Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Requiem in f…

Floral design

Edited by Armin Kircher.
Carus (27.318), €52.50, 72pp.
Vocal score (27.318/03), €18.50, 56pp.
Parts €5.80 each.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve played organ for the F-minor Requiem nearly as many times as Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, though mostly (in both cases) for workshops or small-scale concerts. I reckon this and the 23-part Mass are significant works, whereas the 53-part Mass (my parts have 57) is a bit boring, since the rich texture doesn’t produce enough beyond that. The other Requiem in A has nowhere near the power of the F minor one. The edition I have been using was by Michael Pilkington. I can’t remember the details, but it was his copyright in 1992 (though I had the material) and it became ours in 2001. The source was DTO 50 (1918) by Guido Adler. There were arguments that missing parts were available. Our edition, based on DTO 50, is written as 3 trombones, 2 vlns, 3 violas & violone, SSATB (Rip & Solo on the same staves), bassoon & figured continuo. Carus cues the trombones with the A, T & B voices in ripieni. The continuo includes, as required, organ, violone, fagotto & violoncello, while the Kings Music edition has the Violone within the group of strings, which is sensible, as well as the bassoon part on the part above the Bc. (The fagotto doesn’t have any specific function other than as playing the bass, whereas the violone seems much better as part of the string group in our edition.) There used to be discussions about the number of parts – not that there were any missing. But they are now known to have the five vocal parts for soloists repeated by two further sets for additional singers. At probably a later stage, a second fagotto part appeared, and there were three organ parts (not surprising for Salzburg Cathedral). I’ve been rather too busy to compare our score with the new one – I’ll make a comparison if anyone offers to buy it! The difference in layout is that our score is mostly on only one system per page whereas Carus, with a larger format, generally has two staves per page. The Carus vocal score is a normal vocal-score and is slightly easier to read than ours and is a bit more expensive.

One anomaly is that the foot of the first music page follows the German note with “Concerning the basso continuo part see the Critical Report”, but the Kritischer Bericht is only in German. One might expect scholars to understand it, but offering an apparently English commentary when one does not exist is odd. I find that the detailed comments are manageable, but the prose is more complicated, and if the edition has a Vorwort and a Foreword, it’s sensible to include an English Critical Report. It is sensible to see occasionally the orchestral parts, so I requested the violin I and cello. It is way above ours – but it doesn’t actually have to be quite so large when the work was played with one player per part. The cover shows the four galleries, but not for a performance of the Requiem. The title page lists the forces as 5 solo voice and strings, five ripieno voices, 3 trombones ad lib – the continuo was evidently obvious.

It is a marvellous work, whether performed by any decent edition (I don’t know if there are more). A tour de force for performers is Judex ergo in 3/2, with the six crotchets accented on the 2nd and 5th note of the bar, and the music continues except for a cadence at bar 76 (to close one group while another starts the offbeat simultaneously) and at bars 84-85 there is a new phrase “Rex tremendae” stressed by the last syllable filling a whole bar, then starts again with 8 bars of the off-beat rhythm, with the final chord at the beginning of the last bar. The three chords that break the pattern need to keep the penultimate strong, with the concluding note equally significant. Somehow, the performers need to be aware of this: the bar-line shape is still vestigially recognised by performers and listeners! (NB The movement does not start at 1 but at 68.) This is only one of the triple-time sections; Te decet hymnus has the more usual 3/2 with frequent hemiolas. I won’t go on – there are brief remarks on the music in the Foreword. I’d love to hear the piece rehearsed while I was still alive, then had it performed for my funeral or commemoration.

Clifford Bartlett

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