( born: Mons, ?1530 or 1532; died: Munich, 14 June 1594).
Franco-Flemish composer. He served Ferrante Gonzaga of Mantua from c.1544, accompanying him to Sicily and Milan (1546-9). He worked for Constantino Castrioto in Naples, where he probably began to compose, then moved to Rome to join the Archbishop of Florence's household, becoming maestro di cappella of St John Lateran in 1553. After returning north, to Mons and Antwerp, where early works were published (1555-6), he joined the court chapel of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich as a singer (1556). He married in 1558. Although a Catholic, he took over the court chapel in 1563 and served the duke and his heir, Wilhelm V, for over 30 years, until his death. In this post he consolidated his position by having many works published and travelling frequently (notably to Vienna and Italy, 1574-9), establishing an international reputation. The pope made him a Knight of the Golden Spur in 1574.
One of the most prolific and versatile of 16th-century composers, Lassus wrote over 2000 works in almost every current genre, including masses, motets, psalms, hymns, responsorial Passions and secular pieces in Italian, French and German. Most of his masses are parody masses based on motets, chansons or madrigals by himself or others; the large number of Magnificats is unusual. His motets include didactic pieces, ceremonial works for special occasions, settings of classical texts (some secular, e.g. Prophetiae Sibyllarum, 1600), liturgical items (offertories, antiphons, psalms, e.g. Psalmi…poenitentiales, 1584) and private devotional pieces. He issued five large volumes of sacred music as Patrocinium musices (1573-6), and after his death his sons assembled another (Magnum opus musicum, 1604).
Admired in their day for their beauty, technical perfection and rhetorical power, the motets combine the features of several national styles - expressive Italian melody, elegant French text-setting and solid northern polyphony - enhanced by Lassus's imaginative responses to the texts. His secular works reveal a cosmopolitan with varied tastes. The madrigals range from lightweight villanellas (Matona mia cara) to intensely expressive sonnets (Occhi, piangete); the chansons include 'patter' songs and reflective, motet-like works; and among the German lieder are sacred hymns and psalms, delicate love-songs and raucous drinking-songs. This versatility and wide expressive range place him among the most significant figures of the Renaissance.
Lassus's sons Ferdinand (c. 1560-1609) and Rudolph (c. 1563-1625) also served the Bavarian court chapel and assembled many of their father's works for publication. Ferdinand succeeded to his father's post at court; Rudolph composed much sacred music.