Heinrich Ignaz Biber, classical music composer

Heinrich Ignaz Biber image

Heinrich Ignaz Biber


Heinrich Ignaz Biber was born in August 1644, baptized on the 12th, in Wartenberg, Bohemia (now Stráž pod Ralskem, Czech Republic). Little is known of Biber's early life or his musical education, though it is possible that he may have studied with Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, the foremost composer of instrumental music in 17th century Austria. Biber became a prominent violinist and composer, commanding a strong influence over German music until his death.

Biber's first known post was at the court of Prince Johann Seyfried von Eggenberg in Graz. From 1668, he was employed by the Bishop of Olomouc, Karl II von Leichtenstein-Kastelkorn, in Kroměříž, where he was highly respected as a violinist. Nonetheless, Biber was apparently unhappy with his position. In the summer of 1670, he was sent by Karl II to Absam to purchase new instruments from the famed luthier Jabob Stainer. Biber, however, never arrived in Absam, and took the opportunity to acquit himself of his service to Karl II. He made his way to Salzburg, entering the employ of the Archbishop, Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg. Fortunately for Biber, Maximilian and Karl II were friends and the latter made no efforts in forcing Biber to return to Kroměříž, although he did delay in officially releasing Biber from his service until 1676.

Despite the respect Biber had garnered at Kroměříž, his escape to Salzburg proved a valuable move. He began publishing his music in 1676, performed for Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, and was raised to deputy Kapellmeister in 1679 and ultimately Kapellmeister in 1684. Alongside his flourishing musical career, Biber's social career excelled as well. In 1690, he was elevated to nobility by the Leopold I, with the title Biber von Bibern, and was later appointed lord high steward. On May 30, 1672, he married Maria Weiss, the daughter of a Salzburg merchant. All of their four surviving children became capable musicians—both his sons, Anton Heinrich and Karl Heinrich, served as violinists at the Salzburg court, while his daughter Anna Magdalena became director of the choir and the Kapelle of Nonnberg Abbey. Biber died on May 3, 1704.

Biber's music was highly influential during his lifetime and did much to help further the development of violin technique. His most significant contribution, however, was in his use of scordatura, i.e. alternate tunings. This technique was seen in two of Biber's collections. The first, dating from around 1676, was the Mystery Sonatas (sometimes known as the Rosary Sonatas) comprising fifteen sonatas for violin and continuo depicting the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, and a lengthy passacaglia for violin. Only the first and last pieces of the collection use the violin's normal tuning. The collection was unpublished at his death, but it has become the work that Biber's fame principally rests upon today. The second collection is Harmonia artificioso-ariosa from 1696. This was Biber's last published collection of instrumental music and contains seven partitas for two instruments and continuo, of which six use scordatura. Despite Biber's profound influence on the development of violin technique, the focus of German violinists turned to the music of Arcangelo Corelli after his death in 1702. Biber, however, did not entirely confine himself to composition for his own instrument. Alongside his influential violin music, he also produced a surprising amount of sacred works. Many of these took advantage of the spacious Salzburg Cathedral, utilizing multiple choirs and employing large instrumental forces. Of these sacred works, Missa Salisburgensis is the most well-known.

Composer Title Date Action
Heinrich Ignaz Biber Mensa Sonora, Pars V 10/10/2010 Play Add to playlist
Heinrich Ignaz Biber Passacaglia 08/10/2014 Play Add to playlist
Heinrich Ignaz Biber Sonata No. 1 for violin and basso continuo "The Annunciation," from The Rosary Sonatas 08/10/2014 Play Add to playlist
Heinrich Ignaz Biber Violin Sonata no. 3 in F Major 08/06/2017 Play Add to playlist