Curating Music History: Sonata Representativa (aka The Animal Sonata by Biber)


The Composition

In the early Baroque era, it was a common device for composers to compose music that imitated sounds from the real world. Biber was one of the best known composers who employed this compositional device across his works, and this sonata is perhaps one of the best known pieces that employs this sort of imitation.

The Sonata Representativa, or better known colloquially as the “Animal” sonata, is a set of musical interludes that are split apart by sections of animal imitation. Various animals make an appearance in this order: Nightingale, Cuckoo, Frog, Cock, Hen, Quail, Cat. Weirdly enough, there is also a Musketeer’s March near the end, although I guess you could list people as animals!

What is interesting is that for each animal there is only the title description and a rough guide of notes. From there it is up the performer to try and coax the appropriate imitations out of the violin. It is an incredible challenge to the skill and the imagination of the player, as most players are not daring enough to make the “ugly” sounds that they have trained to avoid all their musical life!


The Composer

[By Paul Seel –, Public Domain](

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) is perhaps best known as the OTHER composer that called Salzburg home (often living in the shadow of the musical giant, Mozart). He was one of the most talented violinists of the age, and his compositions stretched the abilities of the violin technique. Huge stretches of polyphonic writing, high position writing and even the technique of scordatura (retuning the violin to a completely different tuning to achieve different sororities) were unheard of at the time.

By the end of his life, his compositions were well known around Europe and widely imitated. Indeed, he was named (in the 18th century) by the well travelled and sometimes acidic tongued music historian, Englishman Charles Burney, as THE best composer for violin of the entire 17th century!


The Performers

Il Giardino Armonico is one of the best known Early Music orchestras in the world. In this chamber setting of Violin and Basso Continuo, it is led by the famed violinist Enrico Onofri.

This sonata demands the greatest of skill from the vioinist, however, more importantly, the imagination and the courage to coax the most unusual sounds from the instrument. This Italian group (and in particular the violinist) have all these qualities in great measure, and they do justice to the piece.

This is not a piece where you can get away by just playing notes!


Previous Curating Music History posts

[Curating Music History: A Night on Bald Mountain (Mussorgsky)](

[El sombrero de tres picos (The Three Cornered Hat, de Falla)](

[Oboe and Violin Double Concerto (JS Bach)](

[An American in Paris (Gershwin)](

[1st and 2nd Arabesque (Debussy)](

[Last movement from 6th Brandenburg Concerto (JS Bach)](

[Agnus Dei from Faure Reqiuem](

[Vivaldi double Cello concerto](

[Last movements from 2nd Sonata in a minor (Westhoff)](

[The Typewriter by Erik Satie](

[Children’s Corner (Debussy)](

[Last movement from Brahms Violin Concerto](

[Finale from 4th Symphony (Tchaikovsky)](

[Last movement from “Jupiter” Symphony #41 (Mozart)](

[Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn)](

[Histoire du Tango: Cafe 1930 (Piazzolla)](

[Last movement from Violin sonata 2 (Prokofiev)](

[Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Britten)](

[‘Sonata in d minor for violin and continuo” (Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre)](

[‘Sonata duodecima’ for Violin and Continuo(Isabella Leonarda)](

[Chaconne from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Lully)](

[Alla Danza Tedesca from Beethoven String Quartet Op.130](

[6 Elizabethan Songs: Argento](

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