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Heinrich Biber

born: 1644
died: 3 May 1704
country: Bohemia

Biber was born in Wartenberg, near the modern Czech town of Liberec, in August 1644. We do not know much about his early life except that at some point in the 1660s he became a member of the excellent ensemble employed by Prince-Bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn at Kromeríz in central Moravia. We know that he played the bass viol and the bass violin there as well as the violin; his earliest dated composition, an incomplete Salve regina from 1663 preserved at Kromeríz, is scored for soprano with bass viol obbligato. We also do not know for sure who taught Biber composition and the violin, though the most likely person is the Viennese court composer Heinrich Schmelzer. Biber’s early compositions are heavily influenced by Schmelzer, and his virtuoso violin writing seems to start where the older composer left off.

During the winter of 1670/71 Biber suddenly left Kromeríz to take up an appointment at the Salzburg court, and he remained there, as far as we know, for the rest of his career. Salzburg provided Biber with steady promotion until he reached the position of Kapellmeister in 1684. It also provided him with an increasing reputation throughout Germany based on a series of publications, begun with the Sonatae tam aris, quam aulis servientes of 1676. Curiously, Biber’s most famous works today, the fifteen ‘Mystery’ or ‘Rosary’ sonatas for violin and continuo, only survive in manuscript, though it is possible that he intended them for publication. (The manuscript at Munich looks like printer’s copy.) Biber’s last years appear to have been taken up largely with operas and Latin school dramas, all but one of which are lost. He died at Salzburg on 3 May 1704.

from notes by Peter Holman © 2000

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