About this work
Orlande de Lassus casts a shadow over the sixteenth century much like Mozart's 200 years later: Lassus seemed prolific and effortless in every genre of music he chose to write. During his long and estimable musical career at the Bavarian court, he wrote at least 60 masses, 100 magnificats, several hundred motets, as well as hundreds of secular pieces in all three European languages common for music at the time. Even within the linguistic boundaries, Lassus proved his compositional mettle by apparently mastering different styles in each. By the 1560s, he had already demonstrated complete competence in the expressive styles of the Italian madrigal, reaching the height of its international popularity; he set Petrarch, Tansillio, and Ariosto alongside the best native speakers. Yet he also left essays in the simpler and lighter Italian genre of the villanella, two books' worth. Matona mia cara, from the second (1581) published collection, exemplifies his efforts in the genre.
The text of Matona mia cara represents a particular subset of the broad category villanella, the todesca. In pieces of this ilk, German soldiers (and by extension, all foreigners) are the butt of various jokes; in this case, an inept German soldier stumbles upon his words as he tries to convince an Italian lady to accept his attentions. It is of course particularly witty for Lassus, living for much of his life in Germany yet apparently having no difficulty with the Italian language, to choose this form. Lassus' music artfully captures the clumsy wooing of the German "lancer," from its conventional short homophonic phrases, to its slightly over-the-top changes from verse to verse, to the rollicking "don don don" refrain. Like all the pieces in the volume, Matona mia cara re-works some older music, but does so with consummate musical wit and polish.