A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Biber, Heinrich

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BIBER, Heinrich Johann Franz von, a celebrated German violin-player and composer, born at Warthenberg in Bohemia about 1638, and died in 1698 at Salzburg, where he occupied the double post of high steward and conductor of music at the court of the Prince-Archbishop. His reputation as a performer and composer was very great, and the Emperor Leopold was so delighted with him that he not only presented him with a gold chain and a considerable sum of money, but also raised him to the rank of a nobleman. We, who have to form our estimate of Biber's merits and of his place in the history of violin-playing from those of his compositions which have come down to us, may well contend that his is the first German violin music of any artistic worth at all. At that period the art of violin-playing and the style of composing for the instrument in Germany were entirely under the influence of Italy. Unfortunately the earliest German violinists appear to be more connected with Farina and his school than with Vitali, Torelli, and Veracini. Thus we find the works of J. J. Walther (see that name), a contemporary of Biber, who enjoyed a great reputation in Germany, chiefly consisting, like those of Farina, of unconnected phrases, equally void of musical ideas and form, apparently invented to show off the performer's skill in execution, and often only devoted to crude and childish imitation of natural sounds. Although Biber can not be pronounced free from the faults of his German contemporaries—since his forms are often vague and his ideas somewhat aphoristic—still his sonatas contain some pieces which not only exhibit a well-defined form, but also contain fine and deeply-felt ideas, and a style which, though nearly related to that of the best Italians of his time, has something characteristically German in its grave and pathetic severity. Altogether Biber represents an immense progress in the art of violin-playing in Germany. That his powers of execution were very considerable we must conclude from his mode of writing for the violin, which presupposes great proficiency in the playing of double stops as well as dexterity in bowing. It is also worth notice that he appears to have been the first occasionally to modify the usual way of tuning the instrument. In two of his sonatas the violin must be tuned thus:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 6/4 { <a e' a' d''>1 } }
, and thus:—
{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 6/4 { <g d' a' d''>1 } }
.

The following compositions of his have been published:—(1) Six sonatas for violin with figured bass; Salzburg, 1681. (The sixth of these was recently edited by F. David in his 'Hohe Schule des Violinspiels.') (2) Fidicinium sacro-profanum, a set of twelve sonatas in four and five parts; Nürnberg no date. (3) Harmonia artificiosa, a collection of seven partitas or suites for three instruments; Nürnberg, no date. (4) A set of sonatas; Salzburg, 1676. (5) Vesperae longiores ac breviores for 4 voices, 2 violins, 2 violas, and 3 trombones ad libitum; Salzburg, 1693. There is also a 'Dramma Musicale' of his in MS. in the museum at Salzburg.

An engraved portrait of him at the age of thirty-six is extant.

[ P. D. ]