HENRICUS IGNAT. FRANCISCUS
was a genius whose life is still largely uninvestigated, a virtuoso who
brought violin technique in Austria to dizzy heights, a man of phenomenal
imagination and audacious wit. The richness of his work is astonishing,
embracing the genre of sacred music as well as chamber music of scholarly
conception and virtuoso music for his own instrument, the violin.
Biber was born at Wartenberg in Bohemia in 1644. His father, Martin Biber,
worked as a huntsman to the court of Wartenberg and was thus employed
in the service of the Counts of Liechtenstein. As to when and how Heinrich
Ignaz received his first musical instruction we are restricted to conjecture.
From a letter sent by J. H. Schmelzer we know that Biber may have served
the Prince of Eggenberg at Graz. However, the chapel of the Prince of
Eggenberg was dismantled at the very time that Biber could have been there.
In 1628 the aristocratic family acquired the Castle of Kromeriz in Bohemia,
where there still is evidence of music at the court in 1670. One hypothesis
suggests that Biber and fellow musicians were brought from Eggenberg to
Kromeriz after the dissolution of the chapel. Whatever the case, by 1668
at the latest he was definitely employed at Kromeriz in the service of
the Prince-Bishop of Olomouc, Karl Liechtenstein Kastelkorn. This extremely
cultivated prince of the church was a great music lover and maintained
a splendid establishment at his court, employing at certain times an even
larger number of musicians than that of the Imperial Chapel in Vienna.
The bishop was in contact with the great composers of his time. His musical
library counts today among the largest private collections surviving from
the Baroque period in Austria.
In 1670 Biber was prompted after a visit to Absam to leave his job at
Kromeriz without the permission of the Bishop. He had no doubt already
been in contact with the Archbishop of Salzburg, Maximilian Gandolph,
who engaged him on his staff of court musicians with a fairly high starting
salary. Biber was able to placate the anger of his former employer, Karl
Liechtenstein Kastelkorn, by sending him some selected scores that he
had written. In 1684 he was promoted to the rank of Kapellmeister and
obtained the title of seneschal to the Archbishop. So it seems that the
latter appreciated the qualities of his violinist, who reciprocated by
dedicating to him all the works that he published before the death of
the Archbishop in 1687.
An epidemic of plague ravaged Vienna in 1673, compelling the Emperor to
transfer his residence to Linz. This gave Biber an opportunity to play
his works with great success to the Imperial Court, both at Linz and Lambach.
His first request with ennoblement in 1681 met with a refusal, but in
1690 he was finally successful and was accorded his wish in view of his
qualities of "honesty, uprightness, nobility of manner, merit, and
understanding." At that time Biber was already under the orders of
the new bishop, Johann Ernst Count Thun. His new master, like his predecessor,
was a great patron of the arts; while he did not give music the highest
priority, he knew how to appreciate the value of his famous Kapellmeister.
Around 1700 we find Biber at the head of an ensemble consisting of twenty-five
musicians and singers, two drummers, eight trumpeters, and around eighteen
choir - boys. His salary was around 850 florins, a very high sum for a
musician at that time.
Biber died in Salzburg in 1704, known and revered well beyond the borders