Concert: ‘The Resurrection’ from Heinrich Biber’s Glorious Mysteries

As we begin to ‘Resurrect’ live music this Culture Night, we couldn’t help but feel it was the perfect time to release this work by Heinrich Biber – the eleventh sonata ‘The Resurrection’ from his Mystery Sonatas, each of which tells the story of a different mystery of the Rosary. Performed here by Caitríona O’Mahony (baroque violin) and James Taylor (organ) from the beautiful Goldie Chapel at Nano Nagle Place.

This is the final stage on our journey through some of the most iconic and emotive works in the seventeenth-century repertoire. Biber’s writing, with the violin in array of different scordatura tunings, is an evocative and visceral depiction of an intensely human story. The Resurrection is possibly the most iconic of these sonatas, when Biber demands that the middle two strings of the violin be literally crossed over each other – moved from their normal place on the instrument so that a cross forms below the bridge and above the fingerboard. This is also the most explicitly religious music of the set. Elsewhere Biber uses baroque dances as the sections within each sonata, but in the Resurrection, the long central section is based on an Easter hymn tune ‘Surrexit Christus Hodie’ (Christ is risen today), probably dating back to the 14th century.

The most famous programmatic works for violin before Vivaldi’s Seasons, Heinrich Biber’s Rosary Sonatas survive in a beautiful display copy, presented to his patron, Maximilian Gandolph, Archbishop of Salzburg. The engravings which accompany each sonata give them the titles now commonly used. They were possibly used in Rosary prayer and may have been linked with the Salzburg devotional confraternities of the seventeenth century . The engravings were used in printed material of the Confraternity of the Rosary, and they are similar to the paintings which line the walls of the Grosse Aula of Salzburg University, where the Confraternity of the Assumption of the Virgin prayed their regular Rosary devotions. Both groups came under the protection of Archbishop Maximilian, and Biber may even have been a member.

Biber’s fame seems to have lasted beyond his lifetime, with Charles Burney writing in the eighteenth century, ‘Of the violin players of the last century, Biber seems to have been the best, and his solos are the most difficult and most fanciful of any music I have seen of the same period.’  His particular style of sonata-writing unites an earlier style of stylus fantasticus writing with more regular dance sections, his frequent use of ground basses providing more harmonic unity to writing than common in the early Italian sonata.

You’ll be able to enjoy a full online performance of the 5 sonatas and Passacaglia in the Glorious Mysteries over the coming weeks – drop us your email at to be notified, or follow us on Facebook:…

We are very grateful for the support of Cork City Council Arts Office which has made this concert possible.

Thanks to Max le Cain & Chris Hurley of Cork Film Centre, and sound engineer Joe Cusack for their hard work on creating this online concert for you to enjoy from home.

The concert was curated by Caitríona O’Mahony, in association with East Cork Early Music (, and is possible due to the generous support of Cork City Council Arts Office ( and Nano Nagle Place (

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