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Heinrich Isaac
c.1450 - 1517
H. Isaac
Heinrich (Hendrik) Isaac (ca.1450 – 26/03/1517) Ysaac, Ysaak, Hendrik, Henricus or Arrigo il Tedesco is a Netherlandish Renaissance composer of south Netherlandish origin province of Flanders or Brabant. Little is known about Isaac's early life but it is probable that he was born in Flanders, probably in Brabant. During the late 15th century in the Southern Netherlands, the standards of music education in this region were excellent. Isaac belonged to the third generation of South Netherlandish composer.
Isaac's career spanned well over thirty years and allowed him to travel far from his homeland of Flanders into Germany, Italy, and Austria, as well as other parts of central Europe. The first document mentioning his name dates back to 1484, placing him in Innsbruck as a singer for Duke Sigismund (1427-1496) of Austria, of the House of Habsburg. In 1485 Isaac migrated to Florence It was a start of Isaac's long stay in Florence under the employment of Santa Maria del Fiore and Santissima Annunziata as a singer. Isaac may have developed a close working-relationship with Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492). During his presence in Florence from 1484 until the end of 1496, Isaac composed several masses, motets and secular songs. Isaac's relationship with Lorenzo de' Medici must have been fairly close. Moreover, when Lorenzo died in April 1492 Isaac composed certainly one motet in his memory the famous: Quis dabit capiti meo aquam. Lorenzo's son Piero (1472-1503) inherited everything he owned, including his musical groups. In September 1492 Piero took his musical groups to Rome to perform for the coronation of Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503). The group was dissolved. Isaac married a daughter of Piero Bello around 1494.
In November 1496 after Isaac and his wife spent some time in Pisa, they moved to Vienna and became employed by Emperor Maximilian I ( 1459-1519). In April 1497, Isaac was appointed court composer for Maximilian I. Isaac remained under Maximilian's employment from 1496 until his death. Isaac traveled extensively around Europe north of Italy with the court to Torgau, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Wels, and back to Innsbruck between 1497 and 1501. In 1502, Isaac returned to Italy, going again to Florence. Isaac traveled to Ferrara to the Este court. Isaac competed with Josquin des Prez (c.1440-1521) for an appointment. Some later between 1505 and 1512 Isaac stayed in Augsburg and Konstanz. Isaac compiled here his largest set of works: Choralis Constantinus. In Konstanz Isaac met his pupil Ludwig Senfl (c.1486-1543).This monumental collection of mass propers was commissioned by the Constance cathedral on 14 April 1508 and completed by Isaac and his student Ludwig Senfl by the winter of 1509. In 1512 Isaac went back to Florence and spent there the last part of his life. He was given an honorary position as maestro of the chapel at Santa Maria del Fiore in 1514, which served as a pension. Isaac passed away on 26 March 1517. Isaac was one of the most prolific composers of the time, producing an extraordinarily diverse output, including almost all the forms and styles current at the time. Music composed by Isaac included masses, motets, songs in French, German, and Italian, as well as instrumental music. 36 of his settings of the ordinary of the mass survived; Numerous individual movements of masses survived as well. But Isaac’s setting of music for the Proper of the Mass – the portion of the liturgy which changed on every day, unlike the ordinary, which remained constant – which gave him his greatest fame. The huge cycle of motets which Isaac wrote for the mass proper, the Choralis Constantinus, (containing about 450 plainchant based polyphonic settings) and which Isaac left incomplete at his death. This cycle supplied music for 100 separate days of the year. It was published in three volumes between 1550-1555. Those motets remain some of the finest examples of plainchant-based Renaissance polyphony in existence.
Isaac’s influence in Germany and Austria was great. Isaac was the first great South Netherlandish composer who became famous and whose music was widely distributed there. The polyphonic style of the great distinguished Netherlandish composers was accepted through him in Germany and Austria and this music could be further developed in that region even by other famous Netherlandish composers and musicians to follow.
Author:Wim Goossens
Quis dabit capiti meo aquam
Period:Early Renaissance
Composed in:1492
Musical form:Musical form: Motet for four voices
In memory of:Lorenzo de Medici
Label(s):CDGAU 362; Dorian 90312; Bongiovannini 56072; IMP classics 825; MCA 5953; RCM 10507; Telefunken 641087
Cimp 825; RIC 318

♫ Quis dabit capiti meo aquam
© Alpha Classics ALPHA 786

This Quis dabit capiti meo aquam is a four parts (ATTB) motet written on the death of Lorenzo de Medici, also known as Lorenzo The Magnificent (1449-1492). This motet is a slow and very dignified piece and consists out of four movements. To honour this funeral two famous courtiers did a collaborative tribute to their patron Lorenzo de Medici. The poet Angelo Poliziano (1454-1494) on the one hand and the court composer Isaac (1450-1517) on the other hand. The occasional text by Poliziano is a lament deeply asking where the poet could possibly find enough water for his head “to feed his tears both day and night!” A reference is made to the widowed turtledove, the dying swan and the mourning nightingale. The Laurel tree ( reference in short to Lorenzo and the family weapon) is struck by the lightning. Isaac furnished this elegy with a simple but enormous funerary monument in sound. For a same as far as we know until yet unknown funeral event, Isaac also has arranged a lament based on the funeral chorus of Seneca: Quis dabit pacem populo tementi. But therein is no reference to a Requiem text in the sense of this great Requiem-website.
Isaac uses low texture in this motet with in the first movement in the Bass (a low great-E). This motet is set in E-Phrygian mode. Isaac took the basic musical themes of this motet out of his Mass Salva nos. Isaac uses especially in the first part (Quis dabit capiti) and the third part (Sub cuius patula ) select sections out of that mass. It’s interesting that those two mentioned parts are in total musical reliance with the second part (Laurus impetus fulminis) culminating in the Bass with the last phrase: Et requiescamus in pace.
This plainchant fragment out of the Requiem Mass/rites contains a descending fourth which is in that time a principal symbol of lament. The first movement (Prima pars: Quis dabit capiti meo aquam) is set in homophonic style with descending lines in all voices. From bar 22 Isaac set a very long brevis/longa (e1) up to bar 32 in word-painting “dabit.” This first part in the Alto and Tenor 1 voice ends with a real canonic phrase suggesting the weeping all day and all night. The second part of the first movement “Sic turtur” follows the homophonic style with a lot of mournful harmonic changes in using flats and sharps. Here we see and hear remarkable harmonic shifts. This total first part consists out of 64 bars.
In the second movement of this motet (Secunda pars: Laurus impetu fulminis) Isaac reduces the scoring from four to three voices omitting one Tenor 2 voice in scribing in that score (in 1503) “Laurus tacet”. That means with a certain reference to the death of Lorenzo: Lorenzo is silent! The Bass proceeds in singing the plainchant motive ‘Et requiesacmus in pace’ five times the five bars long phrase but each time one pitch lower than the previous phrase. The sixth time the Bass starts again with the mode of the first phrase and all voices ending in an a. This plainchant motive has a strong resemblance to the plainchant that accompanies the words ‘Requiem aeternam dona’ in the Matins service out of the Office of the Dead. (Nocturn III, after lesson IX, page 1799 Liber Usualis 1936). Here Isaac quotes in our opinion in a paraphrased way one line out of the Office of the Dead. This second movement consists out of 37 bars. In the third movement (Tertia pars: Sub cuius patula) Isaac starts again with homophonic phrases.
The word ‘omnia’ is repeated twice in exchange by two voices ( Alto and Tenor 1: a-c-d-e) like an echo in a polyphonic way. The same we hear in the Tenor 1 and Bass (Bars 135-140) in another polyphonic sentence while the two other voices ends with a very long brevis/longa (six bars each an e) on the last vowel of the word ‘omnia’. This last movement consists out of 39 bars. This motet is set in E-Phrygian.
This motet could be pre-composed or not for us that’s not important. Nevertheless every effect comes from the tones set by a Netherlandish craftsman Isaac as so many in his time member in this case of the third generation of South Netherlandish polyphonic Renaissance composers and singers who worked all over Europe! This motet is published by Ottaviano Petrucci, in Motetti de Passione, de Cruce, de Sacramento, de Beata Virgine et huiusmodi B, Venice 1503.
Author:Wim Goossens
Latin text and translation

Prima pars:
Quis dabit capiti meo
aquam? Quis oculis meis
fontem lachrimarum dabit,
ut luce fleam?
ut nocte fleam?

Sic turtur viduus solet,
sic cygnus moriens solet,
sic luscinia conqueri.
Heu miser, miser!
O dolor, dolor!

Secunda pars:
Laurus impetu fulminis
illa illa iacet subito,
Laurus omnium celebris
Musarum choris, nympharum choris.
Basus: Et requiescamus in pace.

Tertia pars:
Sub cuius patula coma
et Phoebi lyra blandius
insonat et vox dulcius;
nunc murta omnia,
nunc surda omnia.


First part.

O That my head were
waters, and my eyes
a fount of tears,
that I might weep by day
and weep by night!

So mourns the widowed turtledove,
so mourns the dying swan,
so mourns the nightingale (1)
Ah, woe is me!
O grief, o grief!

Second part.

Lightning has struck
our laurel tree,
our laurel so dear
to all the muses and the dances of the nymphs.
Bass: And rest in peace.

Third part.

Beneath whose spreading boughs
Phoebus himself more sweetly
played and sang.
Now all is mute
and there is none to hear.
Contributor:Wim Goossens