Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The recording of Orlando di Lasso by the Hilliard Ensemble is an exemplary work of music. The all male vocal group sings two settings of Lasso’s masses, the Prophetiae Sibyllarum and the Missa pro defunctis, quite well. I had listened to this album before, during, and after reading Victoria’s blog about Lasso, so I became enormously familiar with these works. Her blog was not only educational, but also entertaining when revealing facts to the reader. I loved how she incorporated Lasso’s younger life into the blog, informing the reader that, according to legend, he had been kidnapped three times in his childhood. I wish that she had included more of her personal feelings on the music. She did an excellent job of not persuading the reader on one direction of the music, but it still would’ve been nice to compare opinions about this subject. Her research was evident throughout the writing, and though I wish she had included more about the Missa pro defunctis, upon searching for it myself, I discovered that there is dreadfully little research existing on this Mass.

Lasso was an exceedingly popular composer of his time. He could be considered a true musical “Renaissance man” because he composed in nearly every style of music. Because he mastered almost all types of music, musicologists have not defined a distinct Lasso style. He was simply too well rounded for a label. Lasso’s motets were his claim to fame in his day. His popularity in these came from the emotion and text painting in his motets. One can hear these elements in the masses that are on the CDs. Unlike the crystal clear works that Palestrina had, Lasso relies more on the emotional aspect of the music. Also unlike Palestrina’s clear polyphony as a response to the Reformation, Lasso does not do anything different to retaliate for the Reformation. He was not alive when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a Catholic Church, but he still would have been writing music as a Catholic composer in a time when the Protestant Church was booming. Victoria brought up a good point in her blog however, when she said that Lasso found balance. The balance I believe she was talking about was the text declamation of Palestrina and the emotion and text painting that he commonly used.

Listeners of Lasso’s day might have been shocked by the chromaticism that they heard in Prophetiae Sibyllarum. I enjoyed listening to this mass, and I suppose my ears are simply accustomed to hearing the accidentals that Lasso included. Listeners of the time, however, probably would not have appreciated this new writing, and the mass was not even published until after Lasso’s death. He never again wrote with this much chromatics in his music, so we can assume several things: either he was not terribly happy with the results or he knew the public would not appreciate this music. Since people in the public were the ones paying him, he would have to write some things to please them to keep their patronage. From these two examples, I do not think that I would continue to provide paying Lasso, just because they were so extremely different than everything I would have ever heard. Lasso had more popularity with his motets for a reason. The second Mass on this album is more pleasurable than the first Mass, which seems a little boring to me. Victoria said this music was soothing and while this is true, I doubt if I would sit and listen to it on a regular basis.

The most attention-grabbing bit of information I pulled from Victoria’s journal was that the Prophetaie Sibyllarum was “inspired by the stories of the Greek prophetesses.” I find this sentence to be incredibly ironic. The Council of Trent almost wiped out polyphony in the Church, but they did say that masses were supposed to be less secular in the manner that they had previously been. The secular aspects they were talking about were basing Masses off secular songs, but I would think that basing a Mass off Greek prophetesses might be as bad as, or worse than using secular songs.

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