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Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber

 B i o g r a p h y

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg, Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kroměříž employer 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 late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In late 20th century Biber's music, especially the Mystery Sonatas, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.

Biber was born in Wartenberg, Bohemia (now Stráž pod Ralskem, Czech Republic). Little is known about his early education, other than that he may have studied at a Jesuit Gymnasium in Bohemia. Before 1668 Biber worked at the court of Prince Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg in Graz, and then was employed by the Bishop of Olmütz (now Olomouc), Karl II von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn, in Kroměříž. Biber's associate from the early 1660s, Pavel Josef Vejvanovský, worked there as director of the Kapelle. Biber apparently enjoyed a good reputation, and his violin playing skills were very highly regarded.In summer 1670 Karl II sent Biber to Absam, near Innsbruck, to negotiate with the celebrated instrument maker Jacob Stainer for the purchase of new instruments for the Kapelle. Biber never reached Stainer, however, and instead entered the employ of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg. Because Karl and Maximilian were friends, Biber's former employer refrained from taking any action; he was, however, very hurt by the composer's decision, and waited until 1676 to officially release him. Biber remained in Salzburg for the rest of his life. His musical and social careers flourished: he started publishing his music in 1676, performed before the Emperor (and was rewarded by him) in 1677, became deputy Kapellmeister at Salzburg in 1679 and Kapellmeister in 1684. In 1690 Biber was raised to nobility by the Emperor, with the title of Biber von Bibern. Finally, the new Archbishop of Salzburg, Johann Ernst, Count Thun, appointed Biber lord high steward, the highest social rank Biber would attain. The composer got married on 30 May 1672. His wife Maria Weiss was a daughter of a Salzburg merchant. Together they had 11 children, four of whom survived to adulthood. All were musically gifted. Anton Heinrich (1679–1742) and Karl Heinrich (1681–1749) both served as violinists at the Salzburg court, and the latter was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1743. Daughters Maria Cäcilia (born 1674) and Anna Magdalena (1677–1742) became nuns at Santa Clara, Merano, and the Nonnberg Abbey, respectively. Anna Magdalena was an alto singer and a violinist, and in 1727 became director of the choir and the Kapelle of the Abbey.

Biber's violin music was inlfuenced, on one hand, by the Italian tradition of Marco Uccellini and Carlo Farina, and on the other, by the then-nascent German polyphonic tradition as exemplified by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, who may have been Biber's teacher. Biber's achievements included further development of violin technique–he was able to reach the 6th and 7th positions, and his left-hand and bowing techniques were far more advanced than those of contemporary Italian composers. He also excelled at counterpoint, frequently writing fully polyphonic textures, with much use of multiple stops. Yet another area in which Biber made a substantial contribution was the art of scordatura, i.e. music for alternative tunings of the instrument. Finally, much of Biber's music employs various forms of number symbolism, affekten, programmatic devices, etc., as seen in, for example, the symbolic retuning of the violin for the Resurrection sonata of the Mystery Sonatas. During the latter half of the 17th century Biber was, together with the composers of the Dresden school (Johann Jakob Walther and Johann Paul von Westhoff), regarded as one of the best and most influential violinists in Europe. However, soon after his death, German violinists started following the style of Arcangelo Corelli and his imitators.


Official Homepage: www.bluntinstrument.org.uk/biber

 A l b u m s

Missa Salisburgensis (M.A.T. Music, 1998)