Orlande de Lassus (1532 – 1594).

I. Missa pro defunctis.

The Hilliard Ensemble:

David James (Countertenor).
Rogers Covey Crump (Tenor).
John Potter (Tenor).
Gordon Jones (Baritone).

Orlande de Lassus was born in Mons in the province of Hainaut, in what is today Belgium. Information about his early years is scanty, although some uncorroborated stories have survived, the most famous of which is that he was kidnapped three times because of the singular beauty of his singing voice. At the age of twelve he left the Low Countries with Ferrante Gonzaga and went to Mantua, Sicily, and later Milan (from 1547 to 1549). While in Milan he made the acquaintance of the madrigalist Spirito l’Hoste da Reggio, an influence which was formative on his early musical style.

He then worked as a singer and a composer for Costantino Castrioto in Naples in the early 1550s, and his first works are presumed to date from this time. Next he moved to Rome, where he worked for Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who maintained a household there; and in 1553, he became maestro di cappella of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, a spectacularly prestigious post for a man only twenty-one years old, but he stayed there only for a year (Palestrina took this post a year later, in 1555).

No solid evidence survives for his whereabouts in 1554, but there are contemporary claims that he traveled in France and England. In 1555 he returned to the Low Countries and had his early works published in Antwerp (1555-1556). In 1556 he joined the court of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, who was consciously attempting to create a musical establishment on a par with the major courts in Italy; Lassus was one of several Netherlanders to work there, and by far the most famous. He evidently was happy in Munich and decided to settle there. In 1558 he married Regina Wäckinger, the daughter of a maid of honor of the Duchess; they had two sons, both of whom became composers. By 1563 Lassus had been appointed maestro di cappella, succeeding Ludwig Daser in the post. Lassus remained in the service of Albrecht V and his heir, Wilhelm V, for the rest of his life.