Lied: Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1450-1517)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 2 Track 43
Mr. Isaac's six-note tune has charmed generations without ever leaping more than a third. For centuries, the chorales that followed Innsbruck's husband have served as point of departure to thousands of composers. As contemporary composers seem keenly aware, in the world of classical music, the modern ear (at least the modern radio station) is most comfortable with this type of sound. The harmonies are unsurprising, the tune is uneventful, and we repeat it all for the length of three verses.
Except for the open opening sonority and an E-flat chord that reappears a few times, there is nothing about this piece to challenge the listener. Furthermore, because so much of this short piece is so much the same, our ears learn to accept both the opening fifth and the out-of-key chord quickly. The ensemble, discreetly organized into four parts, presents short phrases that have clear endings and build to a most genteel climax.
What I like about this tune is its lack of presumption. I do want to hear pieces that challenge the listener with strange harmonies and distant leaps. But I also want to hear pieces, like this one, that encourage me to hum along.