FRANZ BIBER – SOMATEN ÜBER DIS MYSTERIEN DES ROSENKRANZES (MYSTERY SONATAS or
ROSAY SONATAS) – unknown composition date – 2014
I will not enter the fake debate
about whether Biber was only a Catholic on the surface forced to be so as a
survivor of the 30 year war in Bohemia,
three quarters of the population of which had been eliminated either by
systematic extermination or by post-war epidemics. Is there any Hussite in this
Catholic composer? Probably because no one can never ever eradicate the deepest
nature of a person even generations later and the 30 year war was a trauma for Bohemia and the
surviving Bohemians of the most terrifying and utterly sickening nature. One
can silence the expression of that trauma but can never get rid of it and it
will come back at any moment in unforeseen places. And we will see that later.
I am more fascinated by the
violin. Some say Biber is a virtuoso violin player and composer for his time.
But he is not the virtuoso of too many notes. He is very limited and
concentrated in notes but his originality is that he plays with the violin as a
multifarious animal that can be tuned, detuned and retuned at will to be tamed
by the violinist and composer at will, and this recording gives you the chords
of the four strings systematically piece after piece and you can see how rich
that use of the instrument is. But what’s the result? What is the mystery of
Biber is able to emphasize
another quality of the violin. It is an introspective instrument that is far
more effective in sorting out one’s feelings than describing outside scenes.
The violin can maybe meow like a cat but that is good enough for Vivaldi and
his seasons, four by the way, what a banality! Biber uses his violin as a great
mental and spiritual contemplative mirror in which you can contemplate all the
dozens of seasons of your own psyche. The violin can be so narcissistic that
some might run away because so many people are afraid of seeing their real faces.
So what, then, and what about
Biber’s sonatas? Far from telling us the story of Jesus – a story we are
supposed to know by heart and on the very tips of our ten fingers if not also
our ten toes – Biber tells us how he
feels in front of this story. The dominant tone is that it is the saddest story
you can tell that maybe brings the brightest promise you can dream of? And
there we can say Biber is a composer of his time, of his devastated Bohemia, of his
predetermined faith. And you can feel,
experience, sense and appreciate this immense suffering in the concluding
sonata in one movement, the Passacaglia.
Let’s get into his feelings and
sufferings, his hopes and destiny if we can. In this voracious death targeting
life what’s left is the power of a heart against all that insane violence. The
final and long Passacaglia. Sad, sadder, saddest! A lamenting lamento! A
tenebrous tenebrae! A descending descent into the bowels of the earth, I mean
death! A dirge even! What do we have left when life is reduced to being
crucified on the cross of life we produce ourselves for the sake of forces we
neither control nor really identify. We kiss their hands or their rings. We bow
in front of them and kiss their shoes if they order us to. And our happiness is
limited to that submission. We only have for ourselves and our satisfaction our
forlornness and our forsakenness. Because that is what we are. Forlorn and
forsaken in a blind alley called life that only leads to death. We can dream
onanistically of redemption, of the mind of course because there is no salvation
for the body. But we are vain believers because that redemption will only come
on the other side of this everyday suffering when we will have no body to
suffer with and actually no mind to make any difference between pain and bliss.
That’s what comes out of these
mysteries. It costs you nothing to believe in that Catholic or whatever
redemption as long as it will have no impact or effect on your life, except
that it might provide you with the possibility to survive and the means not to
starve. But as for the spiritual enlightenment that will be nothing but a pale
burning light in your imagination, alienation and illusions. But if that
provides you with soup and gruel take it and say thank you to be sure to get
I listened to that Passacaglia in
G minor four times and each time I went down lower and lower into the darkness
of a benighted cave where there is no light at all to project any shadow on the
wall. Poor Plato! No cave, no shadows, nothing. We are nothing but a cruel
blood lust in an animal body that is so weak that we have invented all possible
weapons to make other people suffer and to kill them, after they have enjoyed
the slow approach to that final moment in as much pain as possible.
Is that the Hussite in Biber?
Probably, maybe, but it is also the deepest sadness a man can experience in
front of his frightening sadistic nature.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU