Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen


Visits to Innsbruck

Heinrich Isaac visited the quaint Tyrolean town of Innsbruck on at least three occasions. In September 1484, civic documents show him completing a stay there, apparently to accept a new and prestigious position serving the Medici in Florence. Later, during his long service to the Emperor Maximilian I, Isaac spent time in Innsbruck in February 1500 and December 1501. It is thus somewhat fitting that this great and peripatetic contemporary of Josquin Desprez would leave as one of his best-known pieces a sentimental lament for his departure: Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen.

Two settings

He composed at least two settings of the song, possibly on different occasions. Both eschew the now-traditional Germanic barform, in favor of a simple strophic form of aabccd. 

One version of this song survives in manuscript form only, in Basel and Munich; it follows the compositional customs of the polyphonic German Tenorlied. The melody is in the tenor voice, with a supporting bass and a "Contratenor Altus" above, which imitates the melody quite closely. A discant contrapuntal part may have been added to this three-voice combination later. The second version was included in a collection of German songs printed in 1539; this is the setting most often associated with the Innsbruck title. In this version, Isaac places the melody in the uppermost voice, supported by the other voices in a texture of chordal homophony; this possibly reflects the composer's experience of Italian music. Whether he himself wrote the simple melody, or whether he adapted a popular tune current in Innsbruck, Isaac's lied was brought into the Lutheran chorale repertory as O welt, ich muß dich lassen, and became the basis of later chorale settings by J.S. Bach. The melody lived on in two of the organ preludes of Johannes Brahms (including one of the last pieces of music of that composer's life), and remains an emblem of the town today.

text from, by Timothy Dickey


With this score it is difficult to make a perfect transcription. We have attempted to place a version online which is relatively true to the source material and is clearly legible for modern singers.

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