Music – Orlando Di Lasso

Born 1530 died 1594. Orlando di Lasso (or Orlandus Lassus) is the greatest representative of the Flemish School. Roughly, the facts as to the parts played by different nations in the development of the pure choral style are these: (i) Everywhere, from the ninth century to the beginning of the fifteenth, church musicians were at work fashioning a choral technique, and no nation had any actual supremacy during this period. (ii) In the first half of the fifteenth century an Englishman, John of Dunstable, showed the way to an enormously more artistic treatment, and his reforms were universally adopted. (iii) Then the Flemings took up the leadership, and became so famous that the chief posts in Rome (and Italy generally) were filled by them and their compositions spread widely. The last and greatest of the Flemings was Orlando di Lasso. (iv) By that time the Italians had made progress and were already taking up the leadership ; two great schools, then, overlap in Lasso and Palestrina, .who were born within a few years of one another and died in the same year.

Lasso was born at Mons. He wrote an enormous quantity of music and travelled extensively, visiting France, England, and Italy ; he was for a time maestro of the Lateran in Rome. In his late twenties he received an invitation from the cultured Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, to settle at Munich as his director of chamber music.

He married a lady of the court. Later he was promoted –

‘The Duke seeing that Master Orlando had by this time learnt the language, and gained the good-will and love of all, by the propriety and gentleness of his behaviour, and that his compositions (in number infinite) were universally liked, without loss of time elected him maste1 of the chapel, to the evident pleasure of all. And, indeed, with all his distinguished colleagues, he lived so quietly and peacefully, that all were forced to love him, to respect him in his presence, and to praise him in his absence.’

He was recognized as a great choirmaster –

`One great quality was the firmness and genius he evinced when the choir were singing, giving the time with such steadiness and force, that, like warriors taking courage at the sound of the trumpet, the expert singers needed no other orders than the expression of that powerful and vigorous countenance to animate their sweetly sounding voices.’

He soon made fresh travels –

‘ The Duke, seeing his predecessor’s chapel was far beneath his own ideal, sent messages and letters, with gifts and promises through all Europe, to select learned musical artists, and singers with fine voices and experience. And it came to pass in a short time, that he had collected as great a company of virtuosi as he could possibly obtain, chosen from all the musicians in Germany and other countries by his composer, the excellent Orlando di Lasso.’

All this illustrates the condition of music at this period, as an art fostered by the aristocracy and the church, and is here inserted with that in view.

A picturesque incident of Lasso’s life was this : On Corpus Christi day, 1563, the weather was so bad that the Duke ordered that the usual procession round the town should be abandoned and the circuit of the aisles of the church alone be made. Singing a motet of Lasso, the choir and the church dignitaries proceeded, when, on approaching the porch, the storm ceased, they were able to pass out into the open, and the ceremonies were carried through as in other years. This gave Lasso the status, amongst his fellow towns-men, of a divinely favoured being, and his motet that of a valuable storm-stopper, in which capacity it was subsequently used, though with what results history does not record.

The four sons of Lasso all became musicians, and after his death they piously published many of his works. The family musical talent persisted into a third generation.

FURTHER READING. A long and interesting article in Grove’s Dictionary, by J. R. Sterndale-Bennett. Passages in all the histories of music.

GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. Madrigal, Matona, Lovely Maiden (Gresham Singers, H. M. V. ; music, Novello, 3d.). This is a simple, verse-repeating treatment of the words, much in the style of our English ‘Ayres’.