Don’t be put off by the title: this is wonderful music, and all the words indicate is that the pieces can be used in church or court… what you get in these 12 sonatas is the music of gesture: sweeping roulades, folksy melodies, plangent fanfares. Fiercely incisive playing from Ars Antiqua, the six strings led by Gunar Letzbor, and unforced accuracy from the trumpets.
Violinist Vaughan Jones brings us a fascinating collection of 18th century solo works. Three hundred years after their first publication, Austrian composer Johann Joseph Vilsmayr's Six Partitas for Solo Violin are recorded here in their entirety for the first time. Johann Georg Pisendel was a famous Baroque violinist and composer. His fiendishly difficult Violin Sonata is an unpredictable, tempestuous and capricious work, showing great scope and ambition. To round out the recording, Jones plays the famous Passacaglia by Biber - a somber, moving work and a perfect end to this noteworthy set.
Biber's 'Rosary Sonatas' for violin and basso continuo stand alone in the violin literature and in music history, offering a unique combination of programmatic material and the use of scordatura. The cycle consists of fifteen sonatas for violin and basso continuo, and a closing Passacaglia for solo violin, composed c.1687. Through the copper engravings inserted at the head of each sonata in the manuscript depicting key moments in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the music has become associated with the Catholic Mysteries of the Rosary.
At the end of the Thirty Years War, the support of the Viennese Imperial Court allowed the emergence of an extraordinarily talented generation of musicians speaking with virtuosity, humour and depth. Schmelzer, Biber and Kerll were at the forefront. For Carnival festivities where music has pride of place they regale us with earthy works that mimic the sounds of nature and everyday life. They also had to meet the taste of Emperor Leopold I, who particularly appreciated imitative counterpoint, and for whom they composed these sonatas which have the power to elevate the soul and spirit.
Like a great, mysterious nebula, the dazzling Missa Salisburgensis arches over the world of polychoral music by virtue of the exceptional complexity and richness of its means, which are deployed to create a unique expression in sound and space, symbolising with extraordinary exuberance and efficiency all the strength and grandeur of divine power, political and religious power. Shrouded in mystery and regarded by specialists as the Everest of polychoral compositions, this work was discovered by a Salzburg grocer in 1870. At first it was mistakenly attributed to the composer Orazio Benevoli, but now, as Professor Ernst Hintermaier explains (see his accompanying commentary), it is unanimously considered to be among the masterpieces of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, one of the greatest and most talented Austrian composers of the Baroque period.
Many of the musicians we know and adore come to us only through recorded media. They step into a studio, bear their souls into a digital void, and send the results out into a world of ears. These blessed creators may seem immortal to us, for even when their bodies are gone they continue living through the art they have gifted to humanity. Such thoughts weighed on my mind when I first listened to Der Türken Anmarsch, for in addition to signing off a fourteen-year project by baroque violinist John Holloway to engage the fascinations of composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), it was the last recording to feature Holloway’s wife, organist Aloysia Assenbaum, who along with harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen fashioned the most distinctive continuo in Baroque music.
The music on this recording demonstrates how composers in Germany, Italy, Austria and England responded to the challenges of writing for violin senza basso. Music for violin senza basso had a distinguished history before Bach and was widely cultivated by his contemporaries. Violinistic virtuosity was extraordinarily experimental in the late seventeenth century, with novelties in the tuning of the strings (scordaura), bowing techniques, chordal playing and contrapuntal textures (with the development of sophisticated double-, triple- and quadruple-stopping techniques) and playing in high positions. This disc of solo violin music is a real mixture of some of Rachel’s favourite pieces.