Posted on May 11th, 2010 by

Biber Sonata 'Auferstehung Jesu'String Set up (Richard Duke)


Heinrich Ignaz Biber Der Schutzengel als Begleiter der Menschen PSS-Violin Engineer /Jonathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds)
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles ; the wretched he forsakes ;

Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,

And lights on lids unsully’d with a tear.

From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,

I wake : How happy they, who wake no more!

Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.

I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams

Tumultuous, where my wreck’d desponding thought,

From wave to wave of fanci’d misery,

At random drove, her helm of reason lost.

Tho’ now restor’d , ‘tis only change of pain,

(A bitter change!) severer for severe.

The Day too short for my distress ; and Night,

Ev’n in the zenith of her dark domain,

Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.

Night, sable goddess ! from here ebon throne

In rayless majesty, now stretches forth

Her leaden sceptre o’er a slumb’ring world.

Silence, how dead! And darkness, how profound !

Nor eye, nor list’ning ear, and object finds ;

Creation sleeps. ‘Tis as the general pulse

Of life stood still. And nature made a pause ;

An awful pause ! prophetic of her end.

And let her prophesy be soon fulfill’d ;

Fate! Drop the curtain : I can lose no more.’

(Edward Young, The Complaint. Night the First on Life Death and Immortality. Night Thoughts)

…..the final Sonata of Franz Ignaz Biber’s extraordinary set of ‘mystery sonatas’…the performer has spent 15 previous sections with an accompanying continuo group. This final sonata presents the performer alone, accompanied only by the Schutzengel in the title. In addition, the complicated scordatura or detuning, has disappeared, to be replaced by accordatura , or normal tuning. The performer has cast off his/her shackles, but is not free to wander, to Fantasise. A new restriction a new challenge must be put in place-a passacaglia, a repeating bass line, which the soloist has to present as well as the complex roulades of decoration and counterpoint, the garlands across heaven. In order to indulge his Fancy, Imagination, Crotchet, Humour, Whim, the performer must, as Georges Enescu put it ‘dance in chains’.

The idea of Biber’s Guardian Angel, ‘accompanying’ the solitary performer on their wanderings is not so far from the fear which stalks the notion of the Fantasia. After all, the hymn, ‘to be a pilgrim’ perorates: ‘then fancies flee away, I’ll fear not what men say…’. Curiously, it was just such ‘Fancies’ which composers and writers sought out, as if they were looking for the controlled thrill, skirting the edge of the occult. In his 1616 poetaster¸ Ben Jonson defined this as having a dual nature.

Phansie, [contr. of Fantasy, ad. Lat. Phantasia, a making visible.]

1) A fiction, or fantasy, an illusion

2) Inclination, liking; ‘fancy’

(Ben Jonson/Herbert Samuel Wesley-Poetaster 1616)

The combination of such duality and the fear of the danger that might lurk there, a fear that has shifted, proved irresistible to artists, writers and composers.

“While my mind was pleasantly concentrated on this, I suddenly heard behind me the falling of some tesserae and finding myself solitary, in a deserted and silent place, I was quite frightened. I quickly turned round and saw a gecko or wall-lizard which had caused this accident.” [P. 272. Hypnertomachia Polyphiliae, Francesco Colonna, 1499, Translated by Joscelyn Godwin, Thames and Hudson, 1999]

What might become a little obvious is that there are places, times, when the act of composing, performing, and hearing a piece of music, a text, can be similar acts of imagination, of Fantasy. Perhaps this is easiest, when the gestures involved, the means used are smallest, so there is nothing to protect the writer, the listener, from there intense solitude, just like Colonna, contemplating monuments in the Tuscan heat, and frightened by the Lizard. He suddenly realises that he is truly alone. Ted Hughes put it better than I could.

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:

Something else is alive

Beside the clock’s loneliness

And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no start:

Something more near

Though deeper within darkness

Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow

A fox’s nose touches twig leaf;

Two eyes serve a movement, that now

And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow

Between trees, and warily a lame

Shadow lags by stump and in hollow

Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye

A widening deepening greenness,

Brilliantly, concentratedly,

Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

The page is printed.

(The Thought-Fox, Ted Hughes, Selected Poems 1957-1981, Faber and Faber, London 1982, P. 13)