Lassus, Orlandus

1520 or 1530-1594

Probably the greatest master of his age with the exception of Palestrina. He was born in Mons, Belgium. His real name was Roland Delattre. When he was a child, his father was suspected of coining, was arrested, tried and condemned. The penalty was to walk three times around the public scaffold, wearing a collar made of spurious coins. This sight so deeply mortified the lad Orlandus that he changed his name. There seems to be no fixed way of writing his name, Roland van Lattre by his Flemish countrymen, Delattre by the French and Orlando di Lasso by the Italians. It is Orlande de Lassus on the statue in his native town and also in many French editions. Possessed of a beautiful voice, he sang, as a boy, in the choir at the Church of Saint Nicholas at Mons, going, while still young, with Ferdinand Gonzaga, Viceroy of Sicily, to Sicily, and afterwards to Milan. He spent three years in Naples, 1538 to 1541, then going to Rome, where he was chapelmaster at Saint John Lateran until 1548. While in Rome he heard of the serious illness of his parents and hastened home, but arrived after their death. Lassus visited England and France with a friend who was a nobleman and an amateur musician. Returning, he resided in Antwerp for two years, associating with the most brilliant and cultured society there. His first compositions were written in the style of his countrymen: Willaert, Verdelot, Arcadelt and Rore, and his first book of madrigals was published in Venice in 1552. Three years later was published a book containing eighteen Italian canzones, six French chansons, and six motets. This work constitutes the first works of importance composed by him. In 1557 he was invited by Duke Albert V., of Bavaria, to come to Munich. Here he became connected with the Court Chapel, in 1562 becoming chapelmaster, which post he held until his death. Albert V. was justly considered as a discriminating patron of art, and he appreciated and delighted in Lassus. He instituted the magnificent library at Munich, with its very  valuable collection of manuscripts. Lassus made a very favorable impression, particularly with the Duke and Duchess, who introduced him to the highest social circles. His brilliant wit, amiable temper and cheerful disposition made him well liked by all. in 1558 he married Regina Welkinger, a maid-of-honor to the Duchess, and their marriage was a happy one. Of six children, four were boys, two of whom became quite celebrated musicians. It is not known in exactly what state Lassus found the music of Munich, but he undoubtedly made the city one of the musical centers of the world. It was at this time that he devoted himself to sacred composition, through which his fame is lasting. His first book of motets appeared in 1556. His greatest work is the setting to music of the seven Penitential Psalms, during 1563 to 1570. That the Duke was proud of these is proved by the magnificent copy of them, now in the library of Munich. He had them copied on parchment, from the master's own handwriting, bound in four large morocco volumes, and beautifully ornamented with silver-gilt shields and locks chased and enameled in the most elegant manner. Lassus also became interested in the choir, and his steadiness and force as its conductor gave confidence and power to the singers. In 1570 Emperor Maximilian II. invested him with the order of knighthood, and the following year Pope Gregory XIII. decorated him with the order of the Golden Spur. He visited Paris, and was showered with gifts and attentions from Charles IX. Returning to Munich, Lassus again took up composition, in 1573 publishing the first volume of Patrocinium Musices, the first of a series intended for the best music necessary for the services of the church. Duke Albert's death occurred in 1579, and a year later Lassus published a new set of Vigiliae Mortuorum to the words of Job, as a tribute to the memory of his master. In 1586 appears the first decline of the master's strength. The next year Duke William presented him with a country house at Geising. He is credited with writing more than two thousand five hundred works. Together with Giovanni, Gabrieli and Palestrina he represents the highest development of the great epoch of single counterpoint.