(biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)
Orlande de Lassus (also Orlandus Lassus, Orlando di Lasso, Roland de Lassus, or Roland Delattre) (1532 (possibly 1530) - June 14, 1594) was a Franco-Flemish composer of late Renaissance music. Along with Palestrina (of the Roman School), he is today considered to be the chief representative of the mature polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish School, and he was the most famous and influential musician in Europe at the end of the 16th century.
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.
By the 1560s Lassus had become quite famous, and composers began to go to Munich to study with him. Andrea Gabrieli went there in 1562, and possibly remained in the chapel for a year; Giovanni Gabrieli also possibly studied with him in the 1570s. His renown had spread outside of strictly musical circles, for in 1570 Emperor Maximilian II conferred nobility upon him, a rare circumstance for a composer; Pope Gregory XIII knighted him; and in 1571, and again in 1573, the king of France, Charles IX, invited him to visit.
Some of these kings and aristocrats attempted to woo him away from Munich with more attractive offers, but Lassus was evidently more interested in the stability of his position, and the splendid performance opportunities of Albrecht's court, than in financial gain. "I do not want to leave my house, my garden, and the other good things in Munich," he wrote to the Duke of Saxony in 1580, upon receiving an offer for a position in Dresden.
In the late 1570s and 1580s Lassus made several visits to Italy, where he encountered the most modern styles and trends. In Ferrara, the center of avant-garde activity, he doubtless heard the madrigals being composed for the d'Este court; however his own style remained conservative, indeed becoming more simple and more refined as he aged.
In the 1590s his health began to decline, and he went to a doctor named Thomas Mermann for treatment of what was called "melancholia hypocondriaca"; however he still was able to compose as well as travel occasionally. His final work was one of his best pieces: an exquisite set of twenty-one madrigali spirituali known as the Lagrime di San Pietro ("Tears of St. Peter"), which he dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, and which was published posthumously in 1595. Lassus died in Munich, on June 14, 1594, the same day that his employer decided to dismiss him for economic reasons; he never saw the letter.
Some of his masses are based on extremely secular French chansons, some of which are frankly obscene (Entre vous filles de quinze ans, "Oh you fifteen-year old girls", by Clemens non Papa, gave him source material for his 1581 Missa entre vous filles, probably the most scandalous of the lot). That this practice was not only accepted but encouraged by his employer is confirmed by evidence from their correspondence, much of which has survived.
In addition to his traditional parody masses, he wrote a considerable quantity of missae breves, "brief masses," syllabic short masses meant for brief services (for example, on days when Duke Albrecht went hunting: evidently he did not want to be detained by long-winded polyphonic music). The most extreme of these is a work actually known as the Jäger Mass ( Missa venatorum) — the "Hunter's Mass."
Some of his masses show influence from the Venetian School, particularly in their use of polychoral techniques (for example, in the eight-voice Missa osculetur me, based on his own motet). Three of his masses are for double choir, and they may have been influential on the Venetians themselves; after all, Andrea Gabrieli visited Lassus in Munich in 1562, and many of Lassus's works were published in Venice. Even though Lassus used the contemporary, sonorous Venetian style, his harmonic language remained conservative in these works: he adapted the texture of the Venetians to his own artistic ends.