Renaissance polyphonist of the Franco-Flemish school; b. Bruges or south Flanders?, c. 1500; d. Tournai?, 1556. This distinguished disciple of Josquin desprez became first a singer (1526), then master of the children (1530) in the chapel of Charles V, and traveled in Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany. He obtained ecclesiastical benefices in Lens, Courtrai, Béthune, and Metz and a canonry in Tournai (1534). His works comprise ten parody Masses for four to six voices (including one for the coronation of Charles V), 169 motets for four to eight voices (mostly Marian, but occasionally political), about 60 chansons for three to six voices, one Italian piece, and one Spanish piece. Hermann Finck (1527–58) praises Gombert for his technique of imitation (fugas ) as well as for his avoidance of pausas (variously interpreted to mean rests, paired imitation, or full cadences that would interrupt the polyphonic continuity). Indeed, his voices are almost constantly active in points of pervading imitation. By amalgamating traditional Franco-Flemish characteristics with his personal style, Gombert greatly developed the art of polyphony and may be considered one of its leading exponents in the generation preceding palestrina.
Bibliography: Opera omnia, ed. j. schmidt-gÖrg, Corpus mensurabilis musicae, v. 6 (Rome 1951–). j. schmidt-gÖrg, Nicolas Gombert (Bonn 1938). r. maniates, "The Sacred Music of Nicolas Gombert," The Canadian Music Journal 6.2 (1962) 25–38. h. eppstein, Nicolas Gombert als Motettenkomponist (Würzburg 1935). d. von bartha, "Probleme der Chansongeschichte im 16. Jahrhundert: Nicolas Gombert—Benedictus Appenzeller," Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft 13 (1930–31) 507–530. a. einstein, The Italian Madrigal, tr. a. h. krappe et al., 3 v. (Princeton 1949). j. ravell and s. broman, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom (London 1954) 3:705–706. Histoire de la musique, ed. roland-manuel, v. 1 (Paris 1960–63). g. reese, Music in the Renaissance, (rev. ed. New York 1959). e. jas, "Nicolas Gombert's Missa Fors Seulement : A Conflicting Attribution," Revue Belge de Muiscologie 46 (1992) 163–177. g. nugent, "Nicolas Gombert" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, v. 7, ed. s. sadie (New York 1980) 512–516. d. m. randel, ed., The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (Cambridge 1996) 321. n. slonimsky, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (New York 1992) 647.
The Franco-Flemish composer Nicolas Gombert (ca. 1500-1556) introduced fully imitative treatment in the motet, and his method of composing the parody Mass remained the most important one throughout the Renaissance.
Almost nothing is known of the origin and early training of Nicolas Gombert. One edition of his four-voice motets with the ascription Nicolai Gomberti Flandri Brugensis… identifies his birthplace as Bruges, but other indirect evidence suggests the town of La Gorgue in Flanders. If the German music theorist Hermann Finck (Practica musica, 1556) is correct when he names Gombert a student of Josquin des Prez, such training probably occurred at Condé, where Josquin ended his illustrious career.
Gombert spent a large part of his creative life in the imperial chapel of Charles V. Gombert's name first appears on a rolle des benefices of Oct. 2, 1526, written in Granada, Spain, where Charles was temporarily sojourning. By 1529 Gombert was charged with training the royal choristers and composing music for court and chapel functions. He performed these duties until shortly before Dec. 28, 1540, when he is no longer mentioned in the chapel archives.
During these years Gombert and the choir accompanied the Emperor on many trips to Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Flanders. The Hapsburgs rewarded the composer with income from several large churches, including those at Courtrai and Tournai. Since Finck speaks of him as alive in 1556, but he is no longer listed the following year in the records of Tournai Cathedral, it can be assumed that he died sometime in 1556 or 1557.
Gombert's extant works comprise 41 French chansons, 8 Magnificats, 159 motets for four to six voices, and 10 Masses. Most of these compositions support Finck's opinion that Gombert "has shown to all composers the method of writing imitation…. He avoids rests and his composition is both full of harmony and imitation." Imitation was not new with Gombert, for Josquin had made it an important part of musical architecture. But while the older man merely added it to a battery of other structural devices, Gombert restricted himself more completely to imitation. Unlike Josquin, whose music has an airy quality resulting from numerous rests given to all parts, Gombert avoids them by keeping all voices singing almost continuously. As a result, his pieces sound "fuller" and more "harmonic" than those of the previous generation.
Gombert avoids constructive techniques such as phrase repetition, canon, and cantus firmus. In the motets where long passages are often little more than an ongoing imitation of the same motive, he alters each repetition. Following Josquin, he favors the large two-part motet structure (AB:CB) in which the close of each part employs identical music and text.
Of Gombert's 10 Masses, 8 can be classified as "parodies" of preexisting models. For these parody Masses, in part a creation of Gombert, he replaced the older cantus firmus tenor with polyphonic chansons and motets, some of which were from his own hand. Motives from the model were joined succesively in one voice or simultaneously in several, and strategically alternated with freely composed material.
A discussion of Gombert's style is in Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959). For background see Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (1960). □
Gombert, Nicolas, important Flemish composer;b. southern Flanders, possibly between Lille and St. Omer, c. 1495; d. c. 1560. He was one of the most eminent pupils of Josquin des Prez, on whose death he composed a funeral dirge. The details of his early life are obscure and uncertain. The physician Jerome Cardan reported that Gombert violated a boy and was sentenced to the galleys on the high seas. He is first positively accounted for in 1526, when his name ap-pears on the list of singers at the court chapel of Charles V that was issued at Granada in that year; the restless Emperor traveled continually throughout his extensive domain—Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands—and his retinue was obliged to follow him in his round of his courts at Vienna, Madrid, and Brussels; Gombert prob-ably was taken into the service of the Emperor on one of the latter’s visits to Brussels. He is first mentioned as “maistre des enffans de la chapelle de nostre sr empereur” (“master of the boys of the royal chapel”) in a court document dated Jan. 1, 1529; he remained in the Emperor’s employ until 1538-0, during which time he took an active part in the various functions of the court, composing assiduously. After his retirement from his post in the royal chapel, he seems to have returned to his native Netherlands (Tournai), and there continued to compose until his death. He held a canonship at Notre Dame, Courtrai, from June 23, 1537, without having to take up residence there, and was also a canon at the Cathedral of Tournai from June 19, 1534. Despite his many trips abroad and the natural influence of the music of other countries, Gombert remained, stylistically, a Netherlander. The chief feature of his sacred works is his use of imitation, a principle which he developed to a high state of perfection. The parts are always in motion, and pauses appear infrequently; when they do occur, they are very short. In his handling of dissonance he may be regarded as a forerunner of Palestrina. His secular works, of which the earliest known printed examples (9 4-part chansons) are included in Attaignant’s collection of 1529-9, are characterized by a refreshing simplicity and directness. Gombert’s greatest contributions to the development of 16th-century music lay in his recognizing the peculiari-ties of Netherlandish polyphony and his developing and spreading it abroad. His extant works include 10 masses, over 160 motets, and 70 chansons, many of which appeared in contemporary (mostly Spanish) lute and guitar arrangements, a fact which shows the great vogue they had. Gombert’s Opera omnia, ed. by J. Schmidt-Gorg, was publ. in Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae, VI/1-11 (1951-75).
H. Eppstein, N. G. als Motettenkomponist (Wiirzburg, 1935); J. Schmidt-Gorg, N. G., Kapellmeister Karls V: Leben und Werk (Bonn, 1938).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire