The Five Sorrowful Mysteries

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

Performance date: 27/06/2023

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1676

Duration: 00:52:47

Recording Engineer: Gar Duffy, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vn, hpd

Instrumentation Category:Baroque Ensemble

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

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber [1644-1704]

Mystery Sonatas [1676]

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries

6. The Sweating of Blood 

7. The Scourging at the Pillar

8. The Crowning with Thorns

9. The Carrying of the Cross

10. The Crucifixion

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.

6. The Sweating of Blood (A flat, E flat, G, D)

The extraordinary muted sound of the violin in this scordatura conveys the sorrowful and dread mood in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays to be released from his fate, let this cup pass from me. The first Lamento section exploits this strange, grim, deadening effect to the full. The Aria provides some consolation and strengthening before the Adagio moves the story to the actual betrayal and the presence of armed men come to arrest him

7. The Scourging at the Pillar (C, F, A, C)

This is amongst the more extreme scordatura, one of three that have the four strings reduced to the span of an octave. The Sonata is divided into four sections. The stately beauty of the opening Allamanda is followed by a lightly decorated Variation. The Sarabanda is followed by three Variations, where the violence of the scourging is clearly described in the first and third Variation with a gentle interlude in between.

8. The Crowning with Thorns (D, F, B flat, D)

Again the scordatura compresses the tuning within an octave’s span. This Sonata, in five short sections, encompasses not just the crowning with thorns but the brutal mocking and jeering. The Sonata begins gently, followed in quick succession with a tempo increase to Presto, a Guigue and two Doubles.

9. The Carrying of the Cross (C, E, A, E)

This Sonata’s first and last movements refer to the bitter-sweet vinegar mixed with gall that Jesus refuses to drink. The middle movements describe the procession of people on the way to Golgotha, some to mock and some to mourn. In the Finale he turns the followers: Weep not for me, weep for yourselves and your children

10. The Crucifixion (G, D, A, D)

The Praeludium opens with the brutal hammering of the nails into wrists and ankles, brief and violent. The gentle Aria that follows pictures Jesus forgiving his executioners. The five Variations that follow lead inexorably to the death of Jesus, Father into thy hands I commend my spirit, quiet and beautiful music for a terrible death. The last two Variations see the rending of the veil of the temple and the earthquake. One wonders whether Haydn knew this music when he wrote his Seven Last Words.

Francis Humphrys