Heinrich Ignaz Biber, violinst, gambist and
composer, was born in Bohemia in 1644 and so can be considered a Czech composer
though he is often thought of as German. Little is known of his early life, but
it is thought that he may have studied with Schmelzer in Vienna. After service
in Moravia he joined the Kapelle in
Salzburg in 1670, where he remained until his death in 1704. He became director
of the Kapelle in 1684 and was
ennobled in 1690. He was renowned as a violin virtuoso, who was not above
showing off his prodigious skills.
The collection of eight solo violin sonatas as well
as the Sonata Representativa, was dedicated
in 1681 to the Archbishop of Salzburg. The first edition of the sonatas was
donated by Biber to the Monastery of Kremsmünster, where it is still today.
Unlike the Rosary Sonatas, this collection is little known and rarely performed
During his lifetime, Biber acquired a thorough
knowledge of contemporary compositional styles for the violin particular to
regions north of the Alps, very different from that of Italian colleagues such
as Arcangelo Corelli. These new technical advances included the usage of very
high positions on the violin, special bow techniques; descriptive effects such
as scordatura (varient tuning of the strings), double notes, extensive
use of variations and fast arpeggios, all of which can be seen in Biber’s
compositions. His style raises unpredictability to the status of high art,
almost as if the music was being improvised in front of us.
The collection of eight Sonatas is astounding for
both its unity and variety. The Sonata No. 6 in C minor takes on a very dark
colour. It opens with a two voices in imitation, full of highly expressive
chromaticism. This is followed by the pensive Passacaglia, defined by mysterious harmonies and a full robust
sound. For the second half Biber demands scordatura
tuning in the violin, where the E string is tuned to D thus darkening the
colour even more. The second half of the sonata starts in G minor with complex
harmonies bringing about an incredible resonance. The final Allegro
is dramatic in character with emphasis placed on the scordatura tuning.