A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Gombert, Nicolas

GOMBERT, Nicolas, one of the most important and prolific composers of the 16th century, was born at Bruges, as we learn from the title-page of his motets, and was attached to the service of Charles V, though in what exact capacity is not known. That Josquin was his master is testified by Hermann Finck in his 'Practica Musica,' and M. Fétis has given us the quotation from the copy of this rare work in his possession. 'Nostro vere tempore' (the book was published in 1556) 'novi sunt inventores, in quibus est Nicolaus Gombert, Jusquini piæ memoriæ discipulus, qui omnibus musicis ostendit viam, imo semitam ad quærendas fugas ac subtilitatem, ac est author musices plane diversse a superiori. Is enim vitat pausas,[1] et illius compositio est plena cum concordantiarum tum fugarum.' Gombert set to music a poem by Avidius on the death of Josquin, which was also set by Benedictus. Burney gives us the music of this, but 'after performing the tedious task of scoring the setting by Gombert, found its chief merit to consist in imitations of his master.' A great merit nevertheless, for Gombert, a mere lad when Josquin died, persevered in his imitations so successfully that he not only came to be looked upon as his master's greatest pupil, but was able in due time, and when his own genius became mature, to engrave his name on a separate link in the chain of musical history. In the hands of his predecessors, in Josquin's especially, contrapuntal skill had already become subservient to the beauty of the music. A further improvement was making itself visible in the art. Composers began more and more to vary the character of their music according to the subject of the words. No one worked with this end more in view than Gombert, and nothing helped him so much as the increasing love for secular chamber music. Musicians of his time, far from looking down upon secular music, were beginning to make it one of their great specialities. It gave them full scope for their fancy, they were hampered by no prescribed forma, they had no prejudices to overcome. It gave them free access and welcome into half the educated homes in Europe. Gombert seems to delight in it. He chooses the prettiest pastoral subjects, and sets them to descriptive music, and while the birds are discoursing the pleasures of Spring in notes imitating their natural language, while shepherd and shepherdess sing of love and the wolf meantime attacks their flock, or while all the stirring incidents of the 'chasse à courre' are vividly depicted to us, there is no extravagance, only the simple happy treatment which our own Haydn or Mozart would have employed when in such a mood. Gombert's love for nature is apparent in the very titles of his songs—'En ce mois delicieux'; 'Joyeux verger'; 'Le chant des oiseaux'; 'L'été chaud bouilloit'; 'Je m'en vois au vert bois,' etc. His power of description he carries into all the higher forms of his art, and his motets and psalms were not, in their time, surpassed for the wonderful manner in which the noble music blends itself with the ideas the words convey. Gombert has had one piece of good fortune in the last three centuries, of which few of his contemporaries can boast. One of his motets, the 'Pater Noster,' has been performed. M. Fétis tells us of the profound impression it created on the Paris audience at one of his historical concerts.—Eitner's Bibliographie der Musik-Sammelwerke (Berlin, 1877) mentions nearly 250 of Gombert's compositions, printed in upwards of 90 different collections between 1529 and 1573. A single motet, 'In nomine Jesu,' printed 26 years before any of these under the name Gompert in the Motetti B (Venice, Petrucci, 1503) must surely be the work of another composer.
  1. The Introduction of frequent pauses had become very common in music. Philip Basiron is censured for giving way to this 'fashionable folly' (Burney, vol. ii. p. 5S3).