Roland de Lassus, originally from Mons, lit up the 16th century with his musical genius by adopting a new approach to sacred music. His work was as diverse as it was prolific, earning him the nickname of “the prince of musicians”. 

A prodigal son, renowed throughout Europe

Talent does not take any notice of age, and Roland de Lassus, born in Mons in 1532, was noticed very early on in his musical education. An altar boy at Saint-Nicolas Church in Mons, the story goes that he was taken away when he was 12 to offer his singing talents to Ferrante Gonzaga, a general under Charles V. The first nine years that he spent in Italy led to him being appointed maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the most famous basilica in Rome, when he was just 21. Recognition of his vocal talents gave him the opportunity to work with many European courts, and he went on to found Lassus’ chapel in Munich’s court in 1563.

The " Prince of musicians of our time"

Without really inventing a new genre, through his extensive travel and experiences, the singer and composer would go on to revolutionise sacred music. He introduced instruments where previously, this type of music had only been sung. With him the music of medieval society evolved into the world of freedom currently undergoing a “renaissance”. The father of the counterpoint technique, where different melodies are superimposed on to each other, he revolutionised the writing codes that would influence Europe for more than two centuries. His genius gave instruments the chance to compliment voices, and letting the melodies sometimes be replaced by texts so they could be fully appreciated in their own right.

A body of work that lives on in Mons

With him, music became a real means of expression, bringing voices and instruments to life. His humanist ideas and great sensitivity with the text would also produce 140 successful French chansons. He lifted artistic creativity out of the religious world and opened it up to the secular world. Considered to be one of the greatest musicians of the Renaissance, his work has lived on through history and his reputation has never faded since his death when he was 62. His work is performed by a local ensemble of singers every year during the procession of the Car d’Or as part of Mons’ Ducasse Rituelle.