MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Biber’s Glorious Mysteries at Whidbey Island Music Festival

If you’re looking to plan an unforgettable weekend, here’s a suggestion to start it off: the Whidbey Island Music Festival presents Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s complete Mystery Sonatas performed by some of the finest artists from the early music scene: Tekla Cunningham (baroque violin and director of Whidbey Island Music Festival), Elisabeth Reed (baroque cello), and Henry Lebedinsky (organ and harpsichord.) Performance at 7pm on 5 May. Info and tickets here.

This is the final concert in a three-concert series traversing Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. The Glorious Mysteries begin with the events of Easter and the Resurrection. The capstone of the final set of sonatas is the Passacaglia for solo violin (also known as the “Guardian Angel”).

The concert takes place in the intimate St. Augustine’s in-the-woods Church in Freeland on Whidbey Island, which boasts spendid acoustics.

And to top it off: Tekla Cunningham’s trademark springerle cookies pressed with images of a Guardian Angel will be served at the reception. 


The Glorious Mysteries

Sonata XI in G Major:  The Resurrection          Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)Sonata – Hymn: Surrexit Christus hodie and variations

Canzona on ‘Christ ist erstanden’                                     Georg Reutter der Ältere (1656-1738)

Sonata XII in C Major:  The Ascension                                                                   H.I.F. von BiberIntrada – Aria tubicinum (trumpet) – Allemanda – Courante and double

Ricercar in G minor for solo cello                                        Domenico Gabrieli (ca. 1651-1690)

Sonata XIII in D minor:  The Descent of the Holy Ghost                                    H.I.F. von Biber
Sonata – Gavotte – Gigue – Sarabanda


Sonata XIV in D Major:  The Assumption of the Virgin                                      H.I.F. von Biber[Sonata] – Arias 1 and 2 – Gigue

Capriccio in G                                                                       Johann Jakob Froberger (1716-1767)

Sonata XV in C Major:  The Coronation of the Virgin Mary                              H.I.F. von Biber
Sonata – Aria with 3 doubles – Canzona – Sarabanda and double

Passacaglia in G minor for solo violin                                                                H.I.F. von Biber

From Whidbey Island Music Festival:

About the Mystery Sonatas: 

Named for the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary (also known as the Rosary Sonatas), these three sets of 5 sonatas for violin and continuo, plus a concluding Passacaglia for solo violin, were completed around 1676. Dedicated to the Archbishop Gandolph in Salzburg, these sonatas are as compelling, affecting and moving as they were when they were written almost 350 years ago. In the manuscript copy, each sonata has a copper-plate print at the opening of the sonata showing the story of the piece. 

About scordatura: 

Scored for a single violin supported by continuo, Biber asks the violinist to tune differently for each sonata. Only the first sonata (the Annunciation) and the final Passacaglia share the standard G-D-A-E tuning. The Resurrection sonata has the most extreme tuning, involving switching the G and the D strings. This technique of mistuning the violin, called scordatura, gives a tremendous range of affects and emotions to this music. Retuning brings the violin into different key areas and creates a kaleidoscope of overtones and sonic effects, helping Biber to create specific emotions or affects in the listener. 


Tekla Cunningham

Elisabeth Reed, Oakland, CA teaches Baroque cello and viola da gamba at the University of California at Berkeley and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is co-director of the Baroque Ensemble. Recent teaching highlights include master classes at the Juilliard School, the Shanghai Conservatory and Middle School, and the Royal Academy of Music. A soloist and chamber musician with Voices of Music, Pacific Musicworks, Archetti, and Wildcat Viols, she has also appeared with the Smithsonian Chamber Players, the American Bach Soloists and the Seattle, Portland, Pacific, and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestras. Elisabeth directs “Voice of the Viol”, the renaissance viola da gamba ensemble of Voices of Music. She can be heard on the Virgin Classics, Naxos, Focus, Plectra, and Magnatunes recording labels and has many HD videos on the Voices of Music Youtube channel. She is a Guild-certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method™ of Awareness Through Movement ™ with a particular interest in working with musicians and performers.  

Hailed by The Miami Herald for his “superb continuo… brilliantly improvised and ornamented,” GRAMMY-nominated historical keyboardist, composer, and conductor Henry Lebedinsky has performed with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Charlotte Symphony, Seraphic Fire, Sonoma Bach, and the Cantata Collective, among others. Recent conducting engagements include the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and Sonoma Bach’s Live Oak Baroque Orchestra. As part of a career built on collaboration, he serves as co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco Bay Area’s AGAVE and Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks. With countertenor Reginald L. Mobley, he has introduced listeners on three continents to music by Black composers from Baroque to modern, including recent appearances at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and Festival Printemps Musical des Alizés in Morocco. In 2014, he founded Seattle’s Early Music Underground, which brought Baroque music to brewpubs, wineries, and other places where people gather, and presenting it in multimedia contexts which both entertain and educate. Lebedinsky’s works for choir and organ are published by Paraclete Press, Carus-Verlag Stuttgart, and CanticaNOVA, and two volumes of his poetry and hymns are in preparation. He holds degrees from Bowdoin College and the Longy School of Music, where he earned a Master of Music in historical organ performance as a student of Peter Sykes. Currently entering his third decade as a church musician, he serves as Missioner for Music at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Whidbey Island.


Founded in 2006 by Tekla Cunningham, the Whidbey Island Music Festival is a beloved annual event that presents great performances of baroque and classical chamber music in relaxed and intimate indoor and outdoor venues on beautiful Whidbey Island, with repertoire from Monteverdi to Florence Price. We bring music of the past four centuries to life with vivid and moving concert performances on period instruments.

Filed under: early music, music news


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