Biber's Rosary Sonatas

Edited: November 3, 2017, 4:29 AM · Has anyone tried playing these in the original scordatura tunings? It isn't as hard as you might think, as long as your ear can accept that the stave indicates where your fingers go on the strings rather than what you actually hear. You also have to remember to use open strings whenever possible and not to go out of first position except on the E-string. To avoid overstretching some strings when asked to tune them up by a second or a third I instead often tune the other strings down by that amount. Some strange and wonderful sounds emerge!

Replies (5)

November 3, 2017, 6:19 AM · Vaughan Jones has recorded the Passacaglia in G Minor on his latest cd. It's an excellent recording from a fine musician.
November 3, 2017, 7:30 AM · Along with Sonata I of the set the Passacaglia (Sonata XVI which is played solo - all the others require continuo) doesn't actually call for scordatura. Sonatas II-XV each call for a different tuning which must make them virtually impossible to perform in concert unless the violinist has several instruments already prepared. Sonata XIII asks for d' on the bottom, so surely the string would have to be changed?
Edited: November 3, 2017, 8:06 AM · Seems almost as if a 5-stringer would be more appropriate for some of the sonatas! Which brings me to another point - I wonder if Biber had the lute at the back of his mind when composing these pieces?
November 3, 2017, 8:18 AM · I don't think a 5-stringer would help much except in the case of a very few sonatas where you might use the bottom 4 strings for one and the top 4 for another with minimal retuning. Biber's idea seems to have been to facilitate a lot of highly consonant open-string and partially stopped chords that are difficult or impossible to achieve with conventional tuning. Rock guitarists would definitely understand.
November 3, 2017, 1:20 PM · Biber knew exactly what he was doing, not sure how a fifth string would help...

Check out Lindsey Polyak's dissertation on the tuning scheme of the mystery sonatas and how they connect to joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.

These sonatas were probably not written to be performed in a concert, but connected to the prayer and meditation traditions at the time. Marvelous music!


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