Sunday, 8 April 2012

Crossed strings, with sunrise

Just one more Easter treasure from the Baroque...

Heinrich Biber's glorious Rosary (or Mystery) Sonatas are one of the greatest collections of violin music (with continuo) of the Baroque Age. For today, however, I want to concentrate on just one of them, the eleventh sonata (one of the five 'Glorious Sonatas') - The Resurrection

All the Rosary Sonatas use the demanding system of unconventional tuning of an instrument's strings called Scordatura, but the use of crossed-strings in the Resurrection Sonata doesn't just have a remarkable sonic effect (such as the unearthly sounds created during the central section) - it also has a striking visual effect for the performer and any audience present in the flesh at a performance. Does the crossing of the middle strings symbolise the meeting of Heaven and earth in the Resurrection or is it a symbol of the cross through which the Resurrection became possible? No one is quite sure.  

The remarkable opening praeludium very successfully conjures up an atmosphere of expectant awe with its drone effects, rhapsodic virtuosity and echoing phrases. It seemingly represents the sunrise of the morning when the two Marys came to the sepulchre of Jesus. In the middle section an Easter plainchant tune (Resurrexit Christus hodie, 'Christ is risen today') enters and acts as a cantus firmus around which a set of joyful variations unfolds. Mirroring the crossing of the strings, the violin and continuo occasionally swap roles here. The short closing Adagio meditates reassuringly on the glorious event, perhaps recalling Christ's meeting with Mary Magdalene. 

Isn't it a stunning piece? 

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