Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517) was one of the top composers of the middle Renaissance. Compared to Josquin, it was said that Isaac could not compose as well, but was sure to write music upon being asked, which Josquin was not always willing to do. Isaac was among the first composers to make a living doing just that: composing. He wrote for the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, who lived in Germany, all from his comfortable home in Italy, and was free to travel when he wished.
Isaac lived and composed in many cities throughout his life, the most memorable of which was Innsbruck, in current-day Austria. The song he wrote, Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, memorialized his departure from the mountain-framed city forever.
This piece is largely homophonic and strophic. Isaac offsets strict homophony to create a movement during the singing of the text. There is a yearning sound in the notes, so that even if one did not know what this song was about, one could get the idea that it is at least mournful. Most of this is accomplished by the falling of notes at the end of each phrase, so that there is a sighing sensation felt.
Compared to a Palestrina a cappella work, this seems equally as smooth and lyrical. In contrast, this piece is far more homophonic and much smaller in form. Isaac’s music could have been composed in one sitting, in that the verses were put to text and harmonized, almost like a chorale. Palestrina’s works, however, seem to interweave ideas so much throughout voices that they would take a lot of puzzling and pondering to really work.
I chose this work because I got to visit Innsbruck a few years ago, and leaving that city, tucked away into the mountains of Austria, really is difficult. It is no shock to me that after living there for years, it broke Isaac’s heart to leave. I like how the music fits to the heart of the piece, rather than specific words.
Absorbing Heinrich Isaac
David J. Burn, Blake Wilson and Giovanni Zanovello
The Journal of Musicology , Vol. 28, No. 1 (Winter 2011) , pp. 1-8
Published by: University of California Press
Article DOI: 10.1525/jm.2011.28.1.1
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jm.2011.28.1.1
““Heinrich Isaac – Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” Youtube video, 2:46. Uploaded by Monteverdifan on May 09, 2009 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z3pg7Ocmx8
For sheet music: