Lasso, Orlando Di (c. 1532–1594)

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LASSO, ORLANDO DI (c. 15321594)

LASSO, ORLANDO DI (c. 15321594), Franco-Flemish composer. Born in Mons, in what is now southern Belgium, Lasso spent much of his youth in Italy. From about 1544 until 1549, he was in the service of Ferrante Gonzaga (15071557), generalissimo of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in Italy, France, and Flanders, and traveled with him to Mantua, Palermo, and Milan, after which he worked in Naples and then Rome, where he was choirmaster at San Giovanni in Laterano in 15531554. According to his first biographer, Samuel Quickelberg, Lasso returned to the Low Countries in 1554 to see his ailing parents, but they had died before he reached Mons. He may have traveled to England and France with Giulio Cesare Brancaccio, a Neapolitan nobleman. By late 1554 he was in Antwerp, where he oversaw the publication in 1555 of his first music book, his so-called Opus 1, an anthology of madrigals, villanescas, chansons, and motets; and that same year, Lasso's first book of five-voice madrigals was printed in Venice. Lasso had found support in Antwerp from the wealthy Genoese merchant community for publishing his Opus 1, and from the powerful ecclesiastic Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle for his next publication, a book of his five- and six-voice motets, issued in 1556. Thus began a long series of active collaborations between the composer and his various publishers, in which Lasso exercised strong entrepreneurial control over the dissemination of his music.

In 1556, he was invited, on the recommendation of Granvelle and of Augsburg banker Johann Jakob Fugger, to serve in Munich at the court of Albert V, duke of Bavaria, first as a singer and by 1563 as choirmaster. Lasso remained at the Munich court until his death in 1594. In 1558 he married the daughter of a Bavarian court official; their offspring included two sons, Ferdinand and Rudolph, who became musicians. Lasso's duties at court included recruiting singers, training the choirboys, overseeing the duke's daily entertainment, and composing music for religious services and special occasions. Under Lasso's leadership, the chapel grew in size, the duke spending extravagantly on his musicians. The most celebrated event during Lasso's tenure was the 1568 marriage, after difficult negotiations, of Albert's son William V to Renée of Lorraine. Lasso wrote music and supervised performances for the festivities, and he himself played a role in a commedia dell'arte production, according to a description by chronicler Massimo Troiano. Correspondence between Lasso and his patron reveals the composer to be learned and witty, and on friendly terms with the duke. Lasso chose to stay on at the court after the death of Albert, despite a much reduced musical chapel; Albert had made provisions that Lasso would continue to receive his salary for the rest of his life. Two miniatures by court painter Hans Mielich (c. 15161573), included in a Munich Staatsbibliothek manuscript, provide valuable performance scenes of Lasso with his musicians.

Lasso was perhaps the most prolific and versatile composer of his era. His output of sacred music includes about sixty Massesmost modeled on motets, chansons, or madrigalshymns, canticles (including more than one hundred Magnificats), Passions, Lamentations, and other polyphony for the Divine Offices, and more than five hundred motets that span religious works, humorous and ceremonial compositions, didactic pieces, and settings of classical or humanistic texts. Notable is his collection Prophetiae Sibyllarum, featuring highly chromatic settings of Latin humanistic texts preserved in a manuscript from about 1560 but published posthumously (1600), and Dulces Exuviae (1570), a setting of Dido's lament from Virgil. The large amount of polyphonic music written for the Divine Offices suggests that these were celebrated with great solemnity at the Munich court.

His secular works include approximately 175 Italian madrigals and lighter villanescas, some 150 French chansons, and about 90 German lieder. He set Italian texts by Petrarch (13041374), Ludovico Ariosto (14741533), and Jacopo Sannazaro (1456/581530), among others, and French poems by Clement Marot, Pierre de Ronsard (15241585), Joachim du Bellay (c. 15221560), and Jean-Antoine de Baïf (15321589). These pieces are highly varied in style, spanning most of his productive career.

Lasso's music was the most widely disseminated of any composer, his works having been reprinted frequently during and after his lifetime. He was honored just after his death with the monumental motet collection Magnum Opus Musicum (1604), assembled by his two sons. Lasso is noted for his close attention to expressing the meaning of words through chordal declamation, sometimes alternating with contrapuntal writing, clear harmonic progressions, and finely crafted thematic material. His influence was far-reaching: his works provided the basis for innumerable parodies, especially of his well-known spiritual chanson Susanne un jour. Lasso's rich use of text painting in sacred music served as a precedent for German Protestant composers during the early seventeenth century, and helped establish Germany as a mainstream compositional center. Venetian composers Andrea Gabrieli (c. 1532/331585) and Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/571612) both studied in Munich under Lasso, where they assimilated his style of polychoral writing.

See also Bavaria ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Gabrieli, Andrea and Giovanni ; Music .


Bossuyt, Ignace, Eugeen Schreurs, and Annelies Wouters, eds. Orlando Lassus and His Time: Colloquium Proceedings, Antwerpen, 1994. Yearbook of the Alamire Foundation. Peer, Belgium, 1995.

Forney, Kristine. "Orlando di Lasso's 'Opus 1': The Making and Marketing of a Renaissance Music Book." Revue belge de musicologie 3940 (19851986):3360.

Haar, James. "Munich at the Time of Orlande di Lassus." In The Renaissance, from the 1470s to the End of the 16th Century, edited by Iain Fenlon, pp. 143162. Man & Music Series. London, 1989.

. "Orlande de Lassus." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd. ed., edited by Stanley Sadie. Vol. 14, pp. 295322. London, 2001.

. "Orlando di Lasso, Composer and Entrepreneur." In Music and the Cultures of Print, edited by Kate van Orden, pp. 125162. Critical and Cultural Musicology Series, vol. 1. New York, 2000.

Kristine K. Forney