Biber in New Grove II
A Critical Review

The new, revised edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, together with its parallel, online format, has been eagerly awaited now for many years, the last edition having been released just over twenty years ago was the sixth edition of the music dictionary (henceforth New Grove 6). The article on Heinrich Biber, originally written by the American scholar Elias Dann for New Grove 6,[1] has been newly updated by the Czech musicologist Jiří Sehnal for New Grove II.

Unfortunately, for some reason the article has only been updated, and not revised or rewritten, which would have been far better, and, I think was in order. Dann's article was, even at the time of publication, already outdated. It did not reflect the findings of the most recent research on Biber, most notably, Eric Chafe's pioneering dissertation on Biber's church music (completed in 1975) which included the first detailed biography and catalogue of works.[2] There were numerous omissions, and inaccuracies in the works list (particularly regarding library sigla), which, had Dann consulted either Chafe or Breitenbacher's catalogue of the Kroměříž music archives (listed in his bibliography), could have been avoided.[3] By far the biggest problem with this article, however, was the strong bias towards the instrumental music, which reflects Dann's own interests, and the subject of his thesis which focused on technical aspects of Biber's violin music.[4] This was also part of a particular aspect of the historiography (see below) whereby the emphasis had been (since about 1898) on preparing editions of Biber's entire ouevre of instrumental music, but not the vocal music. Unfortunately, this problem has only been addressed marginally by Sehnal. Whilst Dann's discussion of the sacred vocal music constituted only 11% of the total discussion of the music in the works section, Sehnal increases this to 18% in his revised article.[5] Alarmingly, however, the focus of Sehnal's discussion is the Missa Salisburgensis—a work which has not been definitely proved to be a work of Biber's—rather than the body of liturgical compositions by Biber which are of certain authorship. Despite this imbalance, however, the article as a whole (both the biography and the discussion of the music) is still significantly (2-3 times) longer than that in MGG.[6]

It is good see that Sehnal's more complete and accurate biographical section of the article reflects the scholarship of the last twenty or so years, particularly that of our European counterparts, and the earlier work of Chafe. This is a welcome step in the right direction, as all too often there have been examples (particularly in recording reviews) of some English-language writers on Biber, not having been aware of foreign-language scholarship.[7] Consequently, many of the errors present in English-language discussions of Biber's music from 50 years ago, have remained unchecked. An interesting change to the opening paragraph of the article relates to the description of Biber's nationality. Whilst Dann had described Biber as a 'Bohemian violinist and Composer', Sehnal alters this to 'Austrian violinist and composer of Bohemian birth'.[8] Although possibly not significant, this could perhaps reflect an aspect of Biber historiography prevalent in communist Czechoslovakia, whereby discussions of Biber in Czech music histories (at a time when Biber had long been championed as a master violinist of the German school) were notably short or altogether missing, reflecting the general desire to avoid Biber as he was 'German', and indeed even to apologise for this. In 1955, for example Jan Němeček, in his Nástin české hudby XVIII. století (Outline of Czech Music of the Eighteenth Century), felt it necessary to apologise for Biber's German roots: 'Heinrich Ignaz Fr. Biber (1644-1704), rodák z Vartenberka v Čechách, národností ovšem Němec' (Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), a native from Wartenberg in Bohemia, nationality of course German).[9] In this regard, it is perhaps significant that most of the studies of 'German' violin literature by German scholars, which heralded Biber as a prime figure of the German violin school, have been removed in Sehnal's article in New Grove II.[10] This is a shame as these studies are useful, particularly for historiographical reasons. Sehnal's alteration may also reflect the fact that most of Biber scholarship is now centred in Austria (particularly Salzburg), and this is where most of the research on Biber—including his own—is now being published.

The works list in the new article is a great improvement on the earlier article, most notably with regard to the listing of the sacred vocal music, which is expanded and more complete.[11] Likewise, details of modern editions have been given, and the list updated to reflect those editions which have appeared during the last 20 years. Curiously, the edition of Biber's Missa Alleluia by Werner Jaksch[12] is not listed (a problem also common to the new MGG article), and the sigla given for this work in the articles by both Dann and Sehnal is CZ KRa when it should be A-KR (Kremsmünster, Austria, Benediktinerstift). Likewise, an article published by Jaksch about this mass is sadly not listed on the bibliography.[13] It is nice to see, however, that Biber's Singfundament—a singing treatise written for his daughter Anna Magdalena Biber to use in teaching at the convent at Nonnberg—is now listed in the works list.

As mentioned above, many important, early-twentieth-century studies regarding German violin repertoire, and also early studies specific to Biber, have regrettably been removed from the bibliography. These items have been replaced by a selection of more recent articles reflecting predominantly the work of Austrian scholars. This list, however, is far from complete. Surprisingly, Ernst Hintermair's English-language article on the Missa Salisburgensis from The Musical Times[14] (similar in content to an article by Hintermaier which appeared in Musicologica austriaca in 1976)—which was present in Dann's original article—has been removed from Sehnal's version. It seems somewhat perverse that one of the few English-language articles on Biber, by a much respected Biber scholar, should be removed from the bibliography in an English-language music dictionary.

Two other important omissions from the bibliography are Dieter Haberl's doctoral dissertation on aspects of numerology in the Mystery Sonatas,[15] a study which is probably the best study of Biber's music in recent years, and certainly the best research ever to have been undertaken on the Mystery Sonatas, and also Peter Wollny's important article on the publication history of the Harmonia articicioso-ariosa (which incidentally, is erroneously referred to as Harmonia artificsiosa-ariosa throughout both versions of the article).[16] Wollny's article is fundamental because it identifies the corrupt nature of the 1712 posthumous print of these compositions, and consequently the edition in 'DTÖ' which is based only on the 1712 print, and not that issued during Biber's lifetime in 1696. The nature and causes of the corruption, other aspects of philology, and other errors are discussed, corrected and listed in detail, and this article is essential for use in combination with the 'DTÖ' edition in the absence of any other reliable edition of these works. The bibliography in MGG is significantly more complete in this respect, and will be a more useful resource for scholars.

In summary, this article is an improvement on its predecessor, although the lack of large-scale changes and revisions to the prose, and presence of too many important errors and omissions in the documentation of the sources, makes it somewhat disappointing. This is not to say that the article in MGG does not also have problems however, and Sehnal's article would be best used in conjunction with that article.


Below is a list of corrections which need to be made to Sehnal's article. Bold denotes section headings.

2. Works.
8, line 3: for 'Archbishop Johann Ernsthun' read 'Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun'


Missa Alleluia: sigla is A KR (not CZ KRa). Ed. in Jaksch, 1994 (see above)
Requiem [in A major]: for 'facs. in Jaksch, 1977' read 'ed. in Jaksch, 1977'
Missa, ex B: edn published in Bad Reichenhall (not Munich)

Solo violin:
Mystery Sonatas: facs edn published in Bad Reichenhall (not Munich)
Sonatae (Nuremberg, 1681): facs edn published in Bad Reichenhall (not Munich)
Sonata . . . representativa: facs edn published in Salzburg (not Munich)

C Schneider (1926): published in 1925
J Sehnal (1970): pp.21-39 (not 21-35)
Dahms (1974): for Moffat read Muffat
Jaksch (1978): for 'Missa salisburgensis;' read 'Missa salisburgensis:'
Hintermaier (1977): published in 1976


1 Elias Dann, 'Heinrich Biber', in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 vols (London, 1980), vol. 2, pp. 678-682. This apparent confusion regarding numbering of editions results from the fact that whilst the 1980 edition was the sixth edition of the dictionary to be published, it was the first to have the word 'new' in the title. Hence, the edition published in January 2001, is the second edition of The New Grove.

2 Eric Chafe, 'The Church Music of Heinrich Biber' (PhD Diss., U. of Toronto, 1975).

3 Antonín Breitenbacher, 'Hudební archiv kolegiátního kostela sv. Mořice v Kroměříž', Special supplement of Časopis VI. spolku musejního v Olomouci 40 (1928), pp. 1-140. In fact, Sehnal's article 'Die Kompositionen Heinrich Bibers in Kremsier (Kroměříž)', Sborník prací Filosofické fakulty Brněnské university, H5 (1970) pp. 21-39, which includes a list of Biber's works in Kroměříž was published ten years before, and is listed in Dann's bibliography. Incidentally, Sehnal includes this article in the bibliography for New Grove II, but the page numbers are given as 21-35.

4 Dann, 'Heinrich Biber and the Seventeenth-Century Violin' (PhD Diss., U. of Columbia, 1968).

5 These figures are approximate. If we include in these figures the discussion of Biber's operas and school dramas, the figures rise to 18% (Dann) and 25% (Sehnal), of the total discussion of the music.

6 Christian Berger, 'Biber von Bibern', in Ludwig Finscher (ed.), Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik, 2nd ed. (Kassel and London, 1994-), vol. 2 (2000), cols 1573-1579.

7 There are, of course, notable exceptions to this, such as Eric Chafe.

8 MGG completely avoids this issue, and makes no attempt at describing Biber's nationality.

9 Jan Němeček, Nástin české hudby XVIII. století (Prague, 1955), p. 49.

10 These include (among others) Gustav Beckmann, Das Violinspiel in Deutschland vor 1700 (Leipzig, 1918), and Andreas Moser, Geschichte des Violinspiels (Berlin, 1923).

11 The article was, of course, submitted too recently to have included my recent edition of Biber's Missa Christi resurgentis: James Clements (ed.), Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: Missa Christi resurgentis, 'Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era' 107 (Madison, WI, 2000).

12 Heinrich Biber, Missa Alleluia a 26 in Concerto, ed. Werner Jaksch (Bad Königshofen, 1994).

13 Werner Jaksch, '"Missa Alleluia": Quellenlage und einordnung einer mehrchorigen Messe des Salzburger Dokmkapellmeisters', Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch 70 (1987), pp. 45-49.

14 Ernst Hintermaier, 'The Missa Salisburgensis', The Musical Times 116 (1975), pp. 965–966.

15 Haberl, Dieter, 'Ordo arithmeticus: Barocker Zahlbezug und seine Würzeln dargestellt am Beispiel der Rosenkranzsonaten von Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber' (PhD Diss., U. of Salzburg, 1995).

16 Peter Wollny, 'Heinrich Ignaz Franz Bibers "Harmonia artificioso-ariosa": Zur Druckgeschichte und Werkgestalt', Schütz-Jahrbuch (Kassel, 1988), pp. 126–132.