Saturday, 15 August 2015


“If you persevere in reciting the Rosary, this will be a most probable sign of your eternal salvation.” - Blessed Alan de la Roche

Today is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the festival celebrating the bodily death of the Virgin and her entrance into Heaven.  This feast is called in Scotland “Great St Mary’s Feast in Harvest”. In many Mediterranean countries the feast is celebrated with great brilliance and rejoicing.  The great church of the Virgin on the Greek island of Tenos is home to one of the greatest festivals in Orthodoxy and this attracts many pilgrims every year.

In Scotland, on this day Mary’s Bannock (Moilean Moire in Gaelic) was made. The ears of new corn were plucked and dried in the sun.  They were husked by hand, ground with stones to make flour.  The flour was made into dough and kneaded on a sheepskin and made into a cake.  A fire was made with rowan wood and the cake was toasted on its embers.  A piece of the Bannock was eaten by each member of the family in strict order of age.  All family members then walked sunwise around the fire.  The embers were then gathered in a pot and were carried around the farm grounds and fields in a sunwise direction.  This ritual ensured prosperity and good health for all family members.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.

Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the “Mystery Sonatas”.

During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the “Mystery Sonatas”, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

The “Rosary Sonatas” (also known as the “Mystery Sonatas”) are a collection of 16 short sonatas for violin and continuo, with a final passacaglia for solo violin. Each has a title related to the Christian Rosary devotion practice and possibly to the Feast of the Guardian Angels. It is presumed that the “Mystery Sonatas” were completed around 1676, but they were unknown until their publication in 1905.

The music of Biber was never entirely forgotten due to the high technical skill required to play many of his works; this is especially true of his works for violin. Once rediscovered, the “Mystery Sonatas” became Biber’s most widely known composition. The work is prized for its virtuosic vocal style, scordatura tunings and its programmatic structure.

Here are the “Mystery Sonatas” of Biber with Musica Antiqua Koln conducted by Reinhard Goebel.

First Part
I. The Annuciation
II. The Visitation
III. The Nativity
IV. The Presentation
V. The Finding in the Temple
VI. The Agony in the Garden
VII. The Scourging of Jesus
VIII. The Crowning of Jesus with Thorns

Second Part
IX. Jesus carries His Cross
X. The Crucifixion
XI. The Resurrection
XII. The Ascension
XIII. The Descent of the Holy Ghost
XIV. The Assumption of our Lady
XV. The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary

XVI. Passacaglia

1 comment:

  1. It goes to show. It doesn't matter how talented or innovative a musician was, if he he illegally left his Prince-Bishop employer and settled elsewhere, he was running a major risk with the rest of his career. Perhaps Biber felt that publishing work he was not displaying in concert tours was a compromise he could live with. I think not.