Giaches de Wert was one of the main representatives of the Franco-Flemish
school in the late 16th century. At an early age he was taken to Italy;
there he remained for the rest of his life. He first acted as a singer in
the household of Maria di Cardona, Marchese of Padulla. He developed strong
ties to the county of Novellara, which was ruled by a branch of the Gonzaga
family. It is probably thanks to these ties that he was able to work as
maestro di capella
at the court of the governor of Milan. In 1565
he became maestro di capella di chiesa e di camera
at the court of
De Wert became especially famous for his madrigals: ten books were printed
during his lifetime. In this genre he strongly influenced composers of later
generations; for instance Claudio Monteverdi who also worked at the Mantuan
court for a number of years. Wert's madrigals have left their mark on
his motets. He composed a considerable amount of sacred music and most of it
has been preserved in manuscript, including a number of masses. Only three
books with motets were printed during his lifetime. In 2008 Signum Classics
released a recording of the second book of 1581 (review
). The present disc is devoted to the first book of
1566 which includes 19 motets; 16 of them have been recorded here. They are
all for five voices, except Adesto dolori meo
which is for six.
The connection to the madrigals comes to the fore in the way Wert sets the
various texts. He makes use of harmony, contrasts in metre, musical figures
and a juxtaposition of polyphony and homophony to express words or phrases.
He was not unique in this respect: in the second half of the 16th century
there is a general increase in text expression in sacred music. Another
representative of the Franco-Flemish school whose oeuvre bears the traces of
this fashion is Orlandus Lassus. In the first book of motets by Wert some
show rather strict imitative polyphony, others include 'old'
and 'modern' elements, and some are even quite dramatic. That
goes especially for those which have a text from the Gospels where some of
Jesus's actions are described. The most striking example is Cum
which describes how he entered Jerusalem and caused a
stir. People asked: "Who is he?" and this is vividly painted in
the music. These words are sung in declamatory fashion, and repeated at
various pitches, suggesting the crowd talking. The answer: "This is
Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee" is then repeated at the
end of the motet to the same music.
Deus, tu scis insipientiam
ends with the prayer: "Hear
me", which is set to a striking rising figure in the upper voices.
"For thou hast considered my trouble" in Ego autem in Domino
is set at a low pitch, and the words "pacem habentes"
(live in peace [with all men]) homophonically. This way these words get
It is known that in the Basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua which was
built from 1562 to 1565 sacred music was often performed with instruments.
Here all the motets are performed with voices alone. This is regrettable:
the inclusion of instruments in some motets would have created greater
variety, and some of pieces certainly lend themselves to such an approach.
The choir comprises 18 voices, exactly the same as the Collegium Regale
which recorded the second book. However, there is quite a difference: the
transparency in the latter recording is much greater, and as a result the
texts are more clearly understandable. In the present recording I sometimes
found it hard to hear exactly what was sung. That goes especially for
Domine, si tu es
- it took a while until I discovered that the text
which is sung here is not the same as the one which is printed in the
downloadable file. The latter words are taken from the book of Acts rather
than from St Matthew, the text Wert has set. The expression of the meaning
of the words doesn't always come off to best effect. A smaller
ensemble would be more appropriate in this repertoire.
That said, this recording has to be welcomed. To my knowledge it is the
first to offer the almost complete first book of motets, and sacred nusic by
Wert is not well represented in the catalogue anyway. These performances are
not ideal but are good enough to demonstrate the art of Wert as a composer
of sacred music.
A word about the booklet: the lyrics are not included and have to be
downloaded from the Brilliant Classics site. They come with only a Dutch
translation which doesn't make any sense. This disc is released for
the international market; the liner-notes are only in English. The sources
of the texts are indicated, but only in Dutch. "Jes." means
Isaiah, "Mat." St Matthew, "Lc" St Luke and
"Joh" St John. "Eccl." doesn't refer to
Ecclesiastes but to the deuterocanonical book Ecclesiasticus, also known as
Sirach. From that source O mors, quam amara est
are taken. The booklet mentions the book of Daniel as
the source of O sacrum convivium
, but that is incorrect; it is in
fact a liturgical text.
Johan van Veen