Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), the Flemish composer, is considered by many the most important composer of the 16th century. His compositional output was enormous, and his religious song cycles were rare in their dramatic form and structure. Rather than piecing together liturgy, Lasso’s song texts were connected to form a logical unit, a technique unusual for the time and musical genre.
Lasso was born in Mons, Belgium. A professional choirboy as a child, he was kidnapped three times because of his beautiful voice. At the age of 12, he entered the musical establishment of the viceroy of Sicily. He stayed in Italy about ten years, working in Milan, Naples, and Rome, before returning north to Antwerp in 1554. From 1556 he was employed in Munich by Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, who ennobled him in 1570.
“Lagrime di San Pietro” (Tears of Saint Peter, 1594) was a collection of madrigals with religious texts and is the composer’s last great work. It details the anguish endured by the apostle Peter after having denied Jesus, his Master, three times. He was equally adept in the polyphonic style that dominated European church music of the time and in the newer secular styles developing in Germany, France, and Italy. Lasso published his music extensively during his lifetime (a mark of his stature in that first century of printing) and left more than 2000 compositions.
Lasso's Latin sacred music comprises masses and motets. His motets, in particular, include many of his finest works and reveal a wide range of mood and sensitive treatment of text. Among the best known are the 7 Penitential Psalms (circa 1560) and the 12 Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Prophecies of the Sibyl, 1560).
His secular music includes chansons (French part-songs), of which “Susanne un jour” (Susanna One Morn, after the Book of Daniel) was internationally popular for decades; lieder (German part-songs) on secular and religious texts; and works in the Italian genre in which he excelled - the madrigal.