Music Detective, Baroque Edition
March 8, 2017 11:37 PM   Subscribe

A lost Baroque Mass by an unknown composer was rescued from a merchant using the discarded paper to wrap vegetables by Kapellmeister Innocenz Achleitner in 1870. He sent it to the Mozarteum, who assigned it to the Italian composer Orazio Benevoli, 1628. It sank once more into obscurity until in 1969 a recently-minted Ph.D. glanced at it and recognized the handwriting of "Copyist no. III," who could not possibly have copied it in 1628. Chasing down handwriting, paper mills, watermarks, and the availability of large ensembles in European capitals of the 17th century, Ernst Hintermaier showed the Missa Salisburgensis was most likely the work of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, a prolific and innovative Baroque composer who remains to this day unknown to many Baroque fans. Links to music within!

These first three pieces are quite long (about an hour each):

Missa Salisburgensis
Missa Bruxellensis
The Mystery Sonatas (about the sonatas)

But these are all quite short (between 5 and 12 minutes):

Battalia (the discordant drunken folk songs start at 1:44 and it's quite something for 1673)
Sonata Representiva, with pictures of the animals
Sonata Sancti Polycarpi (8 trumpets + timpani)

Do note there are also very good links at the bottom of the "Damned Interesting" article, to recordings and to popular and academic articles.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (18 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for this - there's such a lot of baroque that doesn't do the rounds, but quite a lot of it was hack stuff then and remains hack stuff now. This ain't that, and I love the Battalia. Fun to imagine the audience just getting its head around the joke and then it's straight back to the light and airy.

(Or is it a joke? Some serious discussion in those YT comments. But given the juxtaposition with the rest of the music, he couldn't have been too serious...)
posted by Devonian at 12:01 AM on March 9, 2017


The Passacaglia which concludes the Mystery/Rosary Sonatas sounds like a precursor to Bach's Chaconne.
posted by Gyan at 12:13 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I love that this started with the handwriting! I love the familiarity that an academic can get with their material, to the point that they can get to know little things like that and say "hmm, that's unusual."

One of the classic books on indigenous Mexican music, I think it was Music in Mexico by Robert Stevenson, spends some time talking about how part of the Aztecs' conversion to Christianity after the fall of Tenochtitlan involved teaching them to write polyphonic choral music. Stevenson says that we don't really have any examples of precolumbian indigenous Mexican melodies -- artifacts show us what scales their musical instruments could play, and we have some anecdotes about what the music sounded like (the Spanish missionaries described it as "shrill and loud"), but we don't have the melodies themselves, or at least we didn't when he wrote the book 50 years ago.

What we do have, however, is a large collection of polyphonic masses written by indigenous converts.

What Stevenson suggests is that someday a musicologist with a deep familiarity with mid-16th century Baroque music, especially Spanish Baroque music, could look at the musical motifs in all these masses and see what sticks out as being totally unique. That is, which motifs appear only in the music written by these indigenous Mexican Christians in the middle of the 16th century. And maybe these could have been familiar melodies to the Aztecs who wrote them and their audiences. Maybe they would be hints at what kinds of songs they sang or played before the Spanish arrived.

It may be an impossible idea, but I've always loved the idea of being so familiar with the material that you can look at something and eliminate the other possibilities until you've actually found something new. A musicologist finds a completely unique motif and says "maybe this is an Aztec melody." Or a PhD knows the handwriting of Benevoli well enough to say "no, that's not him," and this is where it all winds up. Fantastic!

Now I will have to listen to these. Fascinating!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:30 AM on March 9, 2017 [16 favorites]


"What Stevenson suggests is that someday a musicologist with a deep familiarity with mid-16th century Baroque music, especially Spanish Baroque music, could look at the musical motifs in all these masses and see what sticks out as being totally unique. That is, which motifs appear only in the music written by these indigenous Mexican Christians in the middle of the 16th century. And maybe these could have been familiar melodies to the Aztecs who wrote them and their audiences. Maybe they would be hints at what kinds of songs they sang or played before the Spanish arrived."

Uh, brb, have to go make a billion dollars so I can endow an institute at a university devoted specifically to this.

I also love that "Copyist no. III" is the unsung hero of the story for his high-quality yet distinctive copy work. It's my second favorite part, after the music, which I am adding to my Amazon wish list as we speak.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:02 AM on March 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


someday a musicologist with a deep familiarity with mid-16th century Baroque music

This sounds like a great project for a machine learning AI, like deepmind.
posted by dhruva at 1:35 AM on March 9, 2017


If they find any Biber works for viola, Kim Kashkashian should record them for max confusion.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:57 AM on March 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Looked into this a little bit one time and was not able to show definitively that Justin Bieber was not his descendant. The spelling difference is not very significant.
posted by texorama at 2:29 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Great article. My CD of the Rosencrantz Sontatas gets the most play of all my classic CDs, and I've lost count of the number of times I've told people about this amazing fellow.

In the Getreidegasse in Salzburg, just down from the Mozart house which EVERY American tourist goes to visit (at least it seemed that way to me) is the Biber house, which more or less nobody goes to visit. I saw it and goggled, and wanted to grab the nearest tourist and EXPLAIN!!! to him what the name meant.
posted by illongruci at 2:56 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


shapes: oh hello. It's not quite me you're looking for, but I can tell you for absolute certain there are people capable of doing this. I also think it's the kind of intuition based on extensive knowledge that humans are specifically really good at - although AI would be a fascinating thing to put on a joint project and I'd be so interested to find I'm wrong.

source: my hobby is pinpointing Western canon composers by their styles (e.g. blind listening and checking guesses). I don't have the savant memory to be remarkably good at it but have a lot of genre/period knowledge and a real interest in what individual composers were drawn to in terms of various musical features. I love that once you know Mozart you can feel the seams in the Süssmayr completion of his unfinished Requiem, for example - the added parts are just less Mozart. I think it's a glorious thing about the patterning ability of human cognition, both generating and recognizing.

I've sung quite a bit of Latin American Baroque as I know a choir director/academic with a research interest in it. Sorry this isn't Biber but I'll see if I can dig out some good links nevertheless.
posted by lokta at 3:06 AM on March 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Thanks for this. The Paul McCreesh / Gabrieli Consort recording of the Missa Sarisburgensis is one of my favourite Baroque CDs. Turn the volume knob to maximum and let the opening 'Kyrie' blast you out of your seat.

a musicologist with a deep familiarity with mid-16th century Baroque music, especially Spanish Baroque music, could look at the musical motifs in all these masses and see what sticks out as being totally unique

In recent years there's been a huge revival of Bolivian Baroque music, spearheaded by Bolivian musicians who want to reclaim it as part of their cultural heritage. There's been particular interest in hybrid works, like the opera San Francisco Xavier with its Chiquitan libretto. Musically, though, my impression is that the hybridity isn't just skin-deep, i.e. these aren't just indigenous melodies with a Baroque overlay, these are works written for (and quite possibly by) indigenous musicians who have thoroughly assimilated the Baroque style. So I would question whether it's possible to separate out the indigenous elements in this way.
posted by verstegan at 5:38 AM on March 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Very cool! Thanks, Eyebrows.

The "discarded paper to wrap vegetables" part is just astonishing. Like, I know musical scores weren't considered valuable back then, but it blows my mind that a work of art would end up being used in such a way.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:10 AM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


The article is great, as is the Salisburgensis—I'm listening to it now. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on March 9, 2017


My teacher always told me that the Bach cello suites were discovered in WWI as butter wrappers. Anyone able to confirm or call baloney?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:17 AM on March 9, 2017


Not the cello suites, although they were not widely known before the 20th century. Maybe another of his works?
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2017


There is a Biber collection of sheet music on IMSLP.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2017


Thank you for posting this! I had never heard of Biber before; the music is sublime.
posted by Lycaste at 11:18 AM on March 9, 2017


Musically, though, my impression is that the hybridity isn't just skin-deep, i.e. these aren't just indigenous melodies with a Baroque overlay, these are works written for (and quite possibly by) indigenous musicians who have thoroughly assimilated the Baroque style.

Yeah, and there's some scholarship specifically addressing hybridity in South American Baroque music that more or less says the same thing (we may have read the same articles), or at least complicates the notion of "purely" indigenous themes, which is why I think it's probably an impossible project. Stevenson's book is 50 years old, and a lot has happened at the theoretical level since then. I know Gary Tomlinson wrote a book about Aztec music that takes a much more modern approach.

Anyway, it's a derail, but I always thought it was a neat idea, even if it doesn't necessarily hold up under scrutiny.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:43 PM on March 9, 2017


Oh, delicious, thank you.

Because the automatic linking hasn't added The Pope, the Emperor, and the Grand Duke, another triumph of music-detecting, I do.

I heard that twice, live: it seemed like my ribs and the vaulting of the church were being opened up and supported by the music.
posted by clew at 12:25 PM on March 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


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