Monday 18 December 2017

A singer so good he was kidnapped by three choirs

The city of Munich is perfect for a summer stroll. Much of the centre is pedestrianised, inclines are few and far between. And there are the glorious green acres of the English Garden, Munich's Phoenix Park, though it is only half the size.

On your way there from the main square, you'll pass by Promenadeplatz, home to the five-star Bayerischer Hof, once Europe's largest hotel, and five significant statues.

Two of them commemorate composers. One is Christoph Willibald Gluck, nicknamed the father of modern opera. The name of the other resonates rather less these days. He was a 16th-Century musician from Flanders, Orlando di Lasso.

You can't miss the big bronze statue commemorating him, for these days its tall plinth has been turned into a makeshift monument, complete with candles and all manner of memorabilia, in honour of the late Michael Jackson.

It's ironic that the fans who've turned this into a place of pilgrimage -- because it's right outside a hotel where their idol once stayed -- have done a considerable service to a forgotten man of the Renaissance.

Di Lasso was a huge figure in his day. As a boy, he possessed a voice of such purity that he was at the centre of a tug-of-war for his services. It's reported he was kidnapped on three separate occasions as various choirs fought to have him in their line-up.

He'd been singing all over Europe when his first volume of compositions was published.

By now the owner of a beautiful tenor voice, he was hired by the Duke of Bavaria and moved to Munich, where he was such a hit that the Emperor Maximilian no less gave him a title of his own. He was awarded a papal knighthood too in honour of a collection of Masses he composed for Pope Gregory XIII.

Di Lasso was enormously influential in his day, highly regarded and prolific, responsible for more than 2,000 compositions over a 40-year period.

But in the strange way of these things, his name just faded from view, while a great contemporary has retained his lustre right to the present day. Few now will be familiar with di Lasso, master of late 16th-Century music, but everybody knows Palestrina.

It is fitting, though, that it should be a makeshift memorial to a modern master of popular song that has drawn attention to di Lasso once more.

For if Palestrina wrote the Masses that are now remembered, di Lasso's secular numbers had a broad appeal that even Michael Jackson would have recognised. The statue in the centre of Munich stands tall in recognition of that.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30am each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sundays at 3.00pm.

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