Heinrich Biber, Mystery Sonata #1, “The Annunciation”

Sometime in the late 17th century, the Bohemian composer Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) composed a series of 15 sonatas for accompanied violin. Known variously as the “Mystery Sonatas” or the “Rosary Sonatas,” each of the 15 sonatas in the collection corresponds to one of the mysteries in the life of Jesus and Mary that focused meditative devotion.

Baroque violinist Fiona Hughes, a former member of our parish and our choir, has in the past played some of these sonatas as Preludes or Postludes during services at All Saints. With colleagues in the ensemble Three Notched Road, she has recorded several of the sonatas, including the first, which musically imagines the event of the Annunciation.

I phoned Fiona at her home in Staunton and asked her when she first became aware of this remarkable body of music.

Here is Fiona Hughes’s interpretation of Biber’s Rosary Sonata, no. 1, “The Annunciation.” She is accompanied by Kevin Payne on theorbo and Joseph Gascho on harpsichord and organ. This recording is from Three Notch’d Road’s CD, Epiphany, which is available for purchase here.

There are numerous recordings of the entire set of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. Until you have the occasion to purchase a copy (and support musicians in their wonderful vocation), you may listen to the performances by violinist Andrew Manze, with Richard Egarr at the harpsichord. The first 9 sonatas are included in the first video, and the remainder are on the second video.