Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was considered one of the greatest violin virtuosos of the Baroque period. He developed significant improvements of the violin technique of his time. He not only surpassed the musical standards of his time with respect to virtuoso
demands on the musician, but he also created works whose musical substance and fantasy were far beyond the standards of his time. The Balletti und Sonaten für Clarintrompeten und Streicher are characterized both by extreme densitiy and complexity
on the one hand and blooming openness, grandour of sound and dance-like character on the other.
René Clemencic, world-renowned specialist for historical performance practice, conducts the Clemencic Consort, which is this time backed up by renowned violinist Hiro Kurosaki. He has been notably collaborating, among others, with William Christie and René Clemencic.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was born as the son of a district boundary supervisor in Wartenberg near Reichersberg in Bohemia on 12 April 1644. We can only speculate as to his musical education. Studies in Prague, Dresden and in Vienna with violin virtuoso Johann Heinrich Schmelzer could be taken into consideration. At the beginning of the 1660s, he was probably temporarily employed as a musician by Prince Eggenberg in Styria. From about 1665 onwards, he is a very busy member of the excellent orchestra kept by the Prince-Archbishop and music enthusiast Karl Count Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn in Olmütz and Kremsier. In 1670, he takes his leave “insalutato
hospite” from the Prince-Archbishop’s court, without asking his employer for permission
and went to Salzburg. He is to remain faithful to this city for his entire life. His new lord is the archbishop of Salzburg, Maximilian Gandolph Count Khuenburg. From the winter time of 1670/71 onwards, Biber has become a member of the archiepiscopal orchestra. We do not have any information about the exact duties he had, but it is likely that they were rather varied, since he had already been employed as a violinist, violin and viola da gamba player and probably also as a composer
in Olmütz and Kremsier. In 1672, he marries
Salzburg-born Maria Weiß. In addition to his activities as a member of the orchestra, he also takes on the training of the cathedral choir boys in part singing in 1677. In 1679, he is appointed vice-director of music. Finally, after nine years of waiting, the title of nobility “von Bibern” is conferred on him by Emperor Leopold I. As persistently as he tried to gain this title, he also, in numerous petitions, fought for a quiet place of work that offered a necessary
opportunity for relaxation: “so that I might have a little disctraction, and a diversion from my studio musicalis”. Eventually, he laid out the little garden in question near the Witches’ Tower, grew wine and also built a small summer
house there. Highly honoured, he died in Salzburg on 3 May, 1704.
As a violinist and composer, Biber appears to have been famous all over the empire during
his lifetime, as well as in Italy and France. His virtuosity, already praised by Tyrolean violin maker Jacob Stainer in 1670, must have truly been breathtaking. He certainly was one of the greatest violin virtuosos of the Baroque era. Even a century later, Charles Burney referred to him as the greatest violinist
of German Baroque. Indeed, Biber seems to have left his Italian contemporaries far behind in terms of virtuoso fingering technique
and bowing. In his solo works, he rises to the 6th and 7th positions, uses an intricate double stop technique and uses scordatur (re-tuning of keys) in an unsurpassed manner.
A catalogue of his works has not yet been assembled. Among Biber’s main works are 16 violin sonatas on the mysteries of the rosary, eight additional sonatas for solo violin, a series of sonatas for two scordatura violins, numerous sonatas, serenades, ballets, arias, battaglias for several strings or solo trumpet and strings. Furthermore, in the field of stage works three operas, the music for two Jesuit dramas, in the field of sacred vocal music several vespers, litanies, motets, an offertory, three masses and one requiem.
Paul Hindemith once referred to him emphatically as the most important Baroque composer before Bach. Today when we revive and esteem to many things, even average ones, from the Baroque era, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber has not yet regained the place in the concert life and in the music lovers’ consciousness that is due to him. As a writer of instrumental music, he is one of the great people in occidental music history. His violin sonatas and his works for several strings can easily be set next to the best works of the Classical and Romanticist eras.
The Mensa sonora is a collection of suites intended as table music, dedicated to the Arch-Bishop of Salzburg. The suites are usually
preceded with an introductory part from originating in the realm of the sonata-da-chiesa. Occasionally, it concludes a suite (sonatina).
The Harmonia-Artificiosa-Ariosa, printed posthumously in Nuremberg in 1717, is a collection of seven, usually scordated, string suites in three voices called Partia.
Partia VI follows a prelude (Adagio – Allegro)
with an increasingly virtuoso series of (13) variations on a two-part aria theme of eight bars length.
At the end, there is a short final movement – called Finale – of improvisational character, as it were, written above the pedal point of the dominant a. The Balletti a 6 for two Baroque trumpets and strings from the collection of music owned by Bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn in Kremsier feature an introductory
movement (sonata) of a sonata-da-chiesa
type at the head of the dancing suite. The Ciacona used in the conclusion is still taken in its original purpose as a dancing movement in triple time. The splendidly resonant Sonatae tam Aris quam Aulis, dedicated to the Arch-Bishop of Salzburg, are intended for both sacred and secular occasions. The sonata form used here is not yet the standardised one found in the late Baroque era. It shows a thriving openness and diversity of form, and is not yet forced into the corset of the stereo-typical sequence “Adagio – Allegro – Adagio – Allegro” that was in place especially from Corelli’s time onwards.
Still in the style of the older Italian form of the canzona, we find greater forms in one movement, as it were, divided into contrasting sub-sections whose number varies in the different
works. Despite all the internal maturity, there is an underlying feeling of unfading vigour that is not subject to the passing of time. Since the structure is basically open and continually shows new features, the audience cannot sink into comfortable listening, there is no relaxation because only already known characteristics are expected. However, some composure and symmetry in this heaving ocean of affetti is found in the occasional repetitions,
sometimes comprising entire groups of sub-sections. The sonatas are of five to six minutes’ duration on average. Nevertheless, because they are so dense and complex, we have the impression of having listened to a work that took as long as a classical symphony
in terms of fullness of time and internal tension.
Sonata X places the group of strings opposite
a concertante Baroque trumpet, Sonata
VII uses two Baroque trumpets. The short unaccompanied trumpet pieces in two voices are also taken from the
Dr. René Clemencic