Giaches de Wert

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Giaches de Wert (pronounce: JYA-kes de VERT) (born Flanders, 1535; died Mantua, 6 May 1596) was a Flemish composer who lived and worked in Italy. He was one of the most important composers of madrigals in the Renaissance period.

Life[change | change source]

We know very little about his childhood. Even some of the things about his adult life we are not sure about. He was born in Flanders, possibly in Ghent. When he was a boy he was taken to Italy and he stayed there for the rest of his life.

As a boy he was a singer in the household of Maria di Cardona, Marchesa of Padulla, near Naples. As a young man he lived in Novellara. He married there, and he had at least six children.

Later he went to live in Milan where he had the job of maestro di capella (music director). He stayed there until 1565. Some letters he wrote during that time have survived. They describe life at the court where he worked.

In 1565 he went to work for the Gonzaga in Mantua and became choir master at the ducal chapel of S. Barbara where he stayed until 1592. A lot of people were jealous of his good job, especially a man called Bonvicino who made life difficult for him. It was then found that Bonvicino was having a love affair with de Wert’s wife, so she had to go back to live in Novellara.

De Wert was becoming a very well known composer. He was offered a job at the emperor’s palace in Prague, but he did not take it. He travelled to work in various places such as Parma and Novellara. In Novellara his wife was found to have been plotting against the Gonzaga of Novellara. She was put in prison where she later died. There were long arguments in the law court about who should have her property. In the end, de Wert was given a third of her possessions, and he was given the right to let his children inherit the money.

He worked in Ferrara where he had a love affair with a lady who was of aristocratic birth. Since he was only a musician he was only a servant, so the lady was sent away from the court.

In his later years he worked for the court at Mantua where the music had become very good because the new ruler, Vincenzo Gonzaga, was very interested in music. De Wert composed music for the theatre. His health became poor. He suffered from malaria during the early 1580s. He died in Mantua and was buried in the crypt at S Barbara.

Music and influence[change | change source]

De Wert wrote over 230 madrigals and other secular works. These were later published in 16 volumes. He also wrote over 150 sacred pieces (motets, hymns etc.) which showed how well he could write counterpoint.

His madrigals were very modern for their time. The music was very daring in the way it described the words. He sometimes used small groups of singers to contrast with one another like a musical conversation. He was a great influence on later madrigal composers such as Monteverdi and Gesualdo.

References and further reading[change | change source]

  • Groves Music Online
  • Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4