Biber Fever

Derek StannardAuriel Camerata’s Artistic Director Derek W. Stannard writes about tuning, virtuosity, and the peerless “Rosary” Sonatas of Heinrich Biber.

No, this is definitely not Justin.

Biber_mysterienHeinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and virtuosic violinist whose talents brought him to Salzburg, Austria – the musical epicenter of the Baroque period – where he remained for the rest of his life. Of his prolific output, the “Rosary” or “Mystery” Sonatas are certainly ranked as some of the most important. The difficulty of these sonatas, built thematically around Christian Rosary devotion, is what brought these pieces back to life when they were published for the first time in 1905, some 230 years after they were composed.

These sonatas, for solo baroque violin and portative (read about portatives here), remained officially unnamed due to their missing cover page. However, their large divisions, listed as the five Joyful Mysteries, five Sorrowful Mysteries, and five Glorious Mysteries, make it evident what they might have been called.

These works are presented in a “scordatura” style, (literally meaning mis-tuning), or that the tuning of the violin is different than normal tunings. This complicated technique requires the player to see on pitch on the page, but to play a different one! This presents opportunities for a wider range of pitches and changes in timbre, the latter being most important for Biber.

Jeremy Eichler, music critic for the New York Times, wrote of Biber’s scordatura usage: “Each new configuration is a secret key to an invisible door, unlocking a different set of chordal possibilities on the instrument, opening up alternative worlds of resonance and vibration”.

You can hear the talented and rising young baroque violinist Juan Carlos Zamudio play these matchless works of beauty at our November 7th Bach & Biber Concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy NY. Click on the link for more information, and to purchase your tickets online! We hope to see you there!

Eichler, Jeremy (2011). Reciting a Rosary, but in Sonata Form. New York Times.

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