Talking about Biber, Storytelling and Andersen

Posted on July 6th, 2012 by

Talking about Biber, Storytelling and Andersen 

With Malene Skaerved at Wilton’s Music Hall, 6th July 2012, working on SoundBox for 9th July

LINK for Event

Wilton’s Music Hall. 6th July 2012 PSS and writer Malene Skaerved



Biber-Sonata 16 (Guardian Angel, guide of Mankind)

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1698 (modern set up)

the same, live in Nashville, September 2011, with Airenti ‘Biber’ bow

Series of test recordings-various bridge positions to fit different scordature.

recordings just from internal laptop mike.

25th July-Sonata six (Christ on the Mount of Olives)-A flat, E flat, G, D’. Bridge 1.5 cm towards tailpiece

21st July-Sonata two (Heimsuchung Mariae) extract A E A’ E’ -Bridge .5 cm towards tailpiece

25th July-Sonata three (The Birth of Christ) extract B F Sharp, B’, D’- Pizzicato-wooden mute

26th July-Sonata three (The Birth of Christ) – B F Sharp, B’, D’-Bridget .5cm towards tailpiece –

The Project…

The Rosary Sonatas

Heinrich Biber-16 Rosary Sonatas

Michael Hersch-In the Snowy Margins

Sadie Harrison-Solo Works

Heinrich Biber’s set of Rosenkranz Sonaten or Mystery Sonatas constitutes one of the earliest great cycles for the violin. It is at once religious meditation, technical tour de force, and, still one of the most colourful and original instrumental dramas. The cycle is modelled on the series of tableaux associated with the Rosary, with an original coda-‘Schutzengel – Guardian Angel, companion of Mankind’.

The violin is used in a series of different tunings-it is retuned in between every work. Some of these tunings reflect the situations explored in the works: the sonatas depicted the scourging of Christ, or the Crowning with Thorns, are played on the most ‘tortured’ tuning. This has reflections to this day in the folk violin tradition. One of the tunings also has a conceptual symbolism revealed visually. The Auferstehung Sonata, which represents the ascension of the Saviour, is played with the two middle strings of the violin reversed. This results in two crosses on the violin, one large, one small, in the peg box, and between the bridge and the tailpiece.

The manuscript of these works is held in the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek. It is as visually exciting and inspiring as the works themselves. Each of the sonatas is preceded by a roundel engraving, depicting the events described in the work following. These engravings are beautiful in themselves, but also hint at subtle undertows in the narratives. For instance, the Presentation in the Temple not only depicts the Holy Family with the prophet Simeon, who spoke the words of the Nunc Dimmitis upon seeing the infant Christ, but also a marginalised figure in the story , the seer Anne, who, according to the gospeller, was the first to announce the news of the Messiah .

In addition, most of the musical texts are enhanced with ornamental finials, in the same hand as the music. These, whilst decorative, are not pictorial, but might be read as a commentary or meditation on the musical and religious narrative.

I have asked leading composers from the USA and the UK, Michael Hersch and Sadie Harrison to weave their own thoughts into this cycle. Both composers are profoundly sensitive to texts, to images, to symbols, each in their own way. Their interpolations counterpoint lighting, text and staging reflecting the undertow of symbols and ideas implicit in the presentation of these 17th Century works in a modern context, as well as the visual material presented in the manuscripts.

Solo Baroque and Modern violin – Peter Sheppard Skaerved

Harpsichord and Chamber Organ-Julian Perkins

Double Bass-Rachel Meerloo.

Lighting-Filippo de Capitani

Director-Malene Skaerved

Process Notes:

The Presentation in the Temple

Looking at this, and particularly reading the Greek text, I was very struck by aspects of the story that I had missed. Simeon had been waiting in the Temple for years, for the arrival of the Messiah. Of course, the bible itself is full of the old, the crippled, waiting by pools for the angel to disturb the water, or by the beautiful gate, for alms, for a miracle, for death. The most important aspect of this, is that he is suffering. In this he is also no different from the mendicants that haunt religious shrines to this day. I can only think of the hoards around the Church of the Rock in Kiev, flaunting their wounds, their age, their pain. So Simeon gets lucky. But something extraordinary happens-not only is he given revelation, but, more to the point, he is able to transfer the pain, to someone else. I feel that we should not forget that Biber is essentially, putting together a musical pilgrimage. So many pilgrimages, are, themselves, ordeals, but many of them end in a hyper-ordeal. In  this, there is a typology that Biber points up. Mary takes the child to Jerusalem to be presented, a jaunt to Canterbury, or Hildesheim, a Haj, and like the pilgrims arriving at Chartres, she is to endure more pain. There are varying nested metaphors here. Of course, the obvious one is Christ’s own like-an attenuated pilgrimage to the holy city, which will end, in torture and pain, at the very point that Mary’s own pain will be endured. The sword to the heart, which Simeon prophesises, will be plunged in on Golgotha, but had been first inserted by the Christ, refusing to see his family, keeping them, on line, like Frankie Pantangeli.

Biber Sonata ‘Auferstehung Jesu’String Set up (Richard Duke)