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Biber: Agony in the Garden

In the late seventeenth century, the sonata genre was becoming more and more standardized, but there are always exceptions.

One example is this set of violin sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary, a series of biblical narratives used for religious meditation.

The sonatas were not published, an indication of their eccentricity, their difficulty, and their distance from the development of mass-marketed music.

Fourteen of the sixteen sonatas also use a technique known as scordatura, in which the strings are re-tuned to achieve particular colors and facilitate the playing of unusual chords.

Another distinction of these works is that each sonata is accompanied in manuscript by an engraving of its associated mystery.

The Sixth sonata depicts Christ's painful coming-to-grips with his fate, traditionally believed to have taken place in an olive garden.

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