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Biber Fever: Baroque Remix

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Heinrich Ignaz von Biber engraving from his Sonatae violino solo, Nuremberg 1681

Approximately 350 years before young pop artist Justin Bieber joined planet earth, the original Biber (pronounced Beeber, as “Bieber”) was born in Wartenberg, Bohemia. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (baptized August 12, 1644, died May 3, 1704) was the rage in Austria and Central Europe for much of the seventeenth century (top that Justin!). His version of “Bieber Fever” entailed princes, bishops and members of court enjoying the melodies, counterpoint and virtuosic compositional style that electrified their wigs and tickled their cochlear nerves. Biber’s greatest legacy is his violin sonatas, which made exemplary use of the scordatura technique—an alternate tuning system for string instruments that uses open strings. He also composed several masses, dramatic works, cantatas, sacred vocal music and instrumental works.

Never shy from drama, Biber managed to get one of his employers, the Bishop of Olmütz (Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno), into a churchly kerfuffle with the Archbishop of Salzburg (Maximilian Gandolph von Khuenburg). According to Elias Dann and Ji�í Sehnal, of Grove Music Online, Karl sent Biber on a mission to buy new instruments for his court. Instead, and in true showbiz-form, the enterprising Biber skipped out on a meeting with a violin maker and got a gig with Maximilian in Salzburg.

Eventually Karl reconciled with Biber, for the sake of saving a bit of dignity. Biber was actually in breach of his contract with Karl for six years (1670-1676), while A.W.O.L. and enjoying the riches of life in Salzburg. Biber went on to enjoy the big life in Salzburg until his death in 1704. He was even a bit of a socialite and won enough favor to be knighted by Emperor Leopold I in 1690 (this is when the “von” was added to “von Biber”). On this day of celebrating Biber’s proxy-birthday, find your inner Biber fever and check out some music by the man whose mane would put Justin’s to shame.

To experience Biber fever at the Library of Congress, visit our online catalog: One highlight of our Biber holdings is a first edition (1740) of Mattheson’s Grundlage einer ehren-pforte, woran der tüchtigsten capellmeister, componisten, musikgelehrten, tonkünstler &c. leben, wercke, verdienste &c. erscheinen sollen. Zum fernern ausbau angegeben von Mattheson. This biography of Biber was written by the composer’s son, Karl. Click here for the catalog record.

Elias Dann and Ji�í Sehnal. “Biber, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.

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