Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

March 11, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Second Sunday in Lent (March 12th) will be:

  • Plainsong – Reminiscere miserationem (Introit)
  • Orlande de Lassus – Missa In die tribulationis
  • Heinrich Schütz – Sicut Moses serpentem in deserto exaltavit

– Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt

– Blog Editor


Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) was born at Mons (in present-day Belgium) but spent his formative years in Italy.  His parents had eventually allowed him to leave home at the age of twelve, to join the household of Ferdinando Gonzaga, Viceroy of Sicily, as a boy treble.  In 1553 he was appointed maestro di cappella at the Lateran Basilica in Rome, but left after six months to return to his dying parents in Flanders.  In 1556 he was engaged by the Duke of Bavaria as a singer and joined the Court Chapel in Munich where Ludwig Daser wasKapellmeister.  In about 1563 Lassus was promoted to the latter post, which he occupied until his death.

He achieved enormous success as a composer of both sacred and secular music which appeared throughout Europe in more than 500 different contemporary publications.  He was granted a patent of nobility and coat of arms in 1570 by Maximilian, and created a Knight of the Golden Spur by Pope Gregory XIII in 1574.  He was capable of writing in any and every genre current in his lifetime (although he wrote little purely instrumental music) from villanellae at one extreme to massive polychoral motets at the other.  His output was prodigious, his technique impeccable, the level of inspiration consistently high, and he was in charge of the largest musical establishment of the late 16thCentury which totaled over 70 singers and players at its peak.

Lassus’s Missa In die tribulationis is a parody mass based on a motet by Jacquet de Mantua (1483-1559), a French composer active in Italy and one of the leading composers of sacred polyphony between Josquin and Palestrina.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was the Electoral Saxon Kapellmeister at the court of Dresden from 1617 until his death.  He can be regarded as an honorary Italian in today’s company, having studied both with Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi in Venice.  Their influence on Schütz is unmistakable.  Sicut Moses serpentem is found in a collection entitled Cantiones Sacrae published in 1625.  The 35 Latin motets of the Cantiones Sacrae display an extraordinary intensity of feeling in response to the words.  At the beginning of Sicut Moses, the words “serpentem in deserto exaltavit” (“lifted the serpent in the desert”) is set to an arresting rising scale passage of over an octave.

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (‘For God so love the world’), SWV 380, is from the 1648 collection entitled Geistliche Chormusik. is is the briefest of all the motets in the collection, and is mostly homophonic and more in the character of a hymn than the complex counterpoint of the other pieces.  It is almost as if Schütz wanted to treat this iconic cornerstone text as a congregational creed of faith rather than as a commentary.

For listening, I’d suggest Lassus’s Lamentations (for Tenebrae services):

and the motetMedia vita (‘In the midst of life we are in death…’)


For Schütz, Selig sind die Toten (‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’)

– David Shuler, Director of Music

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