|Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644 - 1704)|
A fan of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, that is, not of that other guy. As a commentator noted on one of the YouTube clips of Biber, "Who is this other Bieber that people and Youtube keeps referring to?Youtube suggestions keeps handing me videos of some androgynous looking young fellow who appears Shallow and Vain and mostly sounds like burning kittens in a broken elevator shaft to me?"
As I said in an update to my post on requiems, thanks to commentator Nathaniel Garbutt for pointing me towards the requiem(s) of Heinrich Biber (1644 - 1704) which got me thinking--and listening. I had a friend in graduate school who did her dissertation on the Mystery Sonatas of Biber and I had certainly run across him from time to time. Before going any further, I suggest you read the Wikipedia article on him, so I won't have to fill in all those details.
Heinrich Biber is certainly an important composer but I was astonished to discover that Richard Taruskin doesn't seem to think so. Going immediately to the Oxford History of Western Music for some further information I found not a single mention of Biber! Very odd. Of course, Taruskin is sometimes accused of partiality and of leaving out composers he doesn't like, but I couldn't think of a reason to leave out Biber. Coming from two generations before J. S. Bach and just a bit before the generation of Arcangelo Corelli, Biber is hugely important in at least one way and fairly important in a couple of others. In the history of violin-playing and composition he is very important for three things: he is the composer who was likely the most important influence on Bach's solo violin music because he, Biber, was one of the very, very few to write for unaccompanied violin before Bach. He was also very important in developing true contrapuntal writing for solo violin and for the use of scordatura, the re-tuning of the instrument in order to achieve special effects.
Other ways Biber is important is that he provides in his Mystery Sonatas (read this talk on them here) one of the most striking examples of musical symbolism and cyphers (which I have posted about here) in history. This may also have influenced Bach as he was also very prone to number symbolism in his music. There are other aspects of Biber that I am surprised have not led to him being given a great deal more space in music history books.
The last piece in the Mystery Sonatas is a solo passacaglia of monumental proportions that simply has to be the model for the monumental Chaconne by Bach:
In a piece dating from 1673 titled Batallia he uses both polyrhythms and polytonality. There was a tradition, dating from the 16th century, of depicting battles in music, but this is the most extensive example I know of. There is even a battle-piece for two lutes by Telemann.
Biber was not a one-trick pony, writing only for his own instrument like Paganini. He also wrote some very significant large works for chorus, soloists and orchestra including not just the two requiems, but a lot of other masses and vesperae. He also wrote a sonata for six trumpets, organ and tympani.
And finally, Biber was likely the most virtuoso violinist in history before Paganini! In fact, the theme to one of Paganini's most popular pieces bears a striking resemblance to the theme from the Sonata 15 of Biber's Mystery Sonatas.
Let's end with one of his major works, the Missa Salisburgensis for sixteen voices and thirty-seven instruments:
Heinrich Biber is certainly a composer worth knowing, wouldn't you say? Perhaps even more than his modern namesake Justin Bieber.