Harmonia Early Music

Bibermania: German Baroque Music for Strings

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s pieces for violin, as well as a sampling of his vocal and larger instrumental works.

headshot of man

Photo: Courtesy of the Artist

Andrew Manze, noted interpreter of Biber's music.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was among the finest composers of the late 17th Century. His wonderfully imaginative violin sonatas, employing new tunings and techniques, are only the most outstanding gems amidst the riches of his works in every genre.

Biber borrowed the opening for his “Pastorella” Sonata from an earlier trio sonata by Johann Schmelzer, demanding the same music from a single player. Ensemble Romanesca performs on a recording of this and other Biber Violin Sonatas released by the Harmonia Mundi label.

Solo Violin Music

A special technique for which Biber is known is “scordatura,” meaning “mistuned.” The technique involves tuning the violin strings differently from their usual pitches to make it possible to play chords and special passages more easily. Biber took the technique, which was a rarity and solidified its place in the violinist’s bag of tricks.

Ensemble Works

Biber wrote not only for solo violin, but for larger ensembles of strings, as well, fusing together the dance-based secular sonata and the more serious church sonata. Seattle Baroque performs a sonata for a mixed ensemble of six on their recording, Heinrich Biber: Sonatas for Strings.

A set of ensemble pieces that uses Biber’s trademark scordatura tuning has the imposing title of “Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa.” These trio sonatas treat both upper parts essentially as soloists and contain rich harmonies. Reinhard Goebel directs the Musica Antiqua Köln in a performance on the release from Archiv records, Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa: Diversi mode accordata.

Missa Salisburgensis

Biber also enjoyed the grandeur of the chorus and orchestra. He wrote one of the largest-scale masses of the Baroque period, requiring sixteen simultaneous vocal parts with full orchestral accompaniment. The Gabrieli Consort and Players and Musica Antiqua Köln perform Biber’s “Missa Salisburgensis,” or Salzburg Mass, on their release from Archiv Records.

Rosary Sonatas

The works for solo violin that Biber called “Rosary” or “Mystery” sonatas are a mystery, indeed. They are intended to represent the joys and sorrows of the Virgin Mary. They were never published, but exist in a single manuscript. Ensemble Cordaria performs these on their CD release from Signum Records, Biber: The Mystery Sonatas.

It is clear that Biber was not only a virtuosic performer and gifted composer, but was also a bit of a comedian. Included on the ensemble Romansca’s album of Biber’s violin sonatas is his “Sonata Representativa,” each illustrating the sounds of creatures from the air, swamp, and barnyard, proving that he was a truly well-rounded character.

Music Heard On This Episode

Heinrich Biber: CD 2, Tr. 10: Sonata “La Pastorella” (4:46)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — H.I.F. Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi , 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 2, Tr. 10: Sonata “La Pastorella” (4:46)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — H.I.F. Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi , 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 7: Sonata IV: Adagio/Aria e Variatio/Finale (8:17)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — H.I.F. Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: Tr. 20: Sonata II a Sei in D (4:30)
Seattle Baroque — Biber: Sonatas for Strings (Centaur, 2003)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 2, Tr.15: Partita VII in C minor: Arietta variata (7:03)
Musica Antiqua Köln (Reinhard Goebel, conductor) — Biber: Harmonia artificiosa (Archiv, 2004)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich: Tr. 2: Missa Salisburgensis: Kyrie (5:51)
Gabrieli Consort, Gabrieli Players, and Musica Antiqua Köln — Biber: Missa Salisburgensis (Archiv, 2003)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: Tr. 9: Missa Salisburgensis: Sonata Sancti Polycarpi a 9 (4:39)
Bengt Eklund’s Baroque Ensemble (Edward H. Tarr, director) — Courtly Trumpet Ensemble Music (BIS, 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: Tr. 4: Sonata No.2 (The Visitation) ~ Untitled (1:25)
Cordaria — Biber: The Mystery Sonatas (Signum, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: Tr. 5: Sonata No.2 (The Visitation) ~ Allaman (2:13)
Cordaria — Biber: The Mystery Sonatas (Signum , 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: Tr. 6: Sonata No.2 (The Visitation) ~ Presto (:52)
Cordaria — Biber: The Mystery Sonatas (Signum, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 7: Sonata Representativa: Allegro (1:54)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 8: Sonata Representativa: Nachtigal (Nightingale) (2:13)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sontas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Herinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 10: Sonata Representativa: Fresch (Frog) (1:22)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 11: Sonata Representativa: Die Henn & Der Hann (Cock & Hen) (:38)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 12: Sonata Representativa: Die Wachtel (Quail) (:59)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 13: Sonata Representativa: Die Katz (Cat) (:59)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Biber: CD 1, Tr. 14: Sonata Representativa: Musqetir Mars (Musketeer’s March) (1:09)
Romanesca (Andrew Manze, Nigel North, and John Toll) — Biber: Violin Sonatas (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

View all posts by this author »

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Harmonia Early Music:

More Subscription Options

Follow Us

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Harmonia Early Music

About The Hosts

Search Harmonia Early Music

where to hear harmonia