Editor’s Note: “The Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple” is one of the movements of Baroque composer Heinrich Barber’s famous “Mystery Sonatas” (also called the “Rosary Sonatas”), a set of fifteen short sonatas for violin and continuo. According to the program notes* for a performance of these works:
The Mystery Sonatas survive in only a single manuscript copy dating from the 1670’s. It is a beautifully copied volume comprising fifteen sonatas plus a concluding Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin. Each of the sonatas depicts one of the mysteries of the rosary and is paired in the manuscript with an anonymous engraving illustrating the appropriate episode in the life of Jesus or Mary. The Passacaglia, generally considered the greatest unaccompanied violin piece before Bach, shows an engraving of a guardian angel leading a child.
As with the spoken prayers of the rosary, the fifteen sonatas have been traditionally grouped into three sets of five: five joyful mysteries, five sorrowful mysteries, and five glorious mysteries. The occasion for which these pieces were written is itself something of a mystery, although they may have been played during the month of October, which was dedicated to the celebration of the rosary. Devotion to the rosary was particularly widespread in Europe at this time, and Salzburg had a Confraternity of the Rosary, of which Biber’s employer, the Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph, was a member. Addressing the archbishop, Biber dedicated his collection “to the fifteen sacred mysteries, which you promote so fervently.”
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*See the website of the Boston Baroque.