(1530 – 1594)
The Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso was born in Mons in what is today modern Belgium, where he received his early musical training and served as a choirboy. Lasso’s beautiful voice resulted in him being kidnapped on three occasions by wealthy families desiring his services; after the third incident, his parents finally relented and allowed him to stay in the household of the viceroy of Sicily. As part of the viceroy’s household he traveled to Palermo, and over the next ten years, he also spent time in Milan, Rome, and Naples.
His years in Italy were critical for his later development as a composer, and while there, he adopted the Italian name that he continued to use for the rest of his life. Following the death of his parents in 1554, he took a position in Antwerp, but several years later became a chorister in the chapel of Albert V, duke of Bavaria. He remained in the duke’s household at Munich for the rest of his life. Although Munich was a small and rather provincial capital at the time, Bavaria was a large and important state, a center of the Counter-Reformation in Northern Europe.
In his Munich years, Lasso published a number of his compositions, and he became, in fact, the first composer in European history to establish his reputation primarily on the basis of his printed work. In the last forty years of his life Lasso printed more than 600 works, and usually a new composition appeared in the press about once each month. He favored musical printing houses in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as those in Germany.
Lasso wrote more than 1,000 works and he was a master of most of the musical forms of the period. He produced a number of excellent compositions in all genres except instrumental music. His Latin motets form his largest group of compositions, totaling more than 500. He also composed almost sixty masses and about 100 magnificats.
Most of the motets have sacred themes, and were likely performed within church rituals, at public ceremonies, or for the private devotions of the duke of Bavaria and his family. A few celebrate secular events, while an even smaller number are humorous. Lasso was also a writer of madrigals based on Italian texts and chansons that set some of the finest sixteenthcentury French poetry to music. Finally, he wrote German lieder as well.
Lasso was widely admired in his own day. Referred to as the “prince of music” or “the divine Orlando,” he earned praise for his ability to bring the subject of his chosen texts to life through his music. Like other sixteenth-century composers, he relied on changes in melody, harmony, and rhythm to suggest essential elements of the text, and sometime subtle musical innuendos lie hidden in his works. A consummate technician, Lasso did not care for many of the musical innovations of his own period.
The chromatic style so popular among writers of Italian madrigals as a bow to the music of Antiquity only rarely is employed in his works. By the time of his death, his musical language had been superseded by other developments, but Lasso’s works continued to be prized in Germany well into the seventeenth century.