Auntie Anke’s Storytelling Hour II

Auntie Anke takes you on a totally eclectic tour through music history. Today: Renaissance Man!

The this beautiful partsong Mon coeur se recommande à vous was written by the great Orlando di Lasso or Roland de Lassus or just plain Lassus. How did our friend get all those different names?

Well, Orlando (or Roh-land) was something of a globetrotter, within Renaissance limits, of course. He was born in the Netherlands, the part which is now Belgium, but he spent his youth in Italy. Apparently already as a young man, he stood out. At 24 years, he was the biggest cheese in church music (alongside Palestrina, of course), and had published several song books. A bit like the Beatles, really. Songbook after songbook he filled, and at the end of his life he had written 2000 works, both for church and for the, well, the pub really.

I strongly advise you to listen to some of his music on the web, and also to have a go at Palestrina’s music. When I say ‘music’, I mean ‘vocal music’ because that is what these men were extremely good at. Why would you have to listen to both composers if we are just going to do one of them in our project?

Well, after thirty minutes of listening, you will be amazed at the difference between these two gods of Renaissance music. Palestrina is clean, clear, heavenly, flowing like a beautiful river in springtime. Lassus is impulsive, intense, emotional, versatile, combining the flavours of France, Italy, Venice, Germany.

Oh man, traveling all those countries, in those days. Just how did they do it? Just imagine. France-Venice on horseback or in a carriage…. Anyway, Roh-land did it, and his international career was boosted by the flourishing art of book printing, and Antwerp in his home country being the commercial centre of Northern Europe.

These are just a few milestones in Roh-land’s musical life. He earned a small fortune by working as a tenor singer in the city of Munchen, Germany. He staged a performance for a noble wedding, also in Germany, where he also performed as an actor, singer, and lute player. As his fame was rising, publishers from all over Europe started to reprint his works. Twice, he won the first price in a prestigious composing competition in the French city of Evreux. He even survived a stroke, and continued working until he was quite old, refusing to take his master’s offer to retire.

Finally, in 1594, he was made to retire as his master, Count Wilhelm, let go of 17 musicians in his orchestra because he needed money to finish a prestigious building project in Munchen. Orlando died soon after.

Mon Coeur Se Recommande a vous is a beautiful, short song in the chanson style. It is largely ‘homophonic’, meaning that you all sing at the same moment, with a few polyphonic elements, which means that the voices come in at a different time, yet following a certain logic.

I always tend to think of Renaissance songs like this as being very closely related to good pop music. The songs are short, they have a logical structure, they are a balm to the ear, and of course, they so often, if not nearly always, deal with the universal theme of love – because love binds us all. All over the world, all through the centuries.

Thank you, Roh-land.

You can look up the song on Youtube. I can recommend this version.