Biber’s ‘Rosary Sonatas’ for violin and basso continuo stand alone in the violin literature and in music history, offering a unique combination of programmatic material and the use of scordatura (tuning a string instrument differently than the standard tuning). Consisting of fifteen sonatas for violin and basso continuo, and a closing Passacaglia for solo violin, the cycle was presented by Biber to his employer, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, in a handsome manuscript sometime before 1687. Through the copper engravings inserted at the head of each sonata in the manuscript depicting key moments in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the music has become associated with the Catholic Mysteries of the Rosary. As the manuscript is missing its title page, the collection has become known under a variety of names: the Rosary, Mystery, Biblical or even Copper-Engraving Sonatas. The moods and emotions of this highly expressive music range from Mary's wonderment at the Annunciation to the agony of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, the crucifixion and the subsequent resurrection, celebrated in a fantasy on the hymn Surrexit Christus hodie. Through the use of fifteen different tunings of the violin – one for each of the fifteen sonatas before the return to standard tuning in the closing Passacaglia – Biber achieves a variety of timbres, which combined with his highly imaginative treatment of the violin makes for absorbing listening. Appearing for the first time on BIS, the Greek-American violinist Ariadne Daskalakis has made a number of previous recordings, on baroque as well as modern violin. She is here supported by her fellow members in Ensemble Vintage Köln, a Cologne-based group of musicians specialized in baroque music. As a coupling to Biber's Rosary Sonatas – with a duration of almost 120 minutes – the ensemble has chosen to include the only extant violin sonata by George Muffat, Biber's colleague in the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.
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