Klassik  Kammermusik Instrumental
Lyriarte & Rüdiger Lotter & Olga Watts & Axel Wolf Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Mysteriensonaten OC 514 2 CD
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Format2 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 514
Release date11/05/2005
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Biber, Heinrich Ignaz Franz

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      A memorable concert took place in May 2004 in the Church of all Saints in Munich’s royal residence: in a three-hour triumphal tour de force, the Lyriarte ensemble led by Rüdiger Lotter performed Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (Rosary Sonatas). Each of the 16 sonatas in this highly vir-tuosic cycle requires a different tuning, to which the soloist must adapt with each new work. This means, of course, intense concentration and musical imagination on the part of the soloist. A live recording of this concert – the first live recording of the Mystery Sonatas ever – is now being released.

      The Mystery of the Rosary Sonatas

      Rüdiger Lotter

      These violin sonatas, based on the fifteen secrets of the rosary, constitute one of the most unusual compositional cycles, not only from the 17th century but also in the entire history of music. The only known transcription exists as a hand-written manuscript in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. An engraving representing the fifteen secrets of the rosary precedes each sonata. Historically unique is Biber’s use of scordatura: a total of fifteen different violin tunings are employed within the cycle of sonatas. This remarkable accumulation of scordaturas has repeatedly given rise to the question of what Biber’s intention behind this awkward method of composition could have been. The author of this recording will offer a new answer to this question and at the same time solve the enigma of Biber’s mysterious dedication preceding the so-called Mystery Sonatas.

      Together with Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Johann Jacob Walther and Johann Paul von Westhoff, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is considered to be one of the most significant representatives of the German school of violin playing prior to 1700. As a phenomenal virtuoso of the violin he was unique for his time. Biber was born in 1644 in the small town of Wartenberg near Reichenberg (today Liberec in the Czech Republic) in northern Bohemia. According to the church records he was only christened Hennericus (Heinrich). That he later added the names Ignaz and Franz in dedications and letters can probably be traced to his education by the Jesuits (many saints of these names are known among the Jesuits). The musicologist Jirí Sehnal suggests that Biber spent part of his schooling in the Jesuit academy in Troppau, which would explain his level of education. Most likely the prayers of the Rosary were part of Biber’s daily life, as can be read in the “Ratio studiorum” of the Jesuits:

      “The teacher should teach the boys in such a manner that they acquire a full knowledge of Christian customs and morals (…) he should especially admonish the daily praying of the rosary (or the daily hours of Mary)…”

      Established by 1600, the Rosary is a form of devotion which consists of 15 Our Fathers and 150 Hail Marys divided into three parts: the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Rosaries. Each of these three parts is preceded by the Apostolic Creed. During the praying of the 15 decades one should contemplate one of the 15 secrets of the Rosary for each decade. Much significance was placed on the interpretation of the structural numerals. In particular the number 5 as a whole numerical divisor for all other structural numerals in the Rosary was given thorough biblical references by the Brotherhood of the Rosary. Having said this, we come to the general meaning of numerals as a structural element:

      “All God’s works are in a certain number, measure, and weight.”(Sap.11)

      That all manifestations of the creation are supported by a numerical order was one of the prevailing principles of Baroque thought. This tenet, derived from Mediaeval philosophy and confirmed in the Renaissance by the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato, can be found in all sources of Baroque history. Every science was characterized by a regularity based on numerical order. It is interesting to note that famous scholars such as Galileo, Fludd, Kepler, Euler, or Leibnitz, above all known to us today in their capacities as mathematicians and astronomers, also concerned themselves with questions on the theoretical aspects of music. The basis for this was an extensive education in the Quadrivium, a Medieval university course combining the four Quadrivial disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, harmony (composition) and astronomy. That musical composition was classified as a mathematical science may seem strange to us today, the principles of the 17th century being based on completely different aesthetic values to those of the 20th and 21st centuries. As can be seen from Kuhnau’s exemplary numerical puzzle in the introduction to his “Biblical Histories,” the composers of the 17th century commanded an extensive knowledge of all four disciplines, and in the case of Biber we also find indications of his mathematical knowledge in the preface to the eight violin sonatas published in 1681 by Löhner in Nuremberg. The dedication to these sonatas states:

      “(…) it will, I believe, not be of less value, if I have insufficiently observed the arithmetic order (…) in this my solo exists a numerical order which, I am convinced, can give delight through its diversity.”

      The musicologist Dieter Haberl was able to show in his dissertation “ordo arithmeticus” (Salzburg 1995) that Biber’s Rosary cycle was conceived as a work of art with a numerical basis. Upon closer inspection of the total construction one notices striking details. For example, there are exactly 2772 measures in the complete cycle. On one hand, this number signifies the 72 books of the Holy Scripture, of which 27 form the New Testament. On the other hand, the number is the starting point of a complex, large-scale assembling process. In this sense it is possible to show that the total number of measures in three of the sonatas is a multiple of the second perfect number, 28 (168=6x28, 112=4x28, 224=8x28, (6+4+8)x28=18x28). The sum of the measures in the remaining sonatas (excluding the three aforementioned sonatas) is the number 2268, which is 81 multiplied by 28. As the sum of the resulting factors 18 and 81, the number 99 is also significant, being a multiple of both the holy numeral 3 and the length of the life of Jesus Christ, 33 years. Dieter Haberl has revealed many further numerical connections in the Mystery Sonatas. In this manner the “holy” numerals 3, 7, and 12, and the first three perfect numbers 6, 28, and 496 prove to be recurring central elements in the manifold formations of the sonatas.

      A New Explanation for the Scordatura

      The present CD is the result of a live concert recording in Munich on the 300th anniversary of Biber’s death. Under such demanding circumstances it was necessary to ensure that the strings of the violin(s) hold their tuning. As a result, the performer of this recording was required to concern himself with practical questions regarding the relation of the different tunings to each other in performance.

      In order to guarantee stable tuning in each sonata, it proved necessary to use at least three different violins. Commencing with three different violins for the tuning of the first three sonatas, the author observed the following scordatura combinations: Violin 1: Sonata 1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 15
      Violin 2: Sonata 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 14
      Violin 3: Sonata 3, 8, 13

      In allocating the sonatas to the three violins, the essential consideration was an effective connection between the amount of time required to tune and the range of difference in tuning between sonatas.

      Assembled together we have the following sequence:
      V1V2V3V2V1 V1V2V3V2V1 V1V2V3V2V1

      The striking symmetry of the construction of the scordaturas gave the incentive for further investigation:
      Violin 1 plays the scordaturas for the 6 sonatas 1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 15
      The sum of these numbers is 48 = 4 x 12
      Violin 2 plays the scordaturas for the 6 sonatas 2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 14
      Also here the sum is 48 = 4 x 12
      Violin 3 plays the scordaturas for the 3 sonatas 3, 8, 13
      Here the sum is 24 = 2 x 12

      The numbers of the sonatas assigned to each violin, determined by performance practicality, clearly produce logical sums that are all multiples of the biblically significant number 12.

      The numbers of the sonatas assigned to each violin, determined by performance practicality, clearly produce logical sums that are all multiples of the biblically significant number 12.

      Thus the resulting number for Violin 1 is 33. Using this method we obtain the numbers 39 for Violin 2 and 27 for Violin 3.
      V1 + V2 = 33 + 39 = 72

      Here too we have a clear symbolic reference to the 72 books of the Bible and the 27 of the New Testament! In analogy to Haberl’s observations regarding the formation of the total number of measures, 2772, as the product of 28 and the sum of the numerals 18 and 81 (=99), we find also in the scordaturas the connection between the numbers 2772 and 99, in this case through the three numerals 33, 39, and 27 (33 + 39 + 27 = 99). Contrary to previous assumptions, the scordaturas are purely mathematically derived. Together with the total number of measures in the cycle, they provide the framework for Biber’s composition. The fact that Biber connected, by means of the number 2772, two contrasting elements of the sonatas (the total number of measures and the scordaturas), gave cause for further consideration which led the author from the Mystery Sonatas’ baffling preface to the “Harmony of the World” by Johannes Kepler.

      The Preface to the Mystery Sonatas

      “The harmony, which I have dedicated to the Sun of Righteousness and the Moon without Fault, I present to you as the third radiance, which you have received from the godly radiances. For, as son shining with holy majesty, you as unwed defend the virgin dignity of your mother. (…) you will hear my lyre, strung with four strings and tuned in fifteen different transformations in various sonatas (…) in union with the basso continuo, in pieces, elaborated with much effort, and, inasmuch as was within my power, with great artistry. (…)”

      As we gather from the preface, Biber does not dedicate these sonatas about the mysteries of the Rosary to his employer, the Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph, but rather to “the Sun of Righteousness and the Moon without Fault.” He merely presents them to his employer, which seems quite unusual. Until now it was assumed that Biber was alluding to the standard liturgical metaphors for Christ and the Virgin Mary. If Biber actually intended these metaphors to signify Christ and Mary, then he obviously put them in the wrong order. The Rosary, as a Marian prayer cycle, sets the Virgin Mary in the central point, in which case she would need to be mentioned first in the dedication. Additionally, we can pose the question as to why Biber would even wish to artfully imply to the Archbishop that he had dedicated his composition to Christ and the Virgin Mary, for this is already evident in the composition and in the engravings. A few lines later we find a further metaphor, which is conspicuous in its inadequacy: Biber speaks of the lyre tuned in fifteen different transformations. The lyre is a plucked instrument, and for this reason Biber was not likely to have used it as a skilfully chosen synonym for the violin. In investigations concerning the possible meaning of the lyre the author chanced upon an interesting reference. The constellation of the lyre is the symbol for the astronomical concept of harmony.

      The Harmonices Mundi by Johannes Kepler

      The harmony tables (see page 15) are taken from the famous “Harmonices Mundi” by Johannes Kepler, published in Linz in 1619. In his five-volume work, Kepler shows that the six then known planets move in harmonic proportion to one another when observed from the sun as a central point. After a lifelong search, Kepler imagined himself to have finally discovered scientific proof for the Pythagorean Harmony of the World. We find in the “Harmonices Mundi” numerous observations of music theory based on geometrical considerations, which have their origin in the knowledge of Pythagoras and have in some cases been elaborated on by Kepler. In chapter 10 of the fifth book, Kepler ascertains in the extensive “Epilogue regarding the sun with possible assumptions”:

      “(…) on the sun contributions will be collected from all the provinces of the world according to the rights of the kingdom, which exist in a harmony of the highest beauty (…) in short the sun contains the court, the palatinate, the palace, the royal castle of the complete natural kingdom(…)”

      Perhaps in light of this quote it is possible to understand what Biber wishes to indicate in his preface with the metaphor of the “Sun of Righteousness”:

      Perhaps in light of this quote it is possible to understand what Biber wishes to indicate in his preface with the metaphor of the “Sun of Righteousness”:

      Thus the sun collects righteously (according to the rights of the kingdom) harmonies of the highest beauty, which yet again would mean that harmonies between the planets can only come into being when the sun acts in accordance with the principles of righteousness. Consequently we may assume a direct reference by Biber to Kepler’s “Epilogue regarding the Sun.” The metaphor “Moon without Fault” used by Biber can also be found correspondingly in the “Harmonices Mundi.” On page 302 of the fourth chapter, Kepler writes under the title “wherein the harmonic proportions are expressed through the movements of the planets by the Creator”:

      “the moon also corresponds in these considerations. It transpires that its hourly movement at its apogee (…) is exactly 26’26”; in contrast its movement in its perigee is 35’12”. This relationship forms a perfect fourth. (Bold type by author) (…) It is also worthy of note that the fourth cannot be found in any other of the apparent movements (…)”

      The harmonic movement of the moon is without flaw in comparison to the other planets, which only exhibit an approximate harmonic relationship to one another. This is an unmistakeable parallel to Biber’s “Moon without Fault”. The reader who might still doubt Biber’s references to Kepler is asked to refer to the footnote in the 7th chapter of the fifth volume of “Harmonices Mundi”:

      “ (…) Is it shameless of me, if I demand a motet in my praise from the individual composers of our time? The Holy Scriptures could (…) provide a suitable text. (…) Deliver your contributions; (…) He who best expresses the Heavenly music, as I have described it in my work, has the prospect of a garland of flowers from Clio, and Urania will promise him Venus as his bride.”

      Since Biber in his preface dedicated his Rosary Sonatas to the “Sun of Righteousness” and the “Moon without Fault,” and at a later point refers to the metaphor of the lyre for the astronomical concept of harmony, a logical conclusion is that Biber in truth dedicated his sonatas to the discoverer of the harmony of the world, Johannes Kepler. It would seem somewhat impudent that Biber dedicated his cycle of Rosary Sonatas, which can be seen as a centrepiece of the Counter-Reformation, to a protestant, especially when one considers that his employer, Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph, had recently, in an act of inhuman cruelty, expelled all Protestants from the Salzburg region.

      The Secrets Behind the Rosary Cycle

      The theory that Biber refers directly to Kepler’s discovery in his Rosary Sonatas is further confirmed if we once again consider the scordatura. Kepler finds in the aforementioned 7th chapter of the fifth volume four complete harmonies of the six planets, but justifies his observations thus: “the instances when all six planets sound together are separated by eternally long periods of time: I am not sure (…) whether such harmonies do not indicate the beginning of all time.” The metaphor of the beginning of all time is comparable to the Creator himself. Should Biber have translated one of the complete harmonies into a scordatura, then the most reasonable sonata in this connection would be the Assumption of Christ into Heaven; for here the Son returns to the Father. Biber makes use of a scordatura with the tones c-e-g-c in the Sonata of the Assumption of Christ. The second of Kepler’s complete harmonies corresponds to exactly these tones (see harmonic tables). Jesus Christ, who has risen into heaven, is greeted through the Intrada and Aria Tubicinum of the 12th sonata with one of the four complete harmonies of the Creator. The fact that one of Biber’s 15 scordaturas is directly related to the harmony of the planets (as discovered by Kepler) poses the question as to whether the other scordaturas also represent harmonic expressions of the constellations. The author is of the opinion that the scordaturas moreover refer symbolically to possible harmonies of the planets. In an extended sense it is possible to interpret the scordaturas as individual expressions of God’s harmony preceding each sonata. The music itself embodies the ars humana, symbolising the earthly domain.

      When the sonatas are performed, something astonishing happens that can only be termed a genuine mystery: through the numeral 2772, which refers to the Holy Scriptures, the element of the scordaturas (representing the “heavenly” or next world) is skilfully incorporated into the number of measures (as representative of the “earthly” or the worldly). Only in a performance of the complete cycle does the numeral 2772 appear on both levels: the scordatura and the total number of measures. To achieve this, as previously noted, all 16 sonatas must be played with all the repeats specified by Biber (16 as the square of 4; 4 as the numerical symbol of the worldly). In contrast there are only 15 scordaturas, the 16th sonata employing the scordatura of the 1st sonata. Thus the element of the scordatura remains connected to the next world. As the combination of scordatura and number of measures reveals itself to the listener neither acoustically nor rationally, it is reasonable to assume that Biber is directing his “Mystery of the Rosary Sonatas” to God himself. In this way he expresses the same intention as Johannes Kepler, who concludes his “Harmonices Mundi” with the phrases:

      “Praise Him, you heavenly harmonies, praise Him, all who are witnesses of the now discovered harmonies. Praise you also, my soul, the Lord your Creator, as long as I might be. For from Him and through Him and in Him is all. That which we can grasp through our perceptions, as well as that which we know and which constitutes only the smallest part of Him; for there is more that lies beyond. Praise, honour, and glory to Him in all Eternity. Amen.”

      Translation: Kelvin Hawthorne


      “The most entertaining diversion imaginable … a veritable fireworks of pulsating colours and explosive movement that leaves the listener breathless!” This was the recent conclusion of the Süddeutsche Zeitung after hearing the Lyriarte ensemble, founded in 2000 by violinist Rüdiger Lotter and harpsichordist Olga Watts. The Munich-based group specializes in Baroque chamber music, and its two founders are single-minded in their development of unconventional programs and pursuit of stylistic bravura. Lyriarte’s repertoire consists mainly of music from the 16th to 18th centuries, drawing above all from German and Italian literature. The ensemble’s size depends on the requirements of a particular program. Lyriarte won 2nd prizes at both the “Premio Bonporti” Sixth International Competition in Rovereto, Italy (2001) and the Fourth International Heinrich-Schmelzer-Competition in Melk, Austria (2002).

      Rüdiger Lotter

      Born in 1969, he studied music and music history in Dusseldorf and Cologne and completed his studies with Professor Michael Gaiser at the Robert-Schumann Academy in 1996 with honors.

      Rüdiger Lotter frequently performed with Concerto Köln and Musica Antiqua Köln when he was a student, making a number of recordings with both ensembles during this time. The two experiences which left a lasting impression on him were collaborating with Reinhard Goebel and being involved in opera productions with Rene Jacobs. The artist was a regular guest with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen between 1995 and 1998, principle violinist of the Wuppertal Sinfonieorchester from 1996 to 1997, member of the Münchener Philharmoniker from 1997 to 1998 and has been the assistant concertmaster of the Münchener Kammerorchester since 1998.

      During this time, Rüdiger Lotter worked with many renowned conductors and contemporary musicians, including Pierre Boulez, Günter Wand, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim and Michael Gielen. His work with the Münchener Kammerorchester has put him in close contact with avant-garde composers like Wolfgang Rihm, Aribert Reimann, Heinz Holliger, and from the youngest generation of composers, Jörg Widmann.

      Since 2003, Rüdiger Lotter has been the concertmaster of the Neue Hofkapelle München, a Munich-based orchestra specializing in historic performance practice. Beginning with the 2004/2005 season, he will be one of the ensemble’s two artistic directors, alongside pianoforte specialist Christoph Hammer.

      In 2000, Rüdiger Lotter founded the Lyriarte ensemble together with harpsichordist Olga Watts. The group quickly became an established highlight of Munich’s musical scene.

      Olga Watts

      The harpsichordist was born in Moscow in 1973. She began studying piano and musicology at the Moscow Conservatory, continuing her studies on harpsichord at the Academy for Music and Theater in Munich with Professor Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Christine Schorns-heim. She completed her diploma in 1998 with honours. Master classes with Menno van Delft and Bob van Asperen as well as cooperation with Reinhard Goebel, Frans Brüggen and Thomas Hengelbrock were further sources of inspiration. Olga Watts has performed in a number of European chamber orchestras.

      In 1997 she was awarded first prize as Bavaria’s Young Artist of the Year for historic performance practice.

      Olga Watts is a sought-after specialist for basso continuo and chamber music; her many activities in this area have included acting as official harpsichord accompanist for the Munich ARD competition and Leipzig Bach Competition in 2002.

      Axel Wolf

      Axel Wolf studied with Hans Michael Koch and Rolf Lislevand. As a member of the ensemble “La Sfondrata” he was a prizewinner at the 1992 International Competition for Early Music Ensembles in Utrecht, Netherlands. In the course of his concert career he has made appearances at international festivals in Boston, Bruges, Utrecht, Prague, Glasgow, and Innsbruck, as well as appearances in Rome, Tokyo, New York and Tel Aviv as soloist or member of ensembles such as Musica Fiata Köln, Freiburger Barock-orchester, Ars Antiqua Austria and Gabrieli Consort and Players London. He has recently travelled to Uzbekistan, India and China with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. He appears frequently as guest artist at the Bayrische Staatsoper in Munich under the directorship of Harry Bicket or Ivor Bolton. From 1986 until 2003 he taught at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany. His first solo CD includes works for lute and chitarrone by Alessandro Piccinini, another solo recording concentrates on the lute music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Axel Wolf can be heard on numerous recordings as a continuo player and accompanist.

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