The Holy Rosary is one of the most important Roman Catholic prayers, and makes use of a string of beads known as a rosary. The beads originally represented periods of time to assist in spending enough time meditating.
The Rosary Mysteries are meditations on episodes in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Meditation should involve reflecting on the mysteries and how they may provide guidance through the joys, temptations and sorrows of life. There were originally fifteen mysteries, divided into three sets: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries.
I am not a Christian, but if I ever were to become one it is likely to be as a result of listening to the music we shall hear in this concert.
Embracing the listener
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644–1704) was born in Bohemia, but moved to Salzburg in 1670 and worked there for the rest of his life. He composed both sacred and secular music, and was for many years overlooked as an influential composer. In his lifetime he was famous as a violin virtuoso, and one of his specialities was to retune the instrument – scordatura – to evoke strange and mysterious moods. The different tunings, full of symbolism and beguiling mysticism, are designed to envelop listeners and draw them into the music to meditate along with the performers. This technique is central to Biber’s best-known work The Rosary Sonatas, also known as the Mystery Sonatas.
This way of making music has parallels in the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle tradition. Fiddler Nils Økland introduced me to the legendary performance of Biber’s music by Baroque violinist John Holloway. Holloway’s recording of the Rosary Sonatas has been a significant source of inspiration to Nils. Nevertheless, this is the first time the two musicians meet, through a melancholic and atmospheric examination of Biber’s music and some of the most central themes in western cultural history. Nils Økland and Sigbjørn Apeland have unearthed Norwegian religious folk tunes with tunings resembling those in Biber’s sonatas, forming the basis of their improvisations and compositions, and intersperse Biber’s sonatas with them.
The passacaglia which concludes the cycle of sonatas – the final piece in the concert and one of the earliest known instances of music written for violin solo – will be performed by Holloway and Økland together. The encounter between these musicians is a meeting of traditions, a meeting of past and present, not least materialised through the instruments they play. But it is first and foremost a meeting between people, performers and composers of several centuries – and an audience.
In her essay The Song That I Am – On the Mystery of Music, the Benedictine nun Élisabeth-Paule Labat considers the relationship between music, relations and tears: The echo of a paradise lost is the very root of both music and poetry. In the tears provoked by truly beautiful music we see perfect happiness alongside deep sorrow. There is nothing romantic, nothing flat and sentimental in this impression of nostalgia; it is as deep as the joy in the regained relationship with God is certain and intoxicating.
Lars Petter Hagen, concert curator
English version: Roger Martin