The Kennedy Center

Giaches de Wert


Giaches de Wert was a Flemish musician and composer primarily known for his madrigals. His highly expressive melodies were an important forerunner of the chromatic and dissonant style used by Monteverdi in his Seconda Pratica.
Little is known of Wert's early years; he was born in Flanders in 1535.  As a boy he was taken to Italy to be a singer in the Marchesa of Padulla's household. Between 1550 and 1565 he served at several minor courts.  Later in 1565 the Gonzaga family made him maestro di capella at the ducal chapel of Santa Barbara at Mantua.  He remained in service to the Gonzaga family for the rest of his life.
Sixteen volumes of his madrigals were published between 1558 and 1608.  Their styles mirror the resources available, the differing tastes of his patrons and his exposure to other musical influences. Of special note is Il sesto libro, which contains two long canzoni written in the declamatory style that is cited as one of Wert's most important and original contributions to madrigalian language.  The texts that he set in the early books are characteristic of mid-century taste -- Petrarch,  Bembo and Tansillo.  Later he preferred epic verse, in particular the works of Tasso and Guarini.
His church music was mostly unpublished at the time of his death.  He wrote seven masses, several collections of hymns and motets, most of which reflect liturgical practice at Santa Barbara.  His motets were the only part of his sacred compositions to be printed in quantity in his lifetime.
Wert's personal life was chaotic at times.  In 1570 he learned that his wife Lucrezia, a member of a minor branch of the Gonzaga family, was having an adulterous affair with a member of the S. Barbara choir. Later it was discovered that she was part of a plot to overthrow the Gonzaga family of Novellara.  She went to prison where she died in 1584. 
In 1582, Wert fell ill with malaria and was unwell periodically throughout the rest of the decade.  Illness forced him to retire from his post at Santa Barbara in 1592.  He died in Mantua on May 6, 1596.
Source: Oxford Music Online
Giaches de Wert