Battalia for Strings - Set

CODE: AP-00409 Set


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BATTALIA for Strings by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) written in 1673 is edited by Joel Blahník. An excursion into sound effects with "Bartok snap bass" and paper over the Contrabass strings to imitate the snare effect of Drums. Perhaps Biber's most "inventive" work! A popular University of Wisconsin String Workshop classic for years. It has been on the WSMA class A list and recorded many times. Incredibly imaginative! String Orchestra. Set of Score and Parts. Grade: 5 Duration: 9:30

Performance Guide is available in Resources Product Tab

Battalia (Battalia_for_strings.pdf, 314 Kb) [Download]


BATTALIA FOR STRINGS (AP-409) edited by Joel Blahník
By HEINRICH I. F. BIBER (1644-1704)
String Orchestra 

UNIT 1: Composer 

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, born on August 12, 1644 in Wartenberg, Bohemia, was acclaimed as the outstanding violin virtuoso of the 17th century and a first rate composer. In his early twenties, he was empoloyed as valet and musician for Prince-Bishop Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn in Kroměříž. He had one of the best orchestras in Europe to showcase his work, After a four-year tenure, Biber moved to the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg, eventually earning the title Kapellmeister, a most prestigious position. His fame continued to widen throughout Europe, where the cultivated courts welcomed his presence as guest artist. In 1690 he was raised to the noble rank of knight with the title Biber von Biber. He died on May 3, 1704 in Salzburg and is buried in St. Peter's cemetery.

UNIT 2: Composition 

Written in 1673, Battalia is one of the more ingenious and unusual compositions of the Baroque era. Depicting scenes from a battle, this composition experiments with techniques not thought to pertain to the musical language until the 20th century, including polytonality, col legno, and other imitative sound effects.
The original instrumentation calls for three violins, four violas, two violins and cembalo. Although Blahnik’s edition utilizes a standard string orchestra and continuo, movement 2 does divide into three violin parts, two viola parts, three cello parts, and a separate double bass part.
This Grade 4 composition lasts about 9:30 minutes and has 8 short movements: Sonata, The Profligate Society of Common Humour, Allegro, The March, Presto, Aria, The Battle, and The Lament of the Wounded.

UNIT 3: Historical Perspective 

Both vocal and instrumental compositions descriptive of battles form a minor but distinctive category of 16th century music with sporadic continuation, mainly instrumental, down to the early 19th- century. Baroque composers cultivated the genre for its expressive potential or for dramatic allegorical purposes. Some of the typical devices of battle are musical rallying–cries, imitations of fanfares, military trumpets or drums, ostinato figures, and lively rhythms set against a relatively static harmonic background.
Written twelve years before the birth of J.S. Bach, Battalia serves as a grand thesis with social, historical, and musical ramifications. Editor Joel Blahnik writes, “As a battle piece dedicated to Bacchus (The Greek God of Wine), it appears to deride the Baroque disdain for war; yet, through the glittering but transparent curtain of sound effects and musical games, Biber’s severe censure of the values and mores of the aristocracy of the period which hired armies and treated war as a royal sport, is apparent.”

UNIT 4: Technical Considerations 

The most difficult technical passage lies within movement 4, The March which requires a violin soloist with good technical facility to perform rapid thirty-second notes in third and fourth position. In the other movements, the first violin part requires extended third position, the cello part reaches a harmonic A and the double bass part is playable in first and half positions. All other parts are playable in first position.

UNIT 5: Stylistic Considerations 

Although innovative in its use of special sound effects, Battalia remains an early Baroque composition and as such should be performed as stylistically true to the baroque period as possible. Bowing of this period was on the string with a placement moved slightly away from the bridge so as not to cover the sound. The staccato of the period tends to be martele, a long sound with spacing at the end of it. Where an eighth note precedes two sixteenth notes, care should be taken to add a very short stop following the eighth note creating a slight space before articulating the sixteenth notes. Additional ornamentation may be added to make the performance more historically accurate. Trills should begin on the upper note. Use of a harpsichord or harpsicord-sounding keyboard enhances the performance.

UNIT 6: Musical Elements 

With the notable exception of movement 2, the harmonic and metrical structure of Battalia is rather traditional: key of D major and common or 3/4 time. In movement 2, however, Biber fugally introduces eight folk songs simultaneously sounding in multiple keys with two meters in nine voices. The songs represent the various ethnic groups forming the armies and the resulting din allegorically implies the cancellation of identity in the chaos of war.

UNIT 7: Form and Structure

1. Sonata
Introduction. A two-bar fanfare motive is played first p (distant) then repeated f (near).
A. Violins play a march-like theme harmonized in thirds With contrapuntal interplay from other sections until
the ms. 28 fermata on a dominant chord.
B. Measure 14 begins alternating rhythmic f calls and responses including an imitative clashing sword made by tapping the side of the instrument with the wood of the bow (note: some teachers have students stomp feet during rehearsals to preserve the instruments).
Codetta. M. 26 The two bar fanfare climactically returns f. The entire movement is repeated.

2. The Profligate Society of Common Humour 

Song 1M. 1 - D major “Cabbage and Beets” – third violin section. J. S. Bach later uses the same melody in the Goldberg Variations.

Song 2 - M. 2 - D Dorian—first violins

Song 3 - M. 3 - C major-—second violins 

Song 4 - M. 4 - D major—second violas 

Song 5 - M. 5 - D major—-second cellos 

Song 6 - M. 6 - D major is 12/8—first violins

Song 7 - M. 7 - G major with ascending passing tone C-Sharps—second and third cellos 

Song 8 - M. 8 - E-harmonic minor—double basses

3. Allegro

A one and one-half measure melody in the first violins is played over I-IV 6-V accompaniment then repeated p. In m. 4 the melody is lengthened to two full measures, again first then repeated p, Though not marked, consider using left hand pizzicato on the open E and A eighth-note passages for a cleaner articulation as well as a more impressive visual presentation.

4. The March

A virtuoso solo violin flourish provides a fife-like part. The bass imitates a drum effect through a cadence style rhythm played in the open A string while a piece of paper is woven under the A string and over the E and D string imitating a buzzing snare drum sound. This eleven measure duet repeats.

5. Presto

An unnamed Renaissance dance in triple meter follows the battle march. Biber’s irony is apparent while the soldiers are marching to war, the aristocracy throws a gala ball, possible to celebrate the impending victory. Social dances were typically danced by one couple at a time, with the other guests around the sides of the room. The people of highest rank sit at one end of the room and the dance was directed towards them.  Presto has the feel of the lively galliard, volte, popular with the young and agile dancers because of the turning and lifting of the girls by their partners on count five.

A four bar lyrical antecedent phrase is followed, in contrast, by a four-bar staccato consequent phrase leading to several canonic entrances of the lyrical theme, two more statements of the contrasting staccato theme and a closing cadence where the rhythmic pulse shifts, in Renaissance style, from half note/quarter note quarter note/half note. The entire dance repeats.

6. Aria

Binary form: A — ms. 5 ends of a half cadence; repeats.

                      B — ms. 6 begins in dominant key; modulates back to tonic; repeats.

This Baroque Aria lends itself to ornamentation. As a start, consider adding a trill to each dotted eighth note.

7. The Battle 

In characteristic battle music fashion, repeated 16th notes create a fury of sound. The melody, similar to movement 1, is stated in tertian harmony by the violins. The double bassists snap pizzicato against the fingerboard to imitate the sound of cannon. Homophonic 16th  notes bring The Battle to rousing conclusion. This twelve-bar movement repeats.

8. The Lament of the Wounded

Biber’s Lament does not fit a standard musical form, but probably draws its material from 17th - century opera. A three note, static, motive occurs canonically throughout the piece as if to emulate double bass and cello countermelodies move chromatically. The piece descends by semitones to its final resting note. For dramatic effect, consider using a same finger shift under the slurred Limiting the use of vibrato, especially on the last note, will add to the somber mood.


Contributed by:
Kirk D. Moss
Assistant Professor of Music Education Valdosta State University
Valdosta, Georgia

Reproduced with permission from GIA Publications, Chicago, IL from Teaching Music through Performance in Orchestra, volume 2, compiled and edited by David Littrell © 2003, pp. 344-349.