Biber: Mystery Sonatas

My interest in Biber’s Mystery Sonatas came from a curiosity about ritual.

We discover depth of meaning and profound connection in repeated actions. Art in all its forms has the capacity to enliven and transform our ritualistic behavior, whatever faith, culture or walk of life we identify ourselves with.

It is thought that the Mystery Sonatas were composed for use by a Jesuit prayer society in seventeenth century Austria, where the faithful would contemplate the works as they meditated upon the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. My first performance of any of the Mystery Sonatas happened to be remarkably similar to this original intention: I performed the five sonatas that represent the Sorrowful Mysteries in a concert for members of an Anglo-Catholic church, following their ritual walking of the Stations of the Cross during Lent. In this context, the pieces were musical ikons, sacred portraits in sound.

That this was the beginning of my relationship with these pieces I consider to be a piece of great personal good fortune. Whatever one’s faith, the subject matter of the Mystery Sontatas invites contemplation of the strange and wonderful, of questions that cannot be answered, and of reality upturned. An important facet of our shared humanity is our capacity to bear doubt; contemplation of mystery has the power to remind us of our common strength and fragility.

In preparing to perform music from the Mystery Sonatas and other works by Biber this year, I keep this in mind. It is not my business to know the hearts of my audience, but I am inspired by the mystery.


Performances of music by Biber for solo violin with Richard Stone, lute/theorbo:


  • Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont PA, Saturday February 22, time TBC
  • Bach at 7 (presented by Choral Arts Philadelphia): St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia PA, Wednesday April 9, 7pm
  •  Tempesta di Mare Artist Recital Series: Woodmere Art Museum, Chestnut Hill PA, Sunday April 13, 3pm
  • Tempesta di Mare Artist Rectial Series: Powel House, Philadelphia PA, Sunday April 27, 3pm

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