Vox Lucens

Vox Lucens CD: Missa quam pulchra es

Vox Lucens: Missa quam pulchra es

Program Notes

Nicolas Gombert was born in the late 1400s, near the thriving city of Lille, then part of Flanders. Something about the air, water, or ales of Flanders gave rise to many generations of influential Renaissance composers. Of his generation, Gombert was possibly the greatest.

At that time, Flanders was part of the far-flung empire of Charles V, a territory based in Spain but including the formerly French Burgundian Flanders, Austria, and the Spanish New World territories. Naturally, a musician of Gombert's talent found employ in the imperial court. He was named master of the choir boys and also may have served as unofficial court composer, the official composer's title being reserved for the court's maestro di cappella. He was granted many remunerative benefices, but was never named to the official top job.

It is clear, however, that Gombert was held in the highest esteem by his peers: Ganassi called him a composer of “divine” talent and Bermudo described him as a “profound musician.” What earned such praise was Gombert’s mastery of all the then-current elements of composition, starting with canonic imitation. Renaissance composers created musical flow and interplay by having voices take up a theme in turn, each voice layering some variant on top of the other voices' statement; modern-day rounds are one version of canonic imitation. Whereas most of Gombert's peers would work out this imitation among four voices, leaving ample time between vocal entrances, Gombert took this imitative style to an extreme. Five, six, and sometimes eight or ten parts cascade in close succession, all stating close variants of the same bit of music. As a singer, to be in the thick of this feels like being surrounded by the ringing of vocal bells, with the same pieces of melody ricocheting among one’s fellow singers.

How did Gombert pull this off? He had a great ear for harmonic motion and planned his music so that the chords implied by all the counterpoint lead from one harmonic state to the next, emphasizing and supporting the text. For large works like Missa quam pulchra es, he further organized each movement according to a common framework, in this case, one derived from Bauldeweyn's motet setting of the Song of Songs text Quam pulchra es. It takes some sleuthing to find the bits of the motet in the mass. Gombert restates the opening and closing motifs, but otherwise does little more than repurpose parts that struck his fancy and suited his needs. The mass ends with another borrowed snippet, the chant Ecce sacerdos magnus ("Behold the great servant"), which Gombert runs simultaneously with all the rest of the music, first in long notes, and then at twice the tempo. The insertion of this text suggests that the mass may have honored a high cleric, possibly the pope. It's further testimony to Gombert's genius that he does all this while expanding from the motet's original four parts to six and even seven parts. For all these reasons, we think of him as the Brahms of the Renaissance.

This edition of the mass was prepared anew by our director, Jay Lane. Modern choirs must make adjustments in Renaissance church music, as women did not sing polyphony in the all-male court cappella (the top part being carried by boys). We have adjusted the pitch upward to match the range of the female voice – a departure from Gombert's original sound, which plumbs the depths by leaning on bass, baritone, and low tenor ranges. Finally, this edition was further proofed against one of the remaining sixteenth-century prints of this music, graciously made available by the Boston Athenaeum.

-- Marc Vilain


Quam pulchra es (Bauldeweyn)
Quam pulchra es,
et quam decora charissima, in deliciis!
Statura tua assimilata est palmæ,
et ubera tua botris.
Caput tuum ut Carmelus:
Collum tuum sicut turris eburnea.
Veni dilecte mi,
egrediamur in agrum,
videamus si flores
fructus parturiunt,
si floruerunt mala punica:
ibi dabo tibi ubera mea.
How beautiful art thou,
and how comely, my dearest, in delights!
Thy stature is like to a palm tree,
and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
Thy head is like Carmel:
Thy neck as a tower of ivory.
Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the field,
let us see if the flowers be ready
to bring forth fruits,
if the pomegranates flourish:
there will I give thee my breasts.
Missa quam Pulchra Es (Nicolas Gombert)


Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te. Benedicimus te.
Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.
Domine Deus, Rex caelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite,
Iesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris.

Qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
miserere nobis.
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus.
Tu solus Dominus.
Tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe.

Cum Sancto Spiritu,
in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Glory be to God on high, and
on earth peace, good will towards men.
We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee, we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee
for thy great glory,
O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world
Receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father
Have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only art most high, O Christ,

With the Holy Ghost,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Credo in unum Deum.
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem caeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,

Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum, non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt

Qui propter nos homines
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de caelis.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine:
Et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato:
passus, et sepultus est.
Et resurrexit tertia die,
secundum scripturas.
Et ascendit in caelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria
judicare vivos et mortuos:
Cujus regni non erit finis.

Et in Spiritum sanctum Dominum,
et vivificantem:
Qui ex Patre, Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur,
et conglorificatur:
Qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam
et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

Confiteor unum baptisma
in remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Et vitam venturi saeculi.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Only begotten Son of God,

Begotten of his Father before all worlds.
God of God, light of light,
True God of true God.
Begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father:
by whom all things were made.

Who for us men
and for our salvation
came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary:
And was made man.

And was crucified also for us
under Pontius Pilate:
suffered, and was buried.
And the third day He rose again
according to the scriptures.
And ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father.
And He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead:
His kingdom shall have no end.

And (I believe in) the Holy Ghost,
Lord and giver of life:
Who proceedeth from the Father and Son.
Who with the Father and Son
together is worshipped and glorified:
Who spake by the Prophets.
And in one holy catholic
and apostolic church.

I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins.
And I look for the resurrection of the dead
And the life of the world to come.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.
Holy, holy, holy
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Osanna in excelsis.
Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Agnus Dei
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem.

[Second tenor:]

Ecce sacerdos magnus,
qui in diebus suis placuit Deo,


et inventus est justus.

Lamb of God, who takest away
the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takest away
the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takest away
the sins of the world, grant us peace.

[Second tenor:]

Behold a great priest,
who in his days pleased God,


and was found righteous.