Biber, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von

Biber, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von

Biber, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von, 1644-1704, Austrian musician. Biber was one of the first notable Central European violinists and may have been the first to employ scordatura, an unusual tuning of the violin to obtain special effects. He composed much violin music, some of it programmatic, that requires great virtuosity, and also various dramatic works.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (August 12, 1644 – May 3, 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist.


Biber was born in Wartenberg (now Stráž pod Ralskem, Czech Republic). He received his first position in 1668 as musician in the court of Archbishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn at Olmutz. But Biber failed to return from a visit to Innsbruck without permission. On this visit he met the at the time famous violin maker Jakob Stainer, who mentioned him in a later document as "der vortreffliche Virtuos (the outstanding virtuoso) Herr Biber." He was first a violinist at the castle of Kroměříž, and in 1684 became Kapellmeister in Salzburg, where he died twenty years later.

Biber's music exemplifies the Austrian baroque style, which is a combination of Italian and German influences. His works show a predilection for canonic use and harmonic diapason that pre-date the later Baroque works of Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach. He was known as a violin virtuoso and is best known for his highly virtuosic and expressive violin works, many of which employ scordatura (unconventional tunings of the open strings). In his violin music Biber built on the achievements of earlier Italian violinist-composers such as Marini, Fontana, and Uccellini, as well as his older Austrian contemporary (and possible teacher) Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.

The music of Biber has enjoyed a renaissance, in part, because of the Rosary Sonatas. This remarkable set of 16 sonatas is also known as the Mystery Sonatas (in reference to key events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ) and the Copper-Engraving Sonatas (because of the engravings at the head of the sonatas). Each sonata employs a different tuning of the violin. This use of scordatura transforms the violin's expressivity from the pleasures of the Five Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, etc.) through the trauma of the Five Sorrowful Mysteries (the Crucifixion, etc.) to the ethereal nature of the Six Glorious Mysteries. The Glorious Mysteries start with the Resurrection Sonata—where the two middle strings are symbolically crossed over—and end with a passacaglia for solo violin using standard tuning (Sonata No 16), thereby completing the cycle of scordaturas. Remarkably, in Sonata No 15 Biber anticipates the theme of Paganini's Capriccio No 24 almost exactly. We can assume that Paganini took his inspiration from Biber (just as Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninov were later inspired by Paganini's famous Caprice).

The Rosary Sonatas remained unpublished during Biber's lifetime. Among his important published collections of instrumental music are a set of eight sonatas (1681) for violin and continuo and the magisterial Harmonia artificioso-ariosa (consisting of seven trio sonata-suites utilizing scordatura violins and violas d'amore). Biber was a prolific composer of sacred vocal music, of the which the two Requiems and the Missa Christi resurgentis are outstanding examples. The Missa Salisburgensis is an astonishing polyphonic setting of the mass for 53 independent voices which is currently attributed to Biber (it was previously thought to be the work of Orazio Benevoli).


Instrumental works

  • Sonata à 3 (for 2 violins and trombone) (Questionable attribution to Biber's early career as a novice composer) The theory that Biber wrote this suggests Antonio Bertali as a teacher. Bertali wrote a number of similar sonatas for exactly the same scoring. This sonata could possibly be attributed to Bertali except that the violin passages are sometimes more fanciful than any other in Bertali's works.
  • Sonata for 6 trumpets, timpani, and organ (1668)
  • Sonata representativa (for violin and continuo) (1669)
  • Sonata La battalia (for 3 violins, 4 violas, 2 violone, and continuo) (1673)
  • Rosary Sonatas (for violin in scordatura and continuo and a passacaglia for violin solo) (also known as Mystery Sonatas and Copper-Engraving Sonatas) (1676)
  • Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes (12 sonatas for 5-8 instruments [trumpets, strings, and continuo] in various combinations) (1676)
  • Mensa sonora (6 suites for violin, two violas, and continuo) (1680)
  • Sonatae violino solo (8 sonatas for violin and continuo) (1681)
  • Fidicinium sacroprofanum (12 sonatas for 1 or 2 violins, 2 violas, and continuo) (1683)
  • Harmonia artificioso-ariosa: diversi mode accordata (7 partias for 1 or 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 violas d'amore, and continuo in various combinations) (1696)

Vocal works

  • Missa Christi resurgentis (c.1674)
  • Missa Salisburgensis (attrib.; for 53 independent instrumental and vocal parts) (1682)
  • Plaudite tympana (motet) (attrib.; for 53 independent instrumental and vocal parts) (1682)
  • Applausi festivi di Giove (cantata) (1687)
  • Li trofei della fede cattolica (cantata) (1687)
  • Alessandro in Pietra (opera) (1689)
  • Chi la dura la vince (opera) (c.1690)
  • Requiem in A (c.1690)
  • Requiem in F minor (c.1692)
  • Missa Bruxellensis (for 23 independent instrumental and vocal parts) (c.1696)
  • Missa Sancti Henrici (1697)
  • Trattenimento musicale del'ossequio di Salisburgo (cantata) (1699)

See also


External links

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