The Five Glorious Mysteries

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


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

Performance date: 29/06/2023

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1676

Duration: 00:51:21

Recording Engineer: Gar Duffy, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vn, hpd

Instrumentation Category:Baroque Ensemble

Artists: Ariadne Daskalakis - [Violin]
Rainer Zipperling - [Gamba]
Jadran Duncumb - [Lute]
Michael Borgstede - [Harpsicord]
Ruth Padel - [Poet]

Mystery Sonatas [1676]

The Five Glorious Mysteries

11. The Resurrection

12. The Ascension

13. The Descent of the Holy Ghost

14. The Assumption of the Virgin

15. The Coronation of the Virgin

The technical demands of this work are outstanding and indeed unique in the whole violin repertoire. Biber uses scordatura for most of the sonatas. The use of scordatura is not simply to display technical gymnastics, but rather to give each sonata a different colour. Biber uses fifteen different tunings in the complete work with only the first sonata and the Passacaglia using normal tuning. The score however is written throughout as if the tuning was normal, one can barely imagine the mental gymnastics involved. Given the need to re-tune between Sonatas, the Festival commissioned the poet, Ruth Padel, to write short poems to cover the re-tuning intervals.

11. The Resurrection (G, D, G, D)

There can be no stranger scordatura than the one used for the Resurrection. The two middle strings are switched around behind the bridge and inside the pegbox so that for the entire sounding length of the strings they are the other way around. The A is then tuned down a tone to G. The result of this extraordinary arrangement is that the first and third strings are side by side tuned an octave apart (both Ds), while the second and fourth are also side by side and tuned an octave apart (both Gs). The resonances which result are unearthly but beautifully apt for the description of sunrise on Easter Morning. In performance this requires an extra violin. After the Easter sunrise and the meeting with the angel whose countenance was like lightning and his raiment as white as snow, the great medieval Easter plainchant Surrexit Chritus hodie takes over with the unique scordatura achieving an other-worldly sonority. This Sonata concludes with an intimate and tender Adagio.

12. The Ascension (C, E, G, C)

This is the third scordatura where the tuning is contained within an octave making a pure C major chord. This is exploited in the four-part chords of the trumpet-like fanfare of the Intrada and Aria tubicinum that represent Christ’s triumphal entry into Heaven. This is followed by two dances.

13. The Descent of the Holy Ghost (A, E, C, E)

 Here the tuning of the top two strings a third apart enables Biber to create the rushing mighty wind described in Acts 2 with rapidly swirling thirds but played as though they were fifths. Three dances follow the Pentecostal fire, Gavotte, Guigue and Sarabande.

14. The Assumption of the Virgin (A, E, A, D)

In this Sonata there are no Biblical texts to follow and this freedom enables Biber to unleash a torrent of music unrestrained by the Gospels and Apostles. After a Praeludium with an air of free improvisation, he creates a stunning Ciacona with thirty four variations devoid of all tensions, music of such warmth and tenderness and beauty. The last nine variations are in triple time dance rhythms marked Guigue. At the end the violin climbs so high she just disappears leaving the earthbound continuo to close the Sonata without her.

15. The Coronation of the Virgin (G, C, G, D)

Again the Bible has been left behind and the music seems to pick up where the Ciacona left off. This last Sonata is followed by a gentle Aria and three brilliantly decorated Variations, a regally noble Canzona, before closing with an uplifting Sarabande and a lightly decorated Double.

Francis Humphrys