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Nicolas Gombert

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Interestingly enough... the duel between the arch-Modernists and those who refused to abandon Romanticism. The Modernists too a progressive approach, abandoning tonality and harmony and pushing ever forward into increasingly challenging and difficult musical languages that often left even the educated audiences baffled. The Romantics continued to champion traditional tonality and harmony as essential... even natural to music. Many Modernists would accuse their Romantic rivals of being reactionaries... stuck in the past... and pandering to the broadest possible audience. In turn, they were accused of having abandoned music's ability to communicate with a public as a result of their esoteric efforts at experimentation for the sake of experimentation.

By the late 20th century, the entire dispute had become something of a non-issue to subsequent generations of composers... many of whom saw either side as just one more possibility... and freely combined elements of tonality with the dissonance or atonality of Modernism. Another camp abandoned the dispute altogether... recognizing that the dispute which was essentially that of 19th century musical ideals vs those of the 20th century ignored the wealth of other musical possibilities... including non-Western musical forms... and "Early Music".

Concurrent with the explorations of "Early Music" by composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki, Erkki-Sven Tüür, etc... the interest in the studies of Early Music increased and these would have a major impact upon the performance of music in the form of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement. HIP recordings employed the proper period instruments and performing styles to the recording of early music, be it Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, or Gesualdo. Prior to this point, most recordings of earlier composers were performed upon modern instruments, using the large-scale Romantic-era orchestras, and modern performance techniques.

Beyond the rethinking of the older masters such as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, the HIP led to a greater awareness and exploration of other composers within the older musical styles. Where the larger classical music public were well aware of an entire range of masters from the Romantic era, the baroque was often limited to Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi... with perhaps a nod to Domenico Scarlatti. It was soon discovered that the Baroque was not so limited, but rather there were any number of other masterful composers such as Biber, Zelenka, Rameau, Lully, Corelli, and Scarlatti's father, Alessandro, also at work. Exploration expanded to Renaissance and Medieval music where an equally broad array of composers were unearthed and began to see the light of day through recordings: Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Josquin, Palestrina, Perotin, Leonin, Hildegard of Bingen, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, and Nicolas Gombert... who I am currently listening to.

Nicolas Gombert was born in Flanders c. 1495 and was employed in the entourage of the Emperor, Charles V. In this position he traveled widely around Europe spreading the innovations of Franco-Flemish music to the Iberian Peninsula. Gombert was perhaps the leading composer following Josquin and prior to Palestrina. His efforts centered upon the composition of vocal music... sacred works (masses, motets, a Magnificat, etc...) and secular (chanson/songs) where he developed polyphonic music... or music that employs multiple "voices"... singers singing different melodic lines at the same time (as many as 6, 8, 10, or 12 different voices with Gombert) which harmonically weave together into a single sound. Some of his compositions are for unusually large vocal ensembles for the time, and the secular works are often especially complex. Gombert is also known, like Gesualdo, for employing elements of dissonance for expressive purposes. While the music of composers such as Gombert immediately strikes the modern listener as perhaps soothing... hypnotic... clearly spiritual in content, it might serve well to note that in its day it was some of the most daring and cutting edge music... music that many of the more conservative church leaders found shocking... overly ornamental... even blasphemous!