Convivium Musicum | Orlandus Lassus: Prince of Music

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Orlandus Lassus: Prince of Music

by Convivium Musicum

Convivium Musicum is known for its fine performance of Renaissance choral polyphony. In this collection, Convivium explores the oeuvre of the prolific Orlandus Lassus, a corpus of work astounding in volume and variety.
Genre: Classical: Early Music
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Gustate Et Videte
5:27 $0.99
2. Benedic, Anima Mea Domino
2:04 $0.99
3. Fremuit Spiritu Jesus
5:28 $0.99
4. Quasi Cedrus Exaltata Sum
3:36 $0.99
5. Peccantem Me Quotidie
3:17 $0.99
6. Il Grave De L'età
4:51 $0.99
7. La Nuict Froide Et Sombre
1:44 $0.99
8. Soyons Joyeux
1:25 $0.99
9. En Un Chasteau
1:25 $0.99
10. Salve, Regina
3:38 $0.99
11. De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te, Domine
8:26 $0.99
12. Domine, Secundum Actum Meum
3:07 $0.99
13. Ad Te, Perenne Gaudium
1:37 $0.99
14. Pronuba Juno
2:57 $0.99
15. Magnificat Sexti Toni
5:04 $0.99
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Album Notes
Orlandus Lassus, both in his own time and in later generations, has been accepted as a composer of the first rank. He managed to produce a corpus of work astounding in both volume and variety: all forms of sacred music then in use, alongside secular vocal genres of every stripe. Far from risking stagnation, a single disc of Lassus can barely begin to do the composer justice.

The career of Lassus was at once typical of his age and singularly remarkable. One feature of his upbringing in common with most famous composers of the period was his place of birth: the region of Hainaut is part of the French-speaking region that today encompasses northern France and southern Belgium (Wallonia). At the time of Lassus’s birth, so-called “Franco-Flemish” composers were still the dominant musical force in Europe. One has only to look at employment records in major courts and churches to see how both sacred and secular patrons in Italy, Spain, southern Germany and elsewhere sought musical talent from "beyond the mountains” in the North.

What was also typical in Lassus’s youth was the early recognition of a young musician’s talent, not as a composer, but as a singer. Many a composer from this period started out musical life as a boy soprano; not surprisingly, the opportunities for professional music making among girls and women were few and far between. A special talent would be recognized and perhaps followed by employment at a more prestigious church or court. There can be little doubt that Lassus’s talents as a young singer were exceptionally fine; legend, after all, recounts that the boy was abducted three times and pressed into service at various courts.

Mythologizing aside, the first verifiable record of Lassus’s employment is at about age 12 in the household of one Ferrante Gonzage, a nobleman with connections at the Mantuan court. This job saw the young Lassus spending most of his time in Italy and Sicily: Palermo, then Milan, Naples and finally Rome by about age 17. There is relatively little information about how much Lassus was composing during his teenage years, but some evidence of his growing fame as a musician comes from his appointment in 1553 as maestro di cappella at S. Giovanni in Laterano, one of the most significant churches in Rome.

By his early twenties, Lassus had already spent half his life outside his homeland, had moved nearly half a dozen times at least, and was in contact with many of the great sacred and secular institutions of Italy. Since Italy was not unified as a single nation until the nineteenth century, Lassus’s changes of address on the Italian peninsula were in effect a move from one country to another. The young singer-composer had one more long-term port of call before he took up, at about age 24, what would become his decades-long appointment at the Bavarian court. By about 1555, Lassus had settled in Antwerp, one of the great Flemish merchant cities about 60 miles north of his birthplace. He appears to have lived in Antwerp for about two years, though without any known official appointment. However, Antwerp offered Lassus the opportunity to befriend prominent businessman Tielman Susato, one of the most important music printers of the sixteenth century.

Though it is difficult to date most of his early works with certainty, it appears that Lassus’s stay in Antwerp afforded him the opportunity to begin to disseminate his juvenilia to the wider world. Several of the works that appear on tonight’s concert were first printed in the mid-1550s in Antwerp, including the so-called “opus primum” (“first work”) of 1555. This collection was just the beginning of what would become an astonishing printed output of music over the course of the composer’s fruitful career.

Sad but true: the circumstances of life seldom allow a fertile mind to achieve the full fruits of its potential. So many things can go wrong - place or time of birth, lack of good health, lack of encouraging environment - that “genius,” that fortuitous combination of aptitude and application, is a rare thing indeed.

We are lucky that for Lassus, all the proverbial chips seemed to fall into place, and his long, productive career in Germany, is an example of talent joined to many happy accidents of circumstance. That the environment of the court in Munich, where Lassus settled in 1556, allowed the composer to pursue a course of unusually broad artistic freedom is clear from at least two categories of evidence: his music and his letters. We see Lassus working as a composer not only with remarkable speed and quality, but also producing music in all vocal musical genres common to his day. A composer like J.S. Bach, by contrast, was, by the nature of his employment, much more limited in the genres of composition in which he worked; thus the long string of cantatas but only a handful of orchestral suites. Lassus's efforts as a letter-writer reveal that he was unusually familiar with his employers, especially the heir Duke Wilhelm, with whom Lassus kept up a regular correspondence during his many years of service. Over fifty of Lassus’s letters survive, and they demonstrate an almost shockingly informal language between Lassus and the royal family. Of special note is Lassus’s penchant for drifting from one language to the next, even within the same sentence. It is both a humorous effect and a nod to the international experience of composer and princes.

A survey of Lassus’s oeuvre reveals that he was unusually adept at writing musical settings of many languages, a skill no doubt honed by his travels and contacts in Europe at a young age. Yet Lassus’s early style still betrays his native linguistic background, namely French, most clearly audible in his setting of Latin texts.

In Lassus’s youth, French-speaking composers and singers still dominated the musical landscape. This was less true towards the end of the sixteenth century, when figures like Palestrina and Victoria stood alongside Lassus in the pantheon of first-class composers. One of the chief ways that French declamation contrasts with most other Western European languages is that French has a rather flat tonic shape, save an upswing at the end of a verbal phrase. What we might call “Italianate” languages, by contrast, have more ebb and flow, the “crests” of the declamation coinciding mainly with word stress. The result is that, to the ears of most non-French speakers, the Latin word stress, as realized in a musical setting influenced by French-language sensibilities, seems from time to time to be misplaced, to come “too late.” For a more modern, and even clearer, example of this phenomenon, one may look to the sacred works of Francis Poulenc.

Lassus’s early style emerged from the Franco-Flemish style more generally, from the generation of Gombert and Clemens non Papa, so it is not simply Lassus’s native tongue at work, but an entire musical language which happened to be built mainly by native French speakers. His later style, possibly influenced by of the further internationalization of stile antico polyphony, or the circumstances of his later employment, falls much more in line with an Italianate declamatory sense. We invite you to listen for these moments where the heritage of the French language, and of French-speaking composers, reveals itself in the melodies of the young genius from Hainaut.

Founded and run by its singers, Convivium Musicum has been dedicated to concerts of uplifting beauty since 1987. Praised in The Boston Musical Intelligencer for its "...radiant and full sound...complete interpretive assurance and a palpable sense of dedication to this music", Convivium is well-known for performances of Renaissance choral music that shimmer with precision, fine intonation, rhythmic accuracy, and lively attention to text. Over the past two decades Convivium has offered rarely- heard gems alongside stirring masterworks. Convivium's programs are informed by careful research and scholarship by Music Director Michael Barrett, and its performances are devoted to bringing to life the complex and profound emotional texture of this repertoire. Early Music America has acclaimed Convivium's performance as “the kind of transforming experience that concert junkies are always seeking.” This is what Convivium strives for in every concert program.



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