Novae Sonatae Rosarii

The cycle “NOVAE SONATAE ROSARII” (2020) by Piotr Tabakiernik (born 1986) has been dedicated to Jolanta Sosnowska. It consists of 21 miniatures of variable duration, and is, up until the present date, the only work for violin which requires 19 different instruments. No other program music of such a substantial amount has been created over the last centuries.
The composer, in commenting on this work:

“these pieces were inspired by prayer, and should also be used as prayer.” I never tried to attain Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s ideal, as that would never be possible. Like Biber, I repeat the same “Ave Maria” from the rosary – just using another language. I hope, the music itself will express more than what is possible to put into words."

“NOVAE SONATAE ROSARII” relate to traditions of the centuries past. This might explain the intentional symbiosis of present (new compositions and composition techniques, new instruments and harmonies) and the past (Gregorian chant, the use of gut strings, playing technique without chin rest or shoulder support). Each section requires experimental playing techniques (example: left hand pizzicato with harmonics sound on the next string, combined with right hand tremolo and interchanging flautando and sul ponticello sounds). Another example would be the frequently used repetition of harmonics, on different strings though and in a very fast tempo. Almost each single sonata uses microtonal scales. Artificial noises and harmonics in general (“half” harmonics and natural harmonics) are usually part of this composer‘s individual composition language.

Piotr Tabakiernik definitely increases the scope of the violin’s sound. One of the aspects he is using is the so called “Scordatura”, a specific way of tuning and even restringing a violin, which was customary in earlier centuries. This leads to a very distinctive sound, but also offers virtuosic possibilities (chord playing, as well as a polyphonic texture), not being possible in a standard violin tuning.

While in Biber’s model the scordatura tunings are not too complicated, Tabakiernik’s extreme use of this technique results in very specific sound colours of the different strings. It is not just the harmonics themselves, but also a couple of “special effects”, which lead us to discover the hidden secrets of the rosary sonatas. As an example: in the 12th sonata –“The Scourging at the Pillar”, open strings chords are to be played extremely forcefully in different directions. In the 13th sonata – the “The Crown of Thorns“, in which pain is described by penetrating high flageolet sounds.

These are the specific scordatura tunings for Piotr Tabakiernik’s “NOVAE SONATAE ROSARII”:

I: g - d1 - a1 - e2 (standard)
II: a - d1 - f#1 - b1
III: g - c#1 - a1 - e flat2
IV: b - d1 – g1 – e2
V: g - b - g1 - e2
VI: f - c1 - a flat1 - e flat2
VII: g - d1 - g1 - d2
VIII: g - a - g1 - a1
IX: g - a - f1 - e2
X: g - c1 - a1 - f2
XI: a - c1 - a1 - c2
XII: g# - d1 - a1 - e flat2
XIII: g - f1 - g flat1 - e flat2
XIV: g - es1 - d1 - a flat1
XV: c - g - d1 - g1
XVI: g - c1 - a1 - b1
XVII: g - d1 - g1 - e2
XVIII: a - e1 - a1 - e2
XIX: a - e1 - g#1 - b1
XX: b - e flat1 - b1 - d2
XXI: g - d1 - a1 - e2 (standard)

This cycle consists of 21 sonatas, they are performed on 20 magnificent violins – accompanied by a Basso continuo – and can be alternatively played with optional Gregorian chant. All 20 instruments have been created by violin maker Mariusz Kacprzak between 2014 – 2021. Each violin has been especially chosen and prepared. Thus, the instruments mirror the especially required timbre and character. At the composer’s request, all violins have been stringed with gut strings. Even regular tuned violins require individually adapted strings. Mariusz Kacprzak’s recent artistic experiments have led to the construction of unique and individual instruments.