Seeking out undiscovered resonances on the violin with new tuning patterns of his own invention, Biber created a profound musical meditation on Christian spirituality.
The date of composition is uncertain, but we do know that in 1683 one of the Rosary Sonatas — recently completed — was adapted into a musical celebration of the European victory over the Turks.
Biber wrote 15 Rosary Sonatas (ten of which are presented on this disc) as musical meditations on the Rosary mysteries. They are fairly short pieces, most of them containing two or three brief movements written as stylised versions of popular dance tunes: from the slow and stately Sarabande, representing weighty emotions, to the lively Gigue, whose energy is harnessed to suggest violence and aggression, as well as joy.
In order to intensify the emotional power of these Sonatas, Biber ingeniously drew on the natural sonorities of the violin, directing the player to tune the instrument’s strings in unusual ways so that certain chords would ‘ring out’ more vibrantly — a technique called scordatura. Normally, a violin’s strings are tuned G (the lowest) — D — A — E (the highest): an arrangement designed to make the instrument as flexible as possible, sounding equally good in a range of the most common keys. Biber chose a different tuning scheme for each Sonata, to match the particular key of that piece. Taking Sonata №5 as an example, Biber has the strings tuned A — E — A — C-sharp: the notes in an A major chord. Since the piece is in A major, those notes will appear more often than they might in other keys. And whenever, for example, the note C-sharp is played on one of the lower three strings, it will set the top string, which is tuned to C-sharp, vibrating as well. Through this distinctive tuning pattern, the music will be more resonant, for this piece in this key, than it would be with the standard violin tuning.
The Five Joyful Mysteries 1-3 Sonata No. 1: The Annunciation 4-6 Sonata No. 2: The Visitation 7-9 Sonata No. 3: The Nativity of the Lord 10 Sonata No. 4: Jesus Presented in the Temple 11-14 Sonata No. 5: Jesus Found among the Teachers
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries 15 Sonata No. 6: The Agony in the Garden 16-17 Sonata No. 7: The Scourging 18-19 Sonata No. 8: The Crowning with Thorns 20-22 Sonata No. 9: The Carrying of the Cross 23-25 Sonata No. 10: The Crucifixion
Elizabeth Wallfisch violin Rosanne Hunt cello Linda Kent organ, harpsichord