See Einstein, The Italian Madrigal (1949).
Little is known of Rore's early life. His probable birth years (1515/1516) are known from his age at death (49, recorded on his tombstone in the cathedral in Parma), and his probable birthplace was a small town in Flanders, Ronse (Renaix), right on the edge between the French- and Dutch-speaking areas. He may have had an early connection with Margaret of Parma, and may have received some musical training in Antwerp. Margaret went to Naples in 1533, prior to marrying into the Medici family, and Rore is believed to have accompanied her on her trip, possibly staying in Italy for the rest of his life. When Margaret married Alessandro de' Medici in 1536, Rore may have gone his own way; however, he is believed to have received some of his music education in Italy during his period of service with Margaret.
While it has long been claimed that he studied in Venice with Adrian Willaert, no specific documentation of this is known; some dedicatory material in his Venetian publications mentions him as a "disciple" or "follower", but not specifically as a student. Similarly, early claims that he had been a singer at St. Mark's are without firm documentation. Yet he was closely connected with Willaert and his associates for much of his career. A letter written November 3, 1542 indicates he was at Brescia, where he was known to have remained until April 16, 1545. It was during this period that he began to acquire fame as a composer, publishing, with the assistance of the Venetian printer Scotto, his first book of madrigals in 1542, and two books of motets in 1544 and 1545. The reprints of these works two years later by both Scotto and Gardane indicated their high regard.
Rore then went to Ferrara, where payment records show he was maestro di cappella (choirmaster) beginning on May 6, 1546. This was the beginning of an extraordinarly productive portion of his life; while in the service of Duke Ercole II d'Este he wrote masses, motets, chansons, and of course madrigals, many of which were topical, some involving matters concerning the court itself. In 1556 Duke Ercole awarded Rore a benefice for his exceptional service. Also during the Ferrara years, Rore began cultivating his relations with the court of Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich, sending them music, and having 26 motets produced in an elaborately illustrated manuscript with miniatures by Hans Muelich. He stopped in Munich either on the way to, or back from, his homeland of Flanders, where he went in 1558 to care for his ailing parents. In 1559 he left his post in Ferrara, possibly because the new Duke Alfonso II d'Este preferred Francesco dalla Viola, a member of an old Ferrara family, to the foreigner.
The situation in his homeland had deteriorated due to the ravages of the Wars of Independence, and when he returned again in 1559, he found that his home town, Ronse, had been destroyed. Unable to regain his employment in Ferrara, he re-entered the service of the House of Farnese, and after a stay in Antwerp, returned to Italy again, this time to Parma, in 1560. Unhappy there – Parma was not an intellectual and cultural center on the level of Ferrara or Venice – he left in 1563, briefly taking the prestigious position of maestro di cappella at St. Mark's on the death of his mentor Adrian Willaert. However he only kept this post into 1564, at which time he returned to Parma; he gave as his reason the disorder in the chapel and an insufficient salary. He died at Parma the next year, and Lodovico Rore, his nephew, erected the tombstone; the epitaph indicates that his name would not be forgotten, even in the distant future.
While Rore is best known for his Italian madrigals, he was also a prolific composer of sacred music, both masses and motets. Josquin was his point of departure, and he developed many of his techniques from the older composer's style. Rore's first three masses are a response to the challenge of his heritage and to the music of his predecessor, Josquin. In addition to five masses, he wrote several motets, many psalms, secular motets, and a setting of the St. John Passion.
It was as a composer of madrigals, however, that Rore achieved enduring fame. He was one of the most influential madrigalist in the middle of the 16th century. His madrigals were primarily published between 1542 and 1565. His early madrigals reflect the styles of Willaert with the use of clear diction, thick and continuous counterpoint, intensive imitation, and overlying cadences. They are mostly for four or five voices, with one for six and another for eight. The tone of his writing tends toward the serious, especially as contrasted with the light character of the work of the early madrigalists. Rore chose not to write madrigals of frivolous nature in order to focus on serious and noble texts, such as from Petrarch and tragedies presented at Ferrara. Rore also concentrated on delineating the varying mood of the text. Furthermore, he often ignored the structure of the line, line division, and rhyme, and did not deem it necessary that the musical and poetic lines correspond. Moreover, Rore executed all of his many different stylistic characteristics in order to express the meaning of words and furthermore of the poem as an entire unit.
In addition, Rore interestingly experimented with chromaticism. Rore, one of Vicentino's contemporaries, executed his theories regarding chromaticism. Moreover, he was appreciated for his sophisticated use of counterpoint. He also used canonical techniques and imitation in in his madrigals. Furthermore, he used all the resources of polyphony as they had developed in the early 16th century in the service of setting secular texts. Rore used a wide variety of techniques ranging from strict imitation to simple polyphony, from bland diatonic to distant harmonies, and from syllabic to florid melismatic declamation. He proved to be the model whom many of the great madrigalists of the late sixteenth century followed, including Claudio Monteverdi. According to Alfred Einstein in The Italian Madrigal (1949): Rore's true spiritual successor was Monteverdi. Einstein also said, "Rore holds the key to the whole development of the Italian madrigal after 1550."
Rore also composed secular Latin motets, a relatively unusual "cross-over" form in the mid-16th century. These motets paralleled the sacred madrigal, or the madrigale spirituale. Stylistically these motets are similar to his madrigals.