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Chamber Music | Andrew McIntosh and Ensemble Sacro-Profanum

August 18, 2012
2:00 PM

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90024

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: The Rosary Sonatas

Ensemble Sacro-Profanum
Andrew McIntosh, baroque violins – Jason Yoshida, theorbo and viola da gamba – Arthur Omura, harpsichord and organ

Composed in the 1670s, this brilliant, sublime, and famous set of 16 sonatas by Biber epitomizes many of those aspects of baroque music that are most compelling: inventiveness, reverence, eccentricity, wild virtuosity, meditative austerity, and unusual tunings.

Biber (1644-1704), originally from Bohemia, was a devout and quasi-mystical Catholic with a prestigious job as composer for the archbishop in Salzburg (the same musical community that would produce Mozart a little less than a century later). He is also generally considered to have probably been the most accomplished violinist of his day, inventing many new techniques and with a wild and virtuosic style, although he was better known at the time as a composer – particularly for his eccentric and extremely difficult violin solos. The Rosary Sonatas (often called the Mystery Sonatas) are the pinnacle of his output and contain not only sixteen wonderful individual pieces, but follow a profound and monumental development throughout the cycle as it parallels the life of Christ as portrayed in the Catholic mysteries of the rosary.

Divided into three groups (the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries), each sonata also has its own unique character and mood created by the fact that each one uses a different scordatura – the technique of tuning the open strings of the instrument to notes other than the customary ones, thus opening up possibilities for chords and resonances that would be impossible in standard tuning. However, this makes the pieces astonishingly difficult to play, and they are thus rarely performed despite their fame.

wild Up composer/violinist/violist Andrew McIntosh has long been obsessed with Biber’s Rosary sonatas and has been gradually learning them over the past three years. For this performance, he will be using his newly-restored 18th century German baroque violin, in addition to several other beautiful baroque instruments also from the 18th century generously provided on loan for the project by local luthier Michael Fischer. The trio was formed while Andrew, Jason, and Arthur were all graduate students in the early music program at USC and so far they have focussed on music of the French baroque and Biber.

The audience is encouraged to treat this performance as an installation in the museum, where they can stop in and out at will or stay for the whole 2 1/2 hours (including two intermissions) at their leisure.