Little is known about the early life of Giaches de Wert, except that he was born in 1535 somewhere in the region of Antwerp or Ghent (perhaps in the small village of Weert between the two cities). From his youth, however, his world was more Italian than Flemish: as a child he was taken to Italy to be one of the Marchesa of Padulla’s choristers. In his mid-teens he moved to serve an offshoot of the Gonzaga family at Novellara, but soon made connections with the nearby ducal courts of Mantua – where the devout Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga had a particularly keen interest in church music – and Ferrara, long famed for its musical prestige thanks to the patronage of the Este family, where he was influenced by the madrigalist Cipriano de Rore. After a short spell in Milan, he returned to Mantua in 1565 as maestro di cappella in Duke Guglielmo’s recently completed chapel of Santa Barbara. There he was to remain for the rest of his life, though not without maintaining connections (both musical and, during the mid-late 1580s, romantic) with the court at Ferrara, where the lively musical life must have been a welcome distraction from his not always happy existence at the Mantuan court.
Giaches de Wert is best known for his madrigals - the perfect bridge between the polyphony of the high Renaissance and the new style of Monteverdi. Stile Antico's new album introduces us to another side of this composer who, though Flemish-born, spent most of his life in Italy, primarily in Mantua. The unique and dramatic style of these remarkable motets cannot fail to ravish explorers of this 'divine theatre'.