Heinrich Isaac – Innsbruck, I must leave you

Today’s choice is a tiny jewel of a song from the turn of the 16th century. A lament to leaving Innsbruck (a city in modern day Austria), the author of the words is unknown, but they were thankfully immortalised by Heinrich Issac, who set them to music.

Isaac was a Netherlandish composer whose career took him across Europe, working for Habsburgs in Austria and Medicis in Florence, and even performing for Pope Alexander VI in September 1492.

But it was after this, whilst in the employ of Maximilian I, that this little German song likely comes from, or at least was inspired by. Maximilian was Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until 1519, and was a patron to many artists including Albrecht Dürer, commissioning huge works in tribute to him and his military victories. There is a Triumphal Arch of woodcuts, epic poems, a chivalric novel, and musical works that quote him by name.

But this song is a million miles away from that puffed up world of art as propaganda. It’s sublimely simply yet so evocative. It seems to strike that chord of loss and longing so perfectly.

I won’t try and capture it – just listen.

Innsbruck, I must leave you;
I will go my way
to foreign lands.
My joy has been taken away from me,
that I cannot achieve
while being abroad.

I must now bear great sorrow
that I can only share
with my dearest.
Oh love, hold poor me
and in your heart compassion
that I must part from you.

My consolation: above all other women,
I will forever be yours,
always faithful, in true honour.
And now, may God protect you,
keep you in perfect virtue,
until I shall return.

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