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Now that is what I call Cross-Tuning!

Posted by kygarv7 on Wednesday, September 9, 2009


…the expression ‘faith in stringed instruments’ is most evident in the Mystery or Rosary Sonatas, which survive in a beautifully-written manuscript, compiled in 1676 by Heinrich Biber, and now housed in the Bavarian State Library. The manuscript contains fifteen compositions for violin and bass, and a concluding Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin. In the absence of a title page, the various titles in use today derive from the fifteen engravings in the manuscript, one placed at the start of each of the first fifteen compositions depicting, in turn, the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. Similarly, the Passacaglia is accompanied by a drawing of a Guardian Angel holding the hand of a child.

…another technique uniting the sonatas is the use of scordatura (the retuning of the violin strings to notes other than the conventional g, d', a', e'') in all but the first and last of the sonatas, requiring a total of fifteen different tunings in the whole collection. The compositions using scordatura are notated in the manner of certain tablatures in that the violinist is told where on the string to place the fingers, but the resulting pitch is different from the notated pitch. The requisite scordatura tuning is indicated at the start of each composition, along with a signature often including a curious mixture of sharp and flat signs. The most extraordinary scordatura tuning in the set is in Rosary Sonata XI (The Resurrection), which requires the violinist to interchange the middle two strings, crossing them before the bridge of the violin and again at the nut, resulting in a symbolic cross shape.



6 comments on “Now that is what I call Cross-Tuning!”

bj Says:
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 @7:10:28 PM

Dang! I think I'll do this for my next fiddle event, twist a few heads, I should think. :-) Now, the question-- If the A string is where the D usually is and the D is where the A usually is, what are they tuned to?

Fiddler Says:
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 @7:59:01 PM

Pretty neat, huh? Biber did some strange stuff, but the symbolism (the Cross) sure brings more to it. Yes, the A and D strings are crossed. From what I've been told, it is tuned GDgd. This website shows all of the Rosary Sonatas and the tunings.,_Heinrich_Ignaz_Franz_von)

kygarv7 Says:
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 @11:25:25 PM

...The violin for each sonata is tuned to a different array of pitches. Sonata XI (the Resurrection) is a special case: in addition to a unique scordatura, the two inner strings of the violin are interchanged between the bridge and tailpiece of the instrument, thus attaining a tuning (from top string to bottom string) of G-g-D-d.

ChickenMan Says:
Saturday, September 12, 2009 @12:10:07 PM

I read about this technique in Fiddler Mag, many years ago. Used for great unison octave playing. I never really tried it but once - couldn't find a use for it. Neat though.

FiddlerFaddler Says:
Monday, September 14, 2009 @8:52:04 AM

Using standard notation to represent other pitches would drive me nuts (perhaps *more* in the eyes of those not nuts about the fiddle). Since I'm used to strings of different pitches on different instruments, I'd rather couple standard notation with actual pitches and the actual/suggested strings and fingering indicated conventionally.

Then again, whom am I kidding? As much as I like baroque music, I don't intend to become a baroque fiddler! Maybe if I were younger... or maybe when I enter my second childhood...

Catgut.Laboratories Says:
Monday, February 8, 2010 @6:56:00 AM

Yea, me too. I feel like learning to ignore the fact that the pitch you hear doesn't match the pitch on the music would be taking a huge step backwards.

Still very cool though, I might try and see if I can find a recording of these.

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