The four-voice setting of Virgo sancta Katherina is scored for three treble voices and one alto; although one or two other motets by Gombert are similarly written for boys’ voices, the others are graces for use at table, one ending memorably ‘prosit vobis, Domini!’ (‘good health to you, masters!’). In the restricted vocal compass of the present piece, Gombert makes use of pairs of voices, and a technique of which he was particularly fond is in evidence: the strategic repetition of a single pitch. All four voices enter on a high d", and this pitch is the top of the piece’s range for twenty-three bars, until the phrase ‘urbe Alexandrina’ takes the upper two voices as high as f". Homophony then proclaims St Catherine’s royal birth (‘she was the daughter of King Costas’), before an extended triple-time section, a rare occurrence in music of this period, in which prayers begin to be addressed to the saint. These supplications form the basis of a second homophonic section (‘famularum suscipe vota’), as if to make sure that the request can be clearly heard. Most unusually, the final ‘vota’ ends on a D major chord, with the ‘Amen’ providing, as it were, the resolution of a perfect cadence on the tonic. Were it not for the fact that Virgo sancta Katherina was published as early as 1534, one would imagine it to have been written much later, possibly well after Gombert’s lifetime.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007