Orlando de Lassus: Conditor alme siderum

The fourth and last in my series on Renaissance motets based on Conditor alme siderum features a setting by a composer who is far too under-appreciated. As I wrote recently in Touchstone:

Among musically knowledgeable listeners, even those who admire the music of the high Renaissance, the work of Orlande de Lassus is woefully unfamiliar. It was not always so. During his lifetime, in the second half of the sixteenth century, Lassus was easily the most famous composer in Europe. With contemporaries that included Palestrina, Victoria, and Byrd, such fame is a remarkable tribute to his artistic accomplishments. Another contemporary, the celebrated French poet Pierre de Ronsard, hailed Lassus as one “who like a bee has sipped all the most beautiful flowers of the ancients and moreover seems alone to have stolen the harmony of the heavens to delight us with it on earth, surpassing the ancients and making himself the unique wonder of our time.”

This performance of Lassus’s treatment of Conditor alme siderum is from a recording that I recommended earlier of German Advent music featuring soprano Miriam Feuersinger, tenor Daniel Schreiber, and the viola da gamba consort Les Escapades.

Lassus’s score calls for five voices — soprano, alto, two tenors, and a bass (get the score here) — and this album only has two singers available. What to do? Well, assign the other three parts to instruments, which was not uncommon in the 16th century. So, as in the settings by Victoria and Guerrero, the first verse of the hymn is a single line of chant: Schreiber sings that beautifully. On the second verse, he sings one of the tenor parts, and the other four parts are played by members of the viola da gamba consort. Schreiber then sings the solo chant on verse three. And then something really wonderful happens. Lassus scored verse four for just two voices rather than the expected five. It’s soprano and tenor all the way through, dancing around each other like Ginger and Fred. Because this is the first time the soprano voice has been heard, it’s an especially wondrous effect. Verse five is plainchant again, and then we’re back to five vocal parts on verse six; Schreiber (tenor) and Feuersinger (soprano) are joined by three of the instrumentalists for the finale.

Because the recording places verses 1-4 on one track, and 5-6 on another, there are two YouTube videos to present the entire work. Again, this is soprano Miriam Feuersinger, tenor Daniel Schreiber, and the viola da gamba consort Les Escapades. The album is called Dass sich wunder alle Welt: German Advent Songs.

And here are the 5th and 6th verses.