Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (12 August 1644 (baptized) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. Born in the small Bohemian town of Wartenberg (Stráž pod Ralskem), Biber worked at Graz and Kroměříž before he illegally left his Kremsier (Kroměříž) employer (Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno) and settled in Salzburg. He remained there for the rest of his life, publishing much of his music but apparently seldom, if ever, giving concert tours.
Biber was one of the most important composers for the violin in the history of the instrument. His technique allowed him to easily reach the 6th and 7th positions, employ multiple stops in intricate polyphonic passages, and explore the various possibilities of scordatura tuning. He also wrote one of the earliest known pieces for solo violin, the monumental passacaglia of the Mystery Sonatas. During Biber’s lifetime, his music was known and imitated throughout Europe. In the late 18th century he was named the best violin composer of the 17th century by music historian Charles Burney. In the late 20th century Biber’s music, especially the Mystery Sonatas, enjoyed a renaissance. Today, it is widely performed and recorded.
The sonatas were dedicated to Maximilian Gandolph von Khuenburg, whom Biber addresses in the preface: “I have consecrated the whole to the honour of the XV Sacred Mysteries, which you promote so strongly.” Although unpublished during the composer’s lifetime, these works are his most popular pieces today, and one of the reasons for the revival of interest in his music. The entire set has been recorded by numerous violinists such as John Holloway, Andrew Manze, and many others. Sonata 15 is famous for one of its themes, which matches the theme of Paganini‘s Caprice No. 24 almost exactly; it is possible that Paganini was inspired by Biber, just as Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff were later inspired by Paganini’s Caprice.