From Jonathan Stuchell
Posted January 8, 2006 at 10:36 PM
Hope this helps.
Playing scordatura (well) is not easy, because your fingers are playing one thing, but ears hearing another, and the strings are tuned differently in each of the 15 sonatas. You need to simultaneously monitor finger position and what the sound should be. And then after you have the technique straight, you need to switch focus to style and interpretation. With practice it gradually starts to feel natural. Having perfect pitch doesn't hurt. I strongly recommend studying a recording so you can see how the music is supposed to sound, if you are doing this for the first time.
You don't say what edition of the music you have. I own one from Belwin Mills, which has 2 violin parts: one in scordatura, with the retuning indicated at the start. And one with the notes transposed to normal violin tuning (GDAE), so you can play through it "normally" and hear how the notes should sound. Very helpful.
These are beautiful sonatas (I've played through most of them and performed a number of them as an amateur). Biber achieves wonderful sonorities and chord effects with truly ingenious retuning, and there is lots of beautiful music contained therein, it isn't just gimmicks. They sound good with a harpsichord, but even better with a baroque-period organ as accompaniment.
One important caution: constant and radical retuning of your violin will be very hard on the instrument, especially those sonatas in which you tune up. For example, this is true in #11, which requires not only tuning the E-string down, but reversing the A and D strings; or in #12, in which the G string is tuned up by a 4th (I suggest substituting a D). If you are serious about learning these pieces, to the point of performance, I recommend using multiple instruments, and choose the combination of sonatas judiciously to minimize retuning strain. Plus you'll reduce the expense of broken strings and not have to worry about a shifting or bending bridge. A luthier would have to tell us if frequent changes in string tension might affect the instrument in other ways (e.g., sound post), but I can't imagine that this would be good for the violin. I wonder what they did in Biber's time.
Hope these comments are helpful - I think these are truly wonderful pieces. Also see a thread a few months ago about the solo Passacaglia appended to the set of 15 sonatas (hey, no retuning required for that one!).
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