Ergone vitae is unlike any of the other pieces on this recording in being entirely secular in nature. It is a setting of a neo-Latin poem by the brilliant but short-lived Johannes Secundus (Jan Everaerts, 1511–36), on convalescing from an illness and rejecting the life of an invalid. Everaerts’s family were staunch supporters of Charles V—the poet’s father was made President of the States of Holland and Zealand, and finally President of the Council at Mechlin, one of the most important posts in the Netherlands—and it would seem that Johannes encountered Gombert at, or at least via, the court. Although still composed in imitative counterpoint, the motet displays a difference in style from the sacred pieces, with a more fluid attitude to the text, which is generally set in a less melismatic way, enhancing its audibility. The setting of the phrase ‘Sparge puer, resonante nervo’ (‘hurl, boy, with twanging bow-string’) is, if not madrigalian in its response to text, certainly more direct than Gombert was apt to be in an ecclesiastical setting. Just as in his French chansons an imitative style was harnessed to a lighter subject matter, here the secular subject occasions a less weighty setting than Gombert’s norm.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2007