Orlando di Lasso is believed to have been born in Mons, Belgium around 1532. He was a Franco-Flemish composer of the late renaissance and was considered to be one of the most famous and influential composers in Europe at the end of the 16th century. Orlando di Lasso was recognized for his sophisticated polyphonic style.
Just like many composers in his period, details of his early life are lacking, however there are some stories which have managed to survive. The most famous is that young Lasso was kidnapped several times due to his elegant and alluring singing voice.
In 1547, in Milan, Lasso made the acquaintance of the madrigalist, Spirito l’Hoste da Reggio who influenced the early musical style of Lasso. Orlando then worked as a singer and a composer for Constantino Castrioto in Naples during the early 1550s—the period when his compositions were first dated. Lasso then moved to Rome where he worked for the Grand Duke of Tuscany and in 1553, Lasso eventually became “Maestro di Cappella” of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the all-pervading mother church of Rome and a notably illustrious post for a man only twenty-one years old. Orlando di Lasso would leave his post after only a year. In 1555, Lasso returned to the Low Countries (a coastal region in western Europe, consisting in part of the Netherlands and Belgium) and had some of his early works published in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1556, Lasso joined the court of the Duke of Bavaria and was one of several Netherlandish to work there, Lasso was considered to be the most famous among them. Eventually, Lasso decided to settle in Munich.
By 1558, he married Regina Wäckinger and had two sons—both of whom would later become composers—and a daughter who married the painter Hans von Aachen. By 1563, Lasso attained the title of “Maestro di Cappella” and remained in the service of the Duke of Bavaria and his heir for the rest of his life.
Orlando di Lasso became so famous that composers traveled great distances to Munich to study with him. Lasso’s renown and prominence grew to a point where in 1570, Emperor Maximilian II conferred nobility upon him—a very rare title and one of great prestige for a composer. In 1571, Pope Gregory XIII knighted Lasso who was later invited to visit the King of France, Charles IX in 1571 and in 1573.
Orlando di Lasso was one of the most prolific composers of the late Renaissance. Of over 2,000 works, we count 530 motets, 175 Italian madrigals, 150 French chansons, and 90 German Lieder. Adam Berg, a German music publisher, dedicated 5 volumes of his “Patrocinium Musicum” (Published from 1573 – 1589) to Lasso’s music.
Orlando di Lasso’s health declined in the 1590s. He passed away in Munich on June 14, 1594 which coincidentally was the same day his employer had decided to dismiss him due to financial issues.
His final work—a set of twenty-one madrigals better known as Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St. Peter)—is considered to be one of his most spectacular and exquisite pieces. The Lagrime di San Pietro was published posthumously in 1595.