Monday, February 20, 2012: Setting Each Other Free

Los Otros

Los Otros plays Early Music with permission to set each other free

Setting Each Other Free

Making Early Music in the early 21st century means taking into consideration a lot of different aspects: matters of survival, musicianship, and also the ever-interesting question of whether we really need this stuff:
are there no other important tasks for principally intelligent and coherent people in the western world but to do just this?

This is the introduction to “Without a Net,” the website of Los Otros, a small gathering of Early Music performers; luckily, you can hear them in concert tomorrow night (Tues, Feb 21) at the Church of St Simon and St Jude. Appearing tomorrow will be the core trio, Hille Perl playing the viola da gamba; Lee Santana, lute; and Steve Player, violin; and also Michael Behringer, playing the harpsichord.

“[Music] … makes us feel alive, and it makes us present in a capacity that almost no other activity does,” is Los Otros’ answer to their question. “Through music we communicate with each other, with our audiences and with the past — which, of course, is also the future. This makes us both vulnerable and free.”

The website writers give you permission to be confused about early music, as they continue, “Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to get to the core of this ancient music by understanding a lot about the way it was supposed to be played. It is like learning a language that must have been the mother tongue of the musicians who played it back then, in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

But even so, those earlier musicians must have had a free, experimental way of dealing with music, the website writers suppose. “They were as exposed to different musical influences of their day as we were all exposed to, let’s say, the Beatles or Led Zeppelin.”

A Viola da What-a?
At age 5, Hille Perl decided she would play the viola da gamba, a huge cello-like instrument with 6 or 7 strings. A viola da gamba, or viol for short, is played with a bow but you can also play chords on it. The smallest version is similar to the violin; the tenor viol matches up with the viola; the bass viol, with a cello; and the double bass is the largest, deepest one. The viol reached its heyday in the 15th to 18th centuries, and even Henry VIII played them.

Because the sound of the viola da gamba is softer and sweeter than modern stringed instruments, only the big, double bass viol is played in some orchestras today; the smaller sizes just wouldn’t be heard over the rest of the orchestra.

Heinrich van Biber

Heinrich Biber von Bibern

All This, and Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Von Bibern, Too!
The concert menu tomorrow night offers selections from the Mystery of the Rosary Sonatas, also known simply as the Mystery Sonatas (or the Rosary Sonatas), by the Czech composer with the long name (see above). Heinrich was baptized in 1644 and came from the town of Stráž pod Ralskem (southwest of Liberec). He was an early experimenter in alternate tunings for the violin, and his passacaglia (a form of courtly dance, in 3/4 time) from the Mystery Sonatas was one of the first solos for the instrument.

Around 1668, Biber went to work for the Bishop of Olomouc at Kroměříž as a composer and violinist. Two years later the Bishop sent him to Austria to negotiate the purchase of violins from a famous violin maker, but Biber never made it there. Instead, he stopped when he got to Salzburg, and began working for the Archbishop.

Eventually he was named Kappelmeister and in 1690 was raised to nobility, with the Von Bibern added to his name by the Emperor. He enjoyed distinction as one of the best and most influential violinists of his time, and his Mystery Sonatas are enjoying a renaissance today. He died in 1704. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: Los Otros website; bottom: public domain

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