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Sonata VI in C Minor C.143

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (b. 1644 - d. 1704)

Jonathan Cohen

Jonathan Cohen

Composer
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (b. 1644 - d. 1704)
Composition Year
1681
Work Movements
1. unititled
2. Passacaglia
[untitled] - Adagio
Gavotte
Adagio - Allegro - Adagio
Artists
Sophie Gent [violin], Sarah McMahon [cello], David Miller [lute], David Cohen [cello]

Programme Note Writer:
© Norah O' Leary

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 in concert.

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.

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Sonata VI in C Minor C.143

Composer: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (b. 1644 - d. 1704)
Performance date: Wednesday 1st July 2015
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (b. 1644 - d. 1704)
Work Title Sonata VI in C Minor C.143
Composition Year 1681
Work Movements 1. unititled
2. Passacaglia
[untitled] - Adagio
Gavotte
Adagio - Allegro - Adagio
Artist(s) Sophie Gent [violin], Sarah McMahon [cello], David Miller [lute], David Cohen [cello]
Performance Date Wednesday 1st July 2015
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:14:00
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Small Mixed Ensemble
Instrumentation vn, vc, lute, hpd
Programme Note Writer © Norah O' Leary

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 in concert.

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.