Giaches de Wert

Giaches de Wert

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Giaches de Wert was a Franco-Flemish
Franco-Flemish School
In music, the Franco-Flemish School or more precisely the Netherlandish School refers, somewhat imprecisely, to the style of polyphonic vocal music composition in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and to the composers who wrote it...

 composer of the late Renaissance, active in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. Intimately connected with the progressive musical center of Ferrara
Ferrara is a city and comune in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, capital city of the Province of Ferrara. It is situated 50 km north-northeast of Bologna, on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po River, located 5 km north...

, he was one of the leaders in developing the style of the late Renaissance madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

. He was one of the most influential of late sixteenth-century madrigal composers, particularly on Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer.Monteverdi's work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition – the...

, and his later music was formative on the development of music of the early Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...



Next to nothing is known about his early life, except that he was from Flanders, from either the vicinity of Ghent or Weert
Weert, Belgium
Weert, Belgium may refer to:*Weert, Antwerp, Belgium*Weert, Limburg, Belgium...

, which is near Antwerp. As a boy he went to Avellina in southern Italy, near Naples, where he became a choir boy in the chapel of Maria di Cardona, Marchesa of Padulla. Maria was the wife of Francesco d'Este, Marchese di Massalombarda, a captain under Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

; Francesco was a son of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia [luˈkrɛtsia ˈbɔrʤa] was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the powerful Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia...

, and her husband Alfonso I d'Este
Alfonso I d'Este
Alfonso d'Este was Duke of Ferrara during the time of the War of the League of Cambrai.-Biography:He was the son of Ercole I d'Este and Leonora of Naples....

). Francesco was often in France and adjacent areas on military campaigns, and as an adjunct to these adventures he brought musically talented youths back to Italy with him. Wert's association with the Este
The House of Este is a European princely dynasty. It is split into two branches; the elder is known as the House of Welf-Este or House of Welf historically rendered in English, Guelf or Guelph...

 family was to endure through most of his life.

Sometime before 1550 he began his association with the Gonzaga
House of Gonzaga
The Gonzaga family ruled Mantua in Northern Italy from 1328 to 1708.-History:In 1433, Gianfrancesco I assumed the title of Marquis of Mantua, and in 1530 Federico II received the title of Duke of Mantua. In 1531, the family acquired the Duchy of Monferrato through marriage...

 family. Most likely around 1550 he moved to Novellara
Novellara is a town and comune in the province of Reggio Emilia, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, with some 13,500 inhabitants. It is 19 km north of Reggio Emilia and has a railway station for the local train going from Reggio to Guastalla.-History:...

, a town in what is now the province Reggio Emilia, as a musician in the service of a branch of the Gonzagas; a previous suggestion that he may have been in Rome has not been securely established. Novellara in the mid-sixteenth century was a significant musical center under its local branch of the Gonzaga family. Alfonso I built a theatre and staged dramatic performances at his castle, with his young Flemish choirmaster in charge.

Relations between the Gonzaga and Este families were close, and in the early 1550s Wert traveled at least once to Mantua and Ferrara, centers of musical activity in the late sixteenth century, where he met the renowned madrigalist Cipriano de Rore
Cipriano de Rore
Cipriano de Rore was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in Italy...

, who was the most influential figure on his early musical style. While in Novellara, Wert married Lucrezia Gonzaga and raised a family, having at least six children. Wert stayed in Novellara until the early 1560s, at which time he accepted the position of maestro di cappella for the main Gonzaga chapel in Milan; however, he did not stay long there, moving in 1565 to Mantua
Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy and capital of the province of the same name. Mantua's historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family, made it one of the main artistic, cultural and notably musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole...

 where he became maestro di cappella at the chapel of Santa Barbara.

It was in Mantua that Lucrezia, Wert's wife, began an affair with Agostino Bonvicino, a Mantuan composer who was Wert's competitor at Santa Barbara. When this affair was found out in 1570, she was forced to leave Mantua, with Wert remaining behind. Wert persisted in his job, in spite of the censure of the choir for being a cuckold. However, Lucrezia's subsequent misfortunes exceeded those of Wert. On returning to Novellara, she became sexually involved with Claudio, an illegitimate son of Count Francesco of Novellara, and took part in a plot to murder his uncle on the death of his father as an attempt to gain his inheritance and title; while Claudio escaped justice, Lucrezia was caught with some of the other conspirators, and she died in prison in 1584.

While Wert endured the humiliating situation in Mantua through the late 1560s, he kept his job: he was to remain at least nominally maestro di cappella in Mantua until 1592. The 1560s were productive years for Wert musically, as he produced his first four books of five-voice madrigals during this time, and his first book for four voices. The dedications are significant: one is to Consalvo Fernandes di Cordova, Duke of Sessa
Duque de Sessa
Duke of Sessa is a Spanish noble title awarded in 1507 to Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y Herrera by Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V of Castile. Its territorial designation refers to an Italian municipality....

, and in the dedicatory preface Wert thanks him for the opportunity to lead his choir. (Fernandes was Governor of Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

 from 1558 to 1560.) During the late 1560s Wert had several offers of employment elsewhere, but turned them down. The most significant came in Augsburg in 1566, where Wert's spectacular ability to improvise counterpoint engendered an offer to join the imperial court in Prague, serving Maximilian II
Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor
Maximilian II was king of Bohemia and king of the Romans from 1562, king of Hungary and Croatia from 1563, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from 1564 until his death...

, the Holy Roman Emperor. The next job offer he refused came from Parma the next year, the home of the Farnese family. However he became increasingly close to the Este court in Ferrara during the 1570s and 1580s, without actually becoming employed there. While the two courts were closely connected by marriage and mutual interchange of musicians, Ferrara was a place with a profoundly different outlook than Mantua: Ferrara was progressive, while Mantua was supportive of the Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

; the progressive tendencies of Ferrara better fitted Wert's musical inclinations. Wert had a good time there; so much so that his employer in Mantua sent a strongly worded letter on 22 December 1584 demanding his immediate return to his post. Wert, however, had fallen in love with the widowed Tarquinia Molza
Tarquinia Molza
Tarquinia Molza was an Italian singer and poet. She was considered a great virtuosa and many artistic works were dedicated to her; Francesco Patrizi wrote about her singing in his treatise L'amorosa filosofia, and she was perhaps the first singer to have a published biography dedicated to her...

, the most famous female singer and poet in Italy, who was a lady-in-waiting at the Este court, so he endeavored to spend as much time as possible in Ferrara. This was the same year that Lucrezia, Wert's wife, died in prison in Novellara.

Tarquinia, unlike Wert, but like Lucrezia, was a member of the nobility, and when her affair with Wert was found out in 1589 – their affair was plagued with spies, and their love-letters opened – she was banished to Modena. Wert may have been previously married to nobility, but in Ferrara he was still a servant, and his affair was considered as scandalous there as was Lucrezia's in Mantua.

Wert first became ill with malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 in 1582, and ill-health was to bedevil him for the rest of his life. Even so, he remained musically productive, writing a coronation mass for Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in 1587, and numerous madrigals for the concerto delle donne
Concerto delle donne
The concerto delle donne was a group of professional female singers in the late Renaissance court of Ferrara, Italy, renowned for their technical and artistic virtuosity. The ensemble was founded by Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, in 1580 and was active until the court was dissolved in 1597...

, the renowned group of musical ladies of Ferrara, who were virtuoso singers. In 1592, Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi
Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi
Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi , was an Italian composer of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. He is known for his 1591 publication of balletti for five voices.-Career:Gastoldi was born at Caravaggio, Lombardy...

 took over his post as maestro di cappella in Mantua, and in August 1595 he dedicated his last book of madrigals. Wert died in 1596 Mantua, in his house near the ducal palace; his tomb is near to that of his contemporary Francesco Rovigo
Francesco Rovigo
Francesco Rovigo was an Italian composer and organist of the late Renaissance, active in Mantua and Graz.-Life:Nothing is known of his life prior to 1570, when he went to Venice, already 29 or 30 years old, to receive a musical education with the renowned organist and composer Claudio Merulo of...

, in the crypt of Santa Barbara, beneath the church where he worked for many years.

Secular music

While Wert wrote both sacred and secular music, as well as a handful of instrumental fantasias, his madrigals were by far the most famous portion of his output during his lifetime. He wrote approximately 230, which he published in sixteen separate books spread across a half-century, from 1558 to the final posthumous collection in 1608. His madrigal books are almost all for five voices, although he published one book in 1561 for four, and the posthumous collection of 1608 includes pieces ranging from four to seven voices.

Wert's early style was heavily influenced by Cipriano de Rore, the renowned mid-century madrigalist active at Ferrara. Wert's first three books show some features typical of Rore's writing, such as chromaticism, word-painting, and, according to Alfred Einstein, an "indifference to everything merely formal and ... [a] striving for the most intense expression." In the manner of Adrian Willaert
Adrian Willaert
Adrian Willaert was a Flemish composer of the Renaissance and founder of the Venetian School. He was one of the most representative members of the generation of northern composers who moved to Italy and transplanted the polyphonic Franco-Flemish style there....

's madrigals, he also explored distant tonal regions, while avoiding jarring harmonic progressions. In addition, he showed a preference for a declamatory, homophonic style, which he refined later in his career into a seconda prattica manner influential on Monteverdi, and he also showed a liking for high voices – something which turned out to be a defining characteristic of the music-making at the Este court in Ferrara. The poems he chose to set for his early books include examples by Pietro Bembo
Pietro Bembo
Pietro Bembo was an Italian scholar, poet, literary theorist, and cardinal. He was an influential figure in the development of the Italian language, specifically Tuscan, as a literary medium, and his writings assisted in the 16th-century revival of interest in the works of Petrarch...

, Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

 and Ariosto.

Wert's style at mid-career began to change away from the Rore manner towards one more closely aligned with the Venetians, such as Andrea Gabrieli
Andrea Gabrieli
Andrea Gabrieli was an Italian composer and organist of the late Renaissance. The uncle of the somewhat more famous Giovanni Gabrieli, he was the first internationally renowned member of the Venetian School of composers, and was extremely influential in spreading the Venetian style in Italy as...

. Pure homophony became more common in his works, and he began to exploit registral and textural contrasts rather than switch from polyphony to homophony; in addition, his lines became more lyrical. His preferred poets changed as well: while early in his career he had used Bembo and Petrarch, and later Ariosto, he shifted to Guarini
Giovanni Battista Guarini
Giovanni Battista Guarini was an Italian poet, dramatist, and diplomat.- Life :He was born in Ferrara, and spent his early life both in Padua and Ferrara, entering the service of Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, in 1567...

 and Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

. In his sixth book of madrigals for five voices (1577), he included three madrigal cycles, an innovation which was to become a prominent musical sub-genre near the end of the century. The cycles include two canzoni
Literally "song" in Italian, a canzone is an Italian or Provençal song or ballad. It is also used to describe a type of lyric which resembles a madrigal...

 by Petrarch and a capitolo by Ariosto; they are set in a declamatory manner, thereby including a treatment of vocal lines which foreshadowed monody, and Wert's own later works.

Once Wert made the acquaintance of the virtuoso singing ladies of Ferrara, the concerto delle dame, he began to write madrigals for them in an appropriate style – with elaborate parts for three high voices, often containing separate blocks for high and low voices, and the most virtuosic singing required in the topmost part. His music during this period was influenced by the other composers working in Ferrara, including Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Luzzasco Luzzaschi
Luzzasco Luzzaschi was an Italian composer, organist, and teacher of the late Renaissance. He was born and died in Ferrara, and despite evidence of travels to Rome it is assumed that Luzzaschi spent the majority of his life in his native city.As a pupil of Cipriano de Rore, Luzzaschi developed...

, and his favorite poets of the time were those most closely associated with Ferrara – Tasso and Guarini. In his tenth book of madrigals (1591), six of the compositions may have been intended for a solo singer with instrumental accompaniment, in the manner of the monodies
In poetry, the term monody has become specialized to refer to a poem in which one person laments another's death....

 which were one of the forerunners of opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

. The late music is tonal
Tonality is a system of music in which specific hierarchical pitch relationships are based on a key "center", or tonic. The term tonalité originated with Alexandre-Étienne Choron and was borrowed by François-Joseph Fétis in 1840...

, anticipating the changes in musical language of the early Baroque, during which functional tonality crystallized out of the pre-tonal universe of the late Renaissance; in addition these late compositions are mainly homophonic, with only occasional polyphonic passages appearing as an animating contrast. An influence from the Venetians is his occasional use of the concertato
Concertato is a term in early Baroque music referring to either a genre or a style of music in which groups of instruments or voices share a melody, usually in alternation, and almost always over a basso continuo...

 style, with groups of voices in dialogue.

For his final madrigal book published in his lifetime, the eleventh, he set passages from Guarini's Il pastor fido, one of the most popular texts for musical setting of the era. The final collection published under Wert's name came out posthumously in 1608, and contained pieces for four to seven voices. One of its madrigals was a setting of Guarini's notorious Tirsi morir volea, an obscene poem that Einstein called "worthless, indeed contemptible", and "...more obscene than the coarsest mascherata, the most suggestive canto carnascialesco, or the most impertinent chanson ... could not be more removed from true poetry" but yet which was the most-often set individual poem of the late sixteenth century. It portrayed a nymph and a shepherd attempting, by speeding up and slowing down, to achieve simultaneous orgasm, with multiple double entendres on "death" and "dying"; the popularity of this poem was enormous. Wert wrote his setting in 1581.

Sacred music

Wert wrote a considerable amount of sacred music, but little of it was published during his lifetime. He published only three books of motets, in 1566, 1581 and 1581; a few of his works, such as the Missa Dominicalis appeared in anthologies with the music of other composers. His other six masses remained in manuscript, as did the majority of the music he wrote for Santa Barbara in Mantua. Most likely this was because he was commissioned to write that music, such as his cycle of 127 hymns, specifically for that institution, and his publisher was in Venice.

The style of his sacred music varies from simple homophony, designed for absolute clarity of textual expression in conformance with the dictates of the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

 (as Mantua was a center of the Counter-Reformation, this was to be expected), to motet settings similar in expressive intensity to his madrigals. This is particularly true in the 1581 collections: Ascendente Jesu, for example, contains colorful examples of text-painting such as he used in the works he was composing for the Ferrarese court at the time.

All of Wert's works, both sacred and secular, have been compiled and edited by Carol MacClintock and M. Bernstein in CMM
Corpus mensurabilis musicae
The Corpus mensurabilis musicae is a collected print edition of most of the sacred and secular vocal music of the late medieval and Renaissance period in western music history, with an emphasis on the central Franco-Flemish and Italian repertories...

 series xxiv.

Secular music: madrigals, canzonette

  • Il primo libro de madrigali (Venice, 1558; five voices)
  • Il primo libro de madrigali (Venice 1561; four voices)
  • Madrigale del fiore, libro primo (Venice 1561; five voices)
  • Madrigale del fiore, libro secondo (Venice 1561; five voices)
  • Il terzo libro de madrigali (Venice 1563; five voices)
  • Il secondo libro de madrigali (Venice 1564; five voices) (Note that the third book was published before the second)
  • Il quarto libro de madrigali (Venice 1567; five voices)
  • Il quinto libro de madrigali (Venice 1571; five voices)
  • Il sesto libro de madrigali (Venice 1577; five voices)
  • Il settimo libro de madrigali (Venice 1581; five voices)
  • L'ottavo libro de madrigali (Venice 1586; five voices)
  • Il nono libro de madrigali (Venice 1588; five voices)
  • Il primo libro delle canzonette villanelle (Venice 1589; five voices)
  • Il decimo libro de madrigali (Venice 1591; five voices)
  • L'undecimo libro de madrigali (Venice 1595; five voices)
  • Il duodecimo libro de madrigali (Venice 1608; four to seven voices; posthumous)
  • Numerous works published separately or in anthologies, between 1558 and 1590.

Sacred music

Most remained in manuscript. However, the following were published:
  • Motectorum liber primus (Venice 1566; five voices)
  • Il secondo libro de motetti (Venice 1581; five voices)
  • Modulationum liber primus (Venice 1581; six voices)
  • Numerous other works published separately or in anthologies, between 1563 and 1609.


  • Heavenly Spheres
    Heavenly Spheres
    Heavenly Spheres is an a cappella choral album by the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal under the direction of Christopher Jackson. Recorded in 1998, it features songs from the late 15th to early 16th century...

    , CBC Records, MVCD 1121, sung by Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal
    Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal
    The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal is an early music vocal ensemble based in Montreal, Canada. Co-founded in 1974 by the organ and harpsichord players Christopher Jackson, Réjean Poirier, and Hélène Dugal, the group became an important part of the Early Music Revival in Montreal during the...

    . Contains two six-voice motets by Wert, Ascendente Jesu in naviculam and Peccavi super numerum.

  • "Vox in Rama", Signum, sung by Collegium Regale, the choral scholars of King's College, Cambridge, under Stephen Cleobury. Contains the entire second book of motets.

External links