Lassus’ Psalmi Poenitentialis

Orlando de Lassus (ca. 1532 – 1594), a Dutch composer of the late Renaissance, was also one of the most prolific and influential, up there with Palestrina and Victoria, producing over 2000 surviving works, in Latin, French and Italian, all of them vocal pieces. We have nothing purely instrumental from the pen of Lassus. Perhaps he thought – quite rightly – the the human voice is the most perfect and divine of instruments, giving the greatest glory to God. Finally settling in Munich, he married and raised three children, his two sons also becoming composers. His fame spread far and wide, and many tried to woo him away with financial gain. But in a reply close to my own heart, he replied, hobbit-like, I do not want to leave my house, my garden, and the other good things in Munich.

Lassus remained staunchly Catholic in those tumultuous years, and he was in the thick of the most controversial scenes of religious strife, even bloodshed. In light of Father Callam’s reflection on the seven penitential psalms, here they are in a transcendent musical setting, composed in 1584. They were commissioned by King Charles IX, of France, for his part in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day’s Massacre two years before. In the mystery of His providence, God brings good out of all things, and may the beauty of the music help in some way in our own ongoing conversion, as we pilgrimage through this final week of Lent, through Holy Week, preparing for the great joy of Easter and the Resurrection. In spe gaudentes! +