Quem vidistis, pastores?
Orlando di Lasso
To his contemporaries, he was the “Prince of Music,” the “King of Musicians,” the “Divine Orlando.” We speak of Orlando di Lasso, born in the French-speaking province of Hainault in present-day Belgium in 1532. His teens were spent in southern Italy and Rome, where he became choirmaster of the basilica of St. John Lateran in 1551, a position which would be held by Palestrina following his departure in 1554. By 1556 he had entered the service of the Bavarian court at Munich, and there he remained until his death in 1594, working not only as court composer but also in equal demand as a singer.
A responsory at Matins (the morning service) for Christmas Day, Quem vidistis, pastores? is scored for five voices and was first pub- lished in his Cantiones aliquot quinque vocum (1569). As in many of Lasso’s motets, one of the most noteworthy features is the frequent use of concise, boldly delineated motifs to open each new phrase of the text, a technique also employed in the previous motet by Sweelinck. Each head motif is repeated in almost strict imitative polyphony in every voice; triadic arpeggios overtake the texture at “an- nunciate,” almost demanding the shepherds to recount what they have seen. At the text “collaudantes Dominum” (“Praising the Lord”), Lasso switches to triple meter and homophony so that we can more easily hear all the angels together praising God.
Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite,
Whom did you see, shepherds, say,