I could have a boyfriend
If he were to my liking, he would have my heart,
And I would leave my father, my mother
my brother and my sister
I would go off alone with him to the woods
To pick violets and pass the time away.
O gloriosa Dei genitrix,
virgo semper Maria,
quae Dominum omnium meruisti portare,
et regem angelorum
sola virgo lactabat,
nostrique pia memorare
et pro nobis Christum deprecare,
ut tuis fulti patrociniis,
ad caelestia regna
Quae est ista, quae ascendit,
sicut aurora consurgens,
pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol,
terribilis ut castrorum,
O glorious Mother of God,
Mary, ever a virgin
who were worthy to bear the Lord of all,
and the king of the angels
suckled only by the virgin,
remember us with kindness
and intercede for us with Christ,
so that, sustained by your protection,
we may deserve to reach
the kingdom of heaven.
Who is this, the one ascending
arising like the dawn,
fair as the moon, shining like the sun
terrible as an army,
arrayed for battle.
Ave Maria, gratia plena:
Dominus tecum, benedicta tu
in mulieribus et benedictus
fructus ventris tui Jesus,
Sancta Maria, regina caeli,
dulcis et pia, O Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
ut cum electis te videamus.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou
among women, and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, queen of heaven,
sweet and merciful, O Mother of God,
speak for us and our sins,
that we may see thee with the elect.
Mort et fortune pourquoy m'avez laisse
Seul en ce monde despourvue de liesse
Pourquoy si tost hors du monde gette
Celle par qui je languis en tristesse
Hellas, m'amye puis que la mort my presse
Et que ne puis mettre a fin mes douleurs
Reprens la vie ou mort prendre me laisse.
Death and fortune why have you left me
Alone in this world deprived of happiness
Why have you so early cast out of the world
Her for whom I languish in sadness?
Alas, my love, seeing that death presses in on me
And that I cannot put an end to my pains
Take back life or let death take me.
Triste depart m'avoit mis en douleur
Mon corps estoit plus froit qui n'est le marbre
Transi de dueil et sechant comme ung arbre
Ma face avoit perdu toute couleur.
A sad farewell had caused me great pain
My body was colder than marble
Full of mourning and dry like a tree
My face had lost all colour.
O malheureuse journée,
O pitoiable desolation,
O cruelle destinée,
O mortelle separation,
Acheve tot ton entreprinse
De ton ennuie sur moy prinse,
Mais ce seroit bien a grant tort,
Puis que iendure la mort.
O unhappy day,
O pitiable desolation,
O cruel destiny,
O fatal separation.
Quickly finish your undertaking
Which your torments take against me.
But that would be a great wrong,
For then I would suffer death.
Tous les regretz
qu'oncques furent au monde,
Venez vers moy,
quelque part que ie soye,
Prenez mon cueur,
en sa douleur parfonde,
Et le fendez,
que soudainement la voye.
All the regrets
that ever were in the world
Come to me,
wherever I may be.
Take my heart
in its deep sorrow,
And break it,
when I suddenly see her.
Pleust a Dieu quil fust dict
A la court souveraine
Et que sans nulz contredict
Tous ceulx qui sentre aiment
Ensamble fuissent mis
Et jaloux bien maris
Mais possible nest pas
Davoir tant desoulas.
Weep to God that it was said
at some sovereign court
and without any contradiction:
All those who are in love
should be brought together.
But among fine jealous husbands
it is not possible to
have such desolation.
Or suis je prins
en merveilleux arroy
qui pour avoir pasture,
se met en desarroy.
Now I put myself
in an unbelievable plight
Like a bird,
who, to find food,
In confusion, puts
himself in a trap.
Aspice Domine, quia facta est
desolata civitas plena divitiis
sedet in tristitia, domina gentium;
non est qui consoletur eam
nisi tu Deus noster.
Muro tuo inexpugnabili
circumcinge eam Domine,
et armis tuae potentiae protege eam
semper Domine Deus noster.
Consider Lord, because the city which was
once so wealthy has become desolate;
she sits in a state of sadness.
There is none to comfort her
except you, our God.
With an impregnable wall,
surround her, O Lord;
and with the weapons of your might
protect her always, O Lord our God.
Ave regina caelorum,
Ave domina angelorum.
Salve radix sancta,
ex qua mundo lux est orta.
super omnes speciosa.
Vale, valde decora, et pro nobis
semper Christum exora.
Hail, queen of heaven,
hail mistress of the angels.
I greet thee, holy root,
whence sprang light to the world.
Rejoice, thou glorious one,
beyond all others beautiful.
Farewell, O thou most decorous;
pray for us ever to Christ.
Par un regard
En attendant l'espoir de ma maistresse
Me trouvé sans avoir plaisir, ne liesse,
Veu que de long temps
Nous sommes ayant
Toujours sans cesse.
En attendant l'espoir de ma maistresse.
Waiting for hope from my mistress
Finds me without pleasure or joy,
Wishing for so long a time
That we might have
All our days without end.
Waiting for hope from my mistress.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum
2. Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes
4. Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est
et sanctum nomen ejus.
Et misericordia ejus a progenie in
progenies timentibus eum.
6. Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit
8. Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum
recordatus misericordiae suae.
10. Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros
Abraham et semini ejus in saecula.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto.
12. Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
My soul magnifies the Lord.
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour.
For he has regarded his handmaid's humility.
For behold, from now on all generations
shall call me blessed.
For he who is mighty has magnified me
and his name is holy.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
throughout all generations.
He has showed strength with his arm:
he has scattered the proud of heart.
He has deposed the mighty from their seat:
and he has exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things:
and the rich he has sent away with nothing.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy.
As was said to our fathers,
Abraham and his seed, forever.
Glory to the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and
always, and in the age of ages. Amen.
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GOMBERT, N.: Motets and Chansons (Urquhart)