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Heinz Ignaz Franz von Biber​ 

The Rosary Sonatas are remarkable not only for their ingenious and innovative use of scordatura throughout, but in the literal and symbolic path they present to both performer and listener that highlights important events in the life of Christ. Biber's musical forms, such as repetitive ground bass patterns and dance movements with doubles, blend together to create a soundscape that represents both the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the earthly. During a time in the Baroque era when music was highly structured, Biber opened up a fantastical world that breathes of improvisatory energy that is both human and divine. 


There can be no doubt that the path Biber chose in these devotional works followed the stations of the Cross. ​As the listener hears each sonata, accompanied by a copperplate image signifying each stage in Christ's life, the music encourages the mind to focus or drift, to meditate or to be led into the deepest imaginings of the human mind, while the rhythms and melodic strains may communicate unexpected feelings, memories, or connections that touch the soul. 


There are fifteen sonatas corresponding to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, with a final concluding sonata, Passacaglia, that represents a Guardian Angel. The presentation of the Rosary Sonatas will take place over the course of three years:


I. The Annunciation

II. The Visitation

III. The Nativity

IV. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

V. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple



VI. The Agony in the Garden

VII. The Scourging at the Pillar

VIII. The Crowning with Thorns

IX. The Carrying of the Cross

X. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus


XI. The Resurrection

XII. The Ascension

XIII. The Descent of the Holy Spirit

XIV. The Assumption pf Mary into Heaven

XV. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

XVI. Passacaglia

It must also be noted that the scordatura tuning changes create a different timbre, tension and color for each sonata, and each adjustment alters not only the instrument's character, but also how it feels and behaves under the violinist's fingers. At times the violin breathes with a relaxed tuning, but struggles under the trauma of high tension that also reflects painful events in the life of Christ. There are times when strident overtones highlight Christ's suffering, and then more relaxed tunings that evoke humility, nobility or simple joy. In this way, both the performer and the violin are transformed along this remarkable journey. 


  Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part             

            With all thy art.

  The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,                                                                   Who bore the same.                                                                                                His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key

         Is best to celebrate this most high day.---from George Herbert: Easter  (1633)

Johann Sebastian Bach

When examining the life and legacy of J.S. Bach, his path leads backward as much as it moves forward, as this composer was shaped by tradition and inspired to create new music by the works and faith of his predecessors. A product of the old Lutheran faith, Bach's mission was to preserve and protect what went before him.

His life journey, however, took him briefly away from church duties during his years in the court of Prince Leopold in Cöthen. Interestingly, although Bach's employer was a Calvinist, Prince Leopold placed a greater emphasis on the creation of secular music than had Bach's employers before or after this time, freeing him up to produce an astonishing body of innovative music that pushed the technical boundaries of the instruments for which they were written. This is represented in perhaps no greater way than in the Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin.

Not only was Bach's exploration of the possibilities of the instrument revolutionary in his time, the allowances he made for the violin's limitations helped to develop its voice into what we know of it today. This is reflected both in Bach's use of the bow and his approach to ornamentation in these works.


The multiple voices in his chordal writing required the bow to be lengthened and the performer to sustain pitches in a way that had never been tried on a stringed instrument. Ornamentation in Bach's time had traditionally been up to the performer, who could spontaneously add notes, trills, or other effects to a simple written melody. In his Solo Sonatas and Partitas, Bach wrote all ornaments into his compositions. This compositional style required the performer to focus on sustaining a sound and exploring the violin's voice and the musician's personal expression, rather than virtuosity and affect.

Even though the Solo Sonatas and Partitas were written during a period of secular employment, one cannot help but think that the same spiritual principals that guided Bach throughout his life continued to be at play during this period. After his death, scholars found many of the writings of Luther in Bach's personal library. Evidently, Bach was a musician with quite an understanding of theology. Just as Luther believed that music was the handmaiden of theology, just so Bach acknowledged that he was a humble servant of God, and that his gifts were heaven-sent. In this way his music never strays far from his faith.

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