Monday, August 12, 8644

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) - Trombone Sonata

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) - Sonata for Trombone (Sackbut Solo)

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (August 12, 1644 - May 3, 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist.

Biber was born in Wartenberg (now Stráž pod Ralskem, Czech Republic). He received his first position in 1668 as musician in the court of Archbishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn at Olmutz. But Biber failed to return from a visit to Innsbruck without permission. On this visit he met the at the time famous violin maker Jakob Stainer, who mentioned him in a later document as "the outstanding virtuoso Herr Biber". He was first a violinist at the castle of Kroměříž and the Salzburg court. In 1684 he became Kapellmeister in Salzburg, where he died twenty years later.

Biber's music exemplifies the Austrian baroque style, which is a combination of Italian and German influences. His works show a predilection for canonic use and harmonic diapason that pre-date the later Baroque works of Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach. He was known as a violin virtuoso and is best known for his highly virtuosic and expressive violin works, many of which employ scordatura (unconventional tunings of the open strings). In his violin music Biber built on the achievements of earlier Italian violinist/composers such as Marini, Fontana, and Uccellini as well as his Austrian near-contemporary (and possible teacher) Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.

The music of Biber has enjoyed a renaissance, in part, because of The Rosary Sonatas. This remarkable set of 16 sonatas is also known as The Mystery Sonatas (in reference to key events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ) and The Copper-Engraving Sonatas (because of the engravings at the head of the sonatas). Each sonata employs a different tuning of the violin.

This use of scordatura transforms the violin's expressivity from the pleasures of the Five Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, etc.) through the trauma of the Five Sorrowful Mysteries (the Crucifixion, etc.) to the ethereal nature of the Six Glorious Mysteries. The latter start with the Resurrection Sonata -- where the two middle strings are symbolically crossed over -- and end with a passacaglia for solo violin using standard tuning (Sonata No. 16), thereby completing the cycle of scordaturas. Remarkably, in Sonata No 15, Biber anticipates the theme of Paganini's Capriccio No 24 almost exactly. We can assume that Paganini took his inspiration from Biber (just as Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninov were later inspired by Paganini's famous Caprice).

The Rosary Sonatas remained unpublished during Biber's lifetime. Among his important published collections of instrumental music are a set of eight sonatas (1681) for violin and continuo and the magisterial Harmonia artificioso-ariosa (consisting of seven partias or suites utilizing scordatura). Biber was a prolific composer of sacred vocal music, of the which the Requiem in F Minor and the Missa Christi Resurgentis are outstanding examples. The Missa Salisburgensis is an astonishing polyphonic setting of the mass for 53 independent voices which is currently attributed to Biber (it was previously thought to be the work of Orazio Benevoli).


The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, it is a lip-reed aerophone; sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. The trombone is usually characterized by a telescopic slide with which the player varies the length of the tube to change pitches, although the less common valve trombone uses three valves similar to those on a trumpet.

The word trombone derives from Italian tromba (trumpet) and -one (a suffix meaning "large"), so the name literally means "large trumpet." Trombones and trumpets share the important characteristic of having predominantly cylindrical bores. Therefore, the most frequently encountered trombones — the tenor and bass trombone — are the tenor and bass counterparts of the trumpet. They are both pitched in B♭ — with the slide all the way in, the notes of the harmonic series based on B♭ can be played — but trombones generally read music in concert pitch.

A person who plays the trombone is referred to as a trombonist.

The trombone consists of a cylindrical tube bent into an elongated "S" shape in a complex series of tapers, the smallest being at the mouthpiece receiver, and the largest being at the throat of the bell, before the flare for the bell begins.

As with other brass instruments, sound is produced by blowing air through pursed lips producing a vibration that creates a standing wave in the instrument.

The detachable cup-shaped mouthpiece, similar to that of the baritone, closely related to that of the trumpet, is inserted into the mouthpiece receiver in the slide section, which consists of a leadpipe, inner and outer slide tubes, and bracing, known as inner and outer slide stays. While modern stays are soldered, sackbuts (a medieval precursor to the trombone) were made with loose, unsoldered stays, which remained the pattern for German trombones until the mid-20th century. The leadpipe contains the venturi, which is a small constriction of the air column, adding a certain amount of resistance and to a great extent dictating the tone of the instrument; leadpipes may be soldered in permanently or interchangeable, depending on the maker.

The telescopic "slide," the defining feature of the trombone allows the player to extend the length of the air column, lowering the pitch. In order to prevent friction from slowing the action of the slide, additional sleeves were developed during the Renaissance and these stockings were soldered onto the ends of the inner slide tubes. Nowadays, the stockings are incorporated into the manufacturing process of the inner slide tubes and represent a fractional widening of the tube to accommodate the necessary method of alleviating friction. This part of the slide must be lubricated on a frequent basis. Additional tubing connects the slide to the bell of the instrument through a neckpipe, and bell or back bow (U-bend). The joint connecting the slide and bell sections is furnished with a ferrule to secure the connection of the two parts of the instrument, though older models from the early 20th century and before were usually equipped with friction joints and no ancillary mechanism to tighten the joint.

The adjustment of intonation is most often accomplished with a tuning slide that is a short slide between the neckpipe and the bell incorporating the bell bow (U-bend); this device was designed by the French maker François Riedlocker during the early nineteenth century and applied to French and British designs and later in the century to German and American models, though German trombones were built without tuning slides well into the 20th century.

However, trombonists, unlike other instrumentalists, are not subject to the intonation issues connected with valved or keyed instruments, and as such can adjust intonation "on the fly" by adjusting the slide positions, as need be.

As with the trumpet, the trombone is considered a cylindrical bore instrument since it has extensive sections of tubing, principally in the slide section, that are of continuous diameter.

This is in contrast to conical bore instruments like the cornet, euphonium, and tuba, whose only cylindrical tubing is in the valve section. Tenor trombones typically have a bore of 0.450" (small bore) to 0.547" (large or orchestral bore) after the leadpipe and through the slide. The bore expands through the backbore to the bell which is typically between 7" and 8½". A number of common variations on trombone construction are noted below.

Until the early 1700's, the trombone was called the sackbut in English, a word with various different spellings ranging from sackbut to shagbolt and derived from the Spanish sacabuche or French sacqueboute. This was not a distinct instrument from the trombone, but rather a different name used for an earlier form. Other countries used the same name throughout the instrument's history, viz. Italian trombone and German Posaune. The sackbut was built in slightly smaller dimensions than modern trombones, and had a bell that was more conical and less flared. Today, sackbut is generally used to refer to the earlier form of the instrument, commonly used in early music ensembles. Sackbuts were (and still are) made in every size from soprano to contrabass, though then, as now, the contrabass was rare.

The trombone was used frequently in 16th century Venice in canzonas, sonatas, and ecclesiastical works by Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli, and also later by Heinrich Schütz in Germany. While the trombone was used continuously in Church music and in some other settings (i.e., as an addition to the opera house orchestra or to represent the supernatural or the funerary) from the time of Claudio Monteverdi onwards, it remained rather rare in the concert hall until the 19th century. During the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel used the trombone on few occasions; Bach used it in combination with the cornett to evoke the stile antico in some of his many cantatas and Handel used it in Saul, Samson, and Israel in Egypt, all of which were examples of a new oratorio style popular during the early 18th century.


Sonata (From Latin and Italian sonare, "to sound"), in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata (Latin and Italian cantare, "to sing"), a piece sung. The term, being vague, naturally evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms prior to the Classical era. The term took on increasing importance in the Classical period, and by the early 19th century the word came to represent a principle of composing large scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded alongside the fugue as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the sound of sonatas have changed since the Classical Era, 20th century sonatas still maintain the same structure and build.

The Baroque applied the term sonata to a variety of works, though most works in the Baroque Period were fugues and toccatas, including works for solo instrument such as keyboard or violin, and for groups of instruments. In the transition from the Baroque to the Classical period, the term sonata undergoes a change in usage, from being applied to many different kinds of small instrumental work to being more specifically applied to chamber music genres with either a solo instrument, or a solo instrument with piano. Increasingly after 1800, the term applies to a form of large-scale musical argument, and it is generally used in this sense in musicology and musical analysis. Most of the time if some more specific usage is meant, then the particular body of work will be noted: for example the sonatas of Beethoven will mean the works specifically labelled sonata, whereas Beethoven and sonata form will apply to all of his large-scale instrumental works, whether concert or chamber. In the 20th century, sonatas in this sense would continue to be composed by influential and famous composers, though many works which do not meet the strict criterion of "sonata" in the formal sense would also be created and performed. The term sonatina, literally "small sonata", is often used for a short or technically easy sonata.

In the Baroque period, a sonata was for one or more instruments almost always with continuo. After the Baroque period most works designated as sonatas specifically are performed by a solo instrument, most often a keyboard instrument, or by a solo instrument together with a keyboard instrument. In the late Baroque and early Classical period, a work with instrument and keyboard was referred to as having an obbligato part, in order to distinguish this from use of an instrument as a continuo, though this fell out of usage by the early 1800s. Beginning in the early 19th century, works were termed sonata if, according to the understanding of that time, they were part of the genre, even if they were not designated sonata when originally published, or by the composer. A related term at the time was "Fantasia" or "Fantaisie," which was applied to movements or works which had a much freer form than the Sonata.

By the time of Arcangelo Corelli, two polyphonic types of sonata were established: the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) and the sonata da camera (chamber sonata)

The sonata da chiesa, generally for one or more violins and bass, consisted normally of a slow introduction, a loosely fugued allegro, a cantabile slow movement, and a lively finale in some binary form suggesting affinity with the dance-tunes of the suite. This scheme, however, was not very clearly defined, until the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, when it became the essential sonata and persisted as a tradition of Italian violin music -- even into the early 1800's, in the works of Boccherini.

The sonata da camera had consisted almost entirely of idealized dance-tunes, but by the time of Bach and Handel such a composition drew apart from the sonata, and came to be called a suite, a partita, an ordre, or, when it had a prelude in the form of a French opera-overture, an overture. On the other hand, the features of sonata da chiesa and sonata da camera then tended to be freely intermixed. Bach, however, while not using the titles themselves, nevertheless keeps the two types so distinct that they can be recognized by style and form. Thus, in his six solo violin sonatas, Nos. 1, 3, and 5 are recognizably sonate de chiesa; and Nos. 2, 4, and 6 are explicitly called partitas, but are admissible among the sonatas as being sonate da camera.[citation needed] Bach is also cited as being among the first composers to have the keyboard and solo instrument share a melodic line, whereas previously most sonatas for keyboard and instrument had kept the melody exclusively in the solo instrument.

The term sonata is also applied to the series of over 500 works for harpsichord solo, or sometimes for other keyboard instruments, by Domenico Scarlatti, originally published under the name Essercizi per il gravicembalo (Exercises for the Harpsichord). Most of these pieces are in one binary-form movement only, with two parts that are in the same tempo and use the same thematic material, though occasionally there will be changes in tempo within the sections. Many of the sonatas were composed in pairs, one being in the major and the other in the parallel minor. They are frequently virtuosic, and use more distant harmonic transitions and modulations than were common for other works of their time. They are admired for their great variety and invention.

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