Salve regina (alternatim)
-publ. 1541, Liber II à 4, Scotto
Ave Maria à 5 -publ. 1539, Liber I à 5, Gardano
Aspice Domine à 4 -publ. 1532, Moderne
Magnificat quarti toni -manuscript Madrid
M 2455 (1552)
* * * Intermission * * *
Dulcis amica Dei à 4
-publ. 1532, Moderne
Sancta Maria à 4 -publ. 1541, Liber II à 4, Scotto
O gloriosa Dei genitrix à 4 -publ. 1534, Attaingnant
Par un regard à 3
-publ. 1569, Phalèse
Or suis je prins à 4 -publ. 1544, Susato
O malheureuse journée à 5 -publ. 1550, Susato
regina caelorum à 5
-publ. 1541, Liber II à 5, Scotto
Tous les regretz à 6 -publ. 1544, Susato
Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-c.1560) was a singer and later master of the choirboys under the Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V. The imperial court, although based in the region of modern-day Belgium, 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 perhaps the purest expression of Northern polyphony after Josquin Des Prez. This style is often described in terms of what he did not do: Gombert liked to avoid strong cadences and clearcut phrases; he avoided canon and the cantus firmus or tenor-orientated style so favored by the previous generation; his text setting shows a lack of concern for declamation or text painting. As with Ockeghem's music, 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.
The Capella is performing three different kinds of works by Gombert. The Salve regina, Magnificat quarti toni, Ave Maria and Ave regina caelorum are chant-based works; in the first two alternatim works, the polyphonic setting by Gombert alternates with verses of the plainchant upon which it is based. In the Salve regina, there is one voice of the four parts that tends to carry the original chant melody, which is 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. However, in most of the composer's music, 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. These four chant-based motets were probably liturgical in purpose, and represent an elaboration of the liturgical text for important events at a royal or imperial chapel.
A second category comprises extra-liturgical motets such as Aspice Domine, Dulcis amica Dei and O gloriosa Dei genitrix, which are not based on chant and may have been used in church much as anthems and offertory music are today. These works take the imitative technique worked out in the chant-based motets, but present it without the quoted melodies; the motets are freer therefore to express the text, or explore melodies or harmonic ideas of interest to the composer. To the modern ear, largely not aware of the chant melodies that might or might not underlay 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.
Finally, there are some 75 chansons by Gombert for three to six voices. These secular works, although not related to the Church, are often in a similar style as the sacred works, and were probably sung by the same highly trained chapel singers, but within the context of court life. Only occasionally does Gombert's style approach that of the light 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 of the work, 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 octaves result frequently from the flow of the lines, which often are so constructed in order to 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.
Melinda McMahon Edward Hinson
Charles Turner Kristin Dexter
Vaughan Howells William Hudson
Jeremy Marcus Carolann Buff
Peter Urquhart, director
Capella Alamire was formed in 1984 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the purpose of exploring the repertoire of the Renaissance. The word Alamire is a solmization term for the pitch A, sung as la, mi, or re; it was also the pseudonym of a Flemish music scribe employed by the Habsburg court at the beginning of the 16th century in the region of present-day Belgium and northern France, an area that produced many of the greatest composers and singers of the time. Over the past twelve years the ensemble has performed some 28 programs in over 100 concerts, the majority centered on repertoire by Franco-Flemish composers. Capella Alamire has released five CD recordings to date, including one through Titanic Records (Motets by Busnoys, Josquin and Gombert, 1992), and two through Dorian Discovery -The Early Josquin (1995), and Music of the Modes: Three Masses by Johannes Ockeghem (1997).
The Capella would like to thank the following for their support and assistance:
Sheila Beardslee, Lansing McLoskey, Emily Swartzentruber
Music Dept. of the Univ. of New Hampshire; Isham Library, Harvard Univ.
Immaculate Conception Church, Portsmouth; Emmanuel Church, Boston
Ogunquit Performing Arts, Inc.; The Boston Early Music Festival