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Heinrich Isaac Rorate, caeli

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Uploaded on Jul 19, 2009

Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517) was the next most widely known of Josquin's contemporaries, and a prolific composer in all genres of the period, both sacred and secular. Isaac was apparently born in the Flemish-speaking portion of the Low Countries, perhaps in Flanders or Brabant. Although some of his music appears in manuscripts copied in the mid-1470s, the earliest biographical reference dates from 1484, naming him as a court composer at Innsbruck. By 1485, he was in Florence, where he served the Medicis, and where he married a Florentine woman before 1490. His position as a married man was unusual among the Franco-Flemish masters. The Medicis were banished from Florence in 1494, and by 1496, Isaac was in the employ of the Emperor Maximilian I. In the Emperor's service, Isaac traveled throughout Germany, and is generally credited with a seminal musical influence on that country. In 1515, he returned to Florence, as a sort of partial retirement, and continued to compose as commissioned by the Emperor's court until he died there in 1517. Isaac was described as an old man, and may have been the oldest of the major Franco-Flemish composers of his generation.

Isaac's output is among the largest and most varied of the era. He wrote seventeen mass cycles in typical Franco-Flemish style, as well as nineteen cycles based directly on plainchant and intended for alternation with chant or organ. The latter were apparently intended for the German tradition, for which he also wrote the massive Choralis Constantinus (eventually published in three volumes in 1550 & 1555). The Choralis Constantinus is a cycle of polyphonic Propers for the entire liturgical year, based on the appropriate chants. Although he was not able to complete it, Isaac's cycle was one of the largest to date, and probably his most influential work. He also wrote over fifty motets, in a variety of styles: more technical Franco-Flemish pieces such as Virgo prudentissima in six parts, chant-based settings comparable to his Propers settings, and lighter settings based on Italian styles. He left thirteen independent Credos. Isaac's secular and instrumental works consist of nearly one hundred pieces in French, Dutch, German, Italian, or without texts. He left one of the largest early outputs of original instrumental music, a legacy further supplemented by the many instrumental adaptations of short sections of his masses.

The most distinctive feature of Isaac's output is its variety, and few traits can be identified as personal ones. He seems to have had little interest in architectural challenges, preferring a less structural approach based on episodic and rhetorical ideas. He seems to have responded directly to melody, not only in his many chant-based settings, but in such exotica as his setting of a Turkish Sufi tune (apparently heard during a Turkish visit to Vienna), La la hö hö. He also wrote an A la battaglia, and seems to have let his inspiration come from anywhere. In keeping with this image, during the competition with Josquin for the Ferrara post (1502), it was noted that Isaac would compose whatever & whenever his patron desired. It is consequently difficult to perceive more or less significant individual works in his output.

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