Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/106

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
94
LASSUS.
 

they belonged to his family, did little credit to it, and need not be mentioned here. It would be more interesting to find some tie between Orlando and two other contemporary composers, Olivier Delatre, and Claude Petit Jean Delattre, the second a man of considerable eminence.

Of Lassus' education, after he left Mons, we know nothing, but his first compositions show him following the steps of his countrymen, Willaert, Verdelot, Arcadelt, and Rore, in the Venetian school of madrigal writing; his first book of madrigals (à 5) being published in Venice soon after he had himself left Italy and settled in Antwerp. This book in its time went through many editions, but copies of it are scarce now, and none of its 22 pieces have been published in modern notation.

The visit to England must have taken place about 1554. We have been unable to find any account of the nobleman whom Orlando accompanied, but many of his family had been dignitaries of the church of Rome, and by him Orlando was probably introduced to Cardinal Pole, in whose honour he wrote music to the words

'Te spectant Reginalde poll, tibi sidera rident,
 Exultant montes, personal Oceanus,
Anglia dum plaudit quod faustos excutis ignes
 Elicis et lachrimas ex adamante suo.'

This was published in 1556, and the incidents to which it refers could not have taken place before 1554, so it gives an additional clue to the time of the composer's visit to this country, corroborating the statement of Van Quickelberg. It is curious that in the year 1554, a Don Pedro di Lasso attended the marriage of Philip and Mary in England as ambassador from Ferdinand, King of the Romans.

By the end of 1554, Orlando is probably settled at Antwerp, for in 'the Italian preface to a book of madrigals and motets printed in that city (May 13, 1555),' he speaks of their having been composed there since his return from Rome. 'There,' says Van Quickelberg, 'he remained two years, in the society of men of rank and culture, rousing in them a taste for music, and in return gaining their love and respect.' The book referred to contains 18 Italian canzones, 6 French chansons, and 6 motets 'à la nouvelle composition d'aucuns d'Italie.' Of the Italian ones 5 are published by Van Maldeghem.[1] This is our first introduction to the great composer, and we get over it with little formality. If Orlando ever wrote any masses for his composer's diploma; if the old tune 'l'omme armé,' was tortured by any fresh contrapuntal devices of his pen, it is plain that he left such tasks behind him when he gave up school, and 'roused the musical taste' of his Antwerp friends by music which errs, if at all, on the side of simplicity. We pass with regret from the graceful 'Madonna ma pietà' and the almost melodious 'La cortesia,' to the Latin motets—3 sacred, 2 secular—in the same volume. One of the latter is the 'Alma nemes' which Burney gives in his History (iii. 317), pointing out the modulation on the words 'novumque melos,' as a striking example of the chromatic passages of the school in which Lassus and Rore were educated. Burney couples the two together, and regards Lassus chiefly as a secular composer. He seems to know but little of the great sacred works of his later life, and likens him to a 'dwarf upon stilts' by the side of Palestrina. But though this unfortunate comparison has brought the great English historian into disgrace with Fétis and Ambros, still Burney's remarks on Lassus' early works are very interesting and certainly not unfair. It is only strange that, knowing and thinking so little of Lassus, he should have compared him to Palestrina at all.

The other work belonging to this period (Antwerp 1556) is the first book of motets—12 nos. à 5, and 5 nos. à 6. Here the composer recognises the importance of his first publication of serious music, by opening it with an ode to the Muses, 'Delitiæ Phoebi,' à 5, in which the setting of the words 'Sustine Lassum,' is the principal feature. Other interesting numbers are the 'Gustate, videte,' which will be referred to again when we follow Lassus to Munich, the motet 'Te spectant Reginalde poli,' and 'Heroum soboles, in honour of Charles V, the second being in the strict imitative style, the last in simpler and more massive harmony (à 6), as if designed for a large chorus at some public ceremonial.

The sacred numbers, such as the 'Mirabile mysterium'—an anthem, we suppose for Christmas day—show no signs of any secular tendency or Venetian influence. They are as hard to our ears as any music of the Josquin period. They give us our first insight into Orlando's church work, and it is interesting to find him drawing so distinct a line between compositions for the church and the world, and not, as Burney implies, too much petted in society and at court, to be grave and earnest in his religious music. We have a good example here that the contrary is the case. The Muses and Cardinal Pole are much too serious subjects to be in the slightest degree trifled with, and the Ode to Charles V. alone exhibits any originality of treatment.

On the strength of a reputation as a composer both for the chamber and the church, and of a popularity amongst men of rank and talent, gained as much by his character and disposition and liberal education, as by his musical powers, he was invited by Albert V., Duke of Bavaria, in 1556 or 1557, to come to Munich as director of his chamber music. Albert was not only the kind patron of Lassus, but seems to have exercised considerable influence on the direction of his genius. He was born in 1527, was a great patron of the arts, founded the royal library at Munich, acquired considerable fame as an athlete, and was a man of the strictest religious principles, the effect of which was not confined to his family, but extended to his people by severe laws against immorality of every kind. Of the exact state of music at Munich when Lassus first reached it, we cannot speak precisely. The head of the chapel, Ludovico d'Asero, or Ludwig

  1. Trésor Musical. 10me Année. Bruxelles 1874.