Thoughts About The Music

Sunday, June 13

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber – Passacaglia from the Rosary Sonatas

This sonata is one of fifteen “Mystery Sonatas” composed by Bohemian composer Heinrich Biber in 1647. The “Mystery Sonatas”, whose name refer to the fifteen mysteries of the holy rosary, are also known as the Copper-Plate Engraving Sonatas, referring to the intricate pictures that were found inside the sonata manuscripts. The images appear correlated to Rosary Psalters, a set of books published for devout Catholics hoping to use the rosary as a means of meditation and reflection. The sonatas are unusual in quality, as almost all of them ask for unique tuning of the violin. The tuning allows the violinist to play special “double-stops” (drawing the bow across two strings simultaneously), creating unusual tonal combinations. In one of the sonatas, titled “The Resurrection”, the violinist is asked to cross the bow below the bridge and pegbox, creating the symbolic Holy Cross on the instrument. The final work, Passacaglia, is extremely elaborate and builds on sixty different repetitions of one set of chords as the overlaying melodies grow increasingly complicated. The work is meditative, with a hallowed reverence that permeates its aura.

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson – Lamentations Suite

American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, named after the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, wrote extensively on Black music both in and outside of America. Reaching acclaim as a composer in the 1950s, a time of severe racial strife in America, he often commented on the nature of Black music, its roots, and it’s place in modern America, stating “I cannot define Black music. I could say that it is a music that has its genesis in the Black psyche or the Black social life, but it is very difficult to say what Black music really is. There are kinds of Black music, just as there are kinds of other musics”. It is extremely important to realize that there is no real “Black” music, just as there is no “White” or “Asian” music. From Jazz to Gospel and Spirituals or even Hip-Hop, Black music has provided America with a framework for countless genres and cross-cultural integration that has become an inextricable part of American music as we see it today. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson realized, even in a time of segregation, that the blending of two cultures has the capacity to tread new ground in terms of the arts. His Lamentations Suite masterfully builds on this idea. In this athletic yet graceful piece, the solo cellist plucks and bows through African-American Spiritual folk songs embellished with Baroque counterpoint techniques. The blending of these two styles come together perfectly, with classical ornamentation of pentatonic melodies that are supported by bluesy, rhythmic chords. Both drawing on religious roots, the two styles draw from one another beautifully as the cello spans from poignant melodies to driving, unconstrained strength.

©2021 Nicole Martin