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Published on Feb 9, 2010
Nicolas Gombert (bc 1495; d c 1560) Flemish composer. Gombert was one of the leading composers of his generation, and one of the most technically advanced composers of polyphonic vocal music in Western history. Highly regarded by his contemporaries as a great innovator, he favoured dense textures and often used dark, rich timbres. He used pervading imitation more consistently than anyone of his own or an earlier generation, creating textures in which the voices tend to be equally important. Gombert was born in a village in Flanders, in the vicinity of Lille, now a part of France. He later became choir master to the most prestigious court in Europe, that of Emperor Charles V in Spain. His position allowed him to travel throughout the continent, together with the Imperial entourage. Contemporaries suggested that Gombert had been a student of Josquin Des Préz, but the details of this possible association are unknown. Gombert's compositions are entirely vocal, some for ensembles of up to twelve distinct voices. As opposed to his Italian contemporaries, who had begun work on a more animated and harmonically-oriented idiom, Gombert kept entirely within the domain of strict counterpoint and in fact seemed to hold the new musical developments of the time in low regard. His contrapuntal language is based on that of Josquin, but taken to the next level of complexity. A substantial volume of Gombert's compositions survive, including masses, a large number of motets, secular chansons, a set of eight Magnificats (one in each mode), and various isolated movements. Shortly after his death, Gombert was mourned as the last of the great masters of vocal polyphony. Indeed, his style continued to represent the most advanced development of imitative counterpoint, at least until the elaboration of the fugue in the Baroque era. His music continued to be printed until long after his death.