Nicolas Gombert: Missa Media Vita In Morte Sumus
The Hilliard Ensemble : discography

ECM New Series 1884

Playing time: 76'00

Recorded May 2002
Propstei St. Gerold


Nicolas Gombert: Missa Media Vita In Morte Sumus

The Hilliard Ensemble


Nicolas Gombert (c.1495–c.1560)

 1.  Media vita in morte sumus 
a 6 voci
 2.  Missa Media Vita: Kyrie 
a 5 voci
 3.  Missa Media Vita: Gloria 
a 5 voci
 4.  Salve Regina 
a 4 voci
 5.  Anima mea liquefacta est 
a 5 voci
 6.  Missa Media Vita: Credo 
a 5 voci
 7.  O Crux, splendidior 
a 6 voci
 8.  Missa Media Vita: Sanctus 
a 5 voci
 9.  Quam pulchra es 
a 4 voci
 10.  Missa Media Vita: Agnus Dei 
a 5 voci
 11.  Musae Iovis 
a 6 voci


David James, countertenor
Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor
Steven Harrold, tenor
Andreas Hirtreiter, tenor
Gordon Jones, baritone
Robert Macdonald, bass


The CD’s programme is opened by the six-part motet Media Vita, one of Gombert’s undisputed masterpieces. The composer’s predilection for dark colours is demonstrated by the setting for five male voices and only one “superius” part. Equally characteristic is his restraint in the use of outward expressivity like melodic word painting, ornamentation or clear caesura that could disturb the inward meditative flow. The motet Media Vita provides the musical basis for the Missa Media Vita. Extensive references are clearly audible particularly in the first bars of the respective movements, where the opening of the motet is quoted. However, in the progress of the piece the material is used in a much freer way. Another six-part masterwork closes the carefully constructed programme: the motet Musae Jovis, a musical homage to Josquin Desprez.


Gombert's polyphony tends to be intense; he's a Renaissance Phil Spector. One has to give in to the wash of music that he hurls at you. There are few fun canonic duets to lighten the texture, for example; all five (or four, or six) men seem to be singing all the time. Far from being a criticism, the impression is quite stunning if you're ready for the chocolate-y, solid sound. Gombert loves dissonances, and there are troves of long stretches here. The resolutions are invariably exquisite. This Mass is based on a motet he, himself wrote called "In the middle of life we are already dead." After singing the motet, the superb Hilliard Ensemble performs the Mass, interspersed with other motets, probably to vary the density of the texture. The original melody of the motet is used throughout the Mass, and it's fascinating to follow it as it flows away and returns. The performance is impeccable and the sound, as always with ECM, is glorious--reverberant without every getting muddy. If Josquin is to your taste, try Gombert. The latter was probably the former's student. Not for the lighthearted, but glorious music nonetheless. --Robert Levine (

Nicolas Gombert: 16th-century, born in Flanders, a leading musical figure in Spain at Emperor Charles V’s court… For 400 years his music slumbered, but specialist choirs such as the bold and peerless Hilliard Ensemble are now getting drunk on his vocal counterpoint. Very intoxicating. Music that lifts the spirit and gives no hiding place to performers. Not that the Hilliards need one.
Geoff Brown, The Times

It’s the right group to tackle Gombert’s complex polyphonic works. The middle voices power the majority of the four- to six-voice mass movements, yet David James’ high-register countertenor and Robert Macdonald’s subwoofer-ready bass tones act as outstanding bookends to the contrapuntal wonders of the “Media vita in Morte Sumus” motet, as well as in five movements from “Missa Media Vita”… The Hilliard crew does justice to Gombert with his complex moving lines and dynamics, and gives the composer the respect he deserves.
Brian Truitt, Washington Examiner