The Emperor's Fiddler  
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatae Unarum Fidium
  

COMING SOON

  
In a new recording, David Irving and Obsidian Records showcase the work of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1623-1680). Schmelzer has languished in relative obscurity compared to some of his colleagues from the 17th century, but in 1660 he was described as “the famous and just about foremost violinist in all of Europe”. A virtuoso violinist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Schmelzer dominated Vienna’s music scene for several decades, and became a favourite musician of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (reigned 1658-1705). This disc explores the lavish sound-world and rich musical invention of the Emperor’s fiddler.
 
The intellectually rigorous recording recontextualises Schmelzer and reaffirms the significance of his music, focusing on his important collection of sonatas, Sonatae Unarum Fidium. The title of this series puns on a dual meaning: ‘fides’ can mean either ‘faith’ or ‘fiddle’. The phrase ‘unarum fidium’ therefore indicates both ‘unified faith’ and ‘one fiddle’, neatly pointing to a variety of meanings implicit in the music.
 
The sonatas included here are not broken into separate movements, but are each composed of a single, multi-sectional movement. Their musical structure metaphorically echoes the political situation for which they were composed: they were dedicated to Cardinal Carlo Carafa in the wake of new alliances being forged in German-speaking lands. As well as hinting at cultural and political unification, the punning title of the published collection also points to Schmelzer’s position as a virtuosic violinist, whose skills were perfectly suited to the sonatas he wrote for himself.
 
The works on this disc cover the full gamut of emotions, from extreme passions and extravagant virtuosity to the most intimate and profound expressions of poetic introspection, with elegant dances inserted for good measure.
 
The Emperor’s Fiddler highlights the use of original-style bows and baroque violin techniques, including the ‘chin-off’ style of which David Irving is a passionate proponent, and strings in equal tension. Schmelzer likely played violins made by Jacob Stainer, the most celebrated luthier in Europe, whose violins were renowned for their fine silvery tone and long considered superior to Cremonese models. Here the sonatas are performed on a replica of a c.1670 Stainer violin; the bow is based on seventeenth-century designs and is short and light, with its hair at high tension.
 
The booklet notes include extensive information about the instruments and performance practices implemented in the recording. The performance techniques and styles have been carefully researched for this disc, with meticulous attention paid to the quirks of notation in the original manuscript. The booklet also ends with suggestions for further reading, emphasising the intellectual rigour behind the recording.

"It has been a longheld dream of mine to perform and record the six Sonatae unarum fidium of Schmelzer, and it is a great honour and pleasure to release this project through Obsidian. These poetic works invite the violinist to apply a wide range of expressive and rhetorical approaches to phrasing, and the style of the repertoire calls regularly for improvisation and ornamentation. The use of equal tension stringing and a short light bow with high hair tension creates some very special timbres, which seem particularly appropriate for this music. With a large continuo group of four players on six instruments, my colleagues and I have been able to explore a large palette of tone colours, bringing new sound-worlds to life.”
— David Irving

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"I am delighted to welcome David Irving to Obsidian Records with The Emperor’s Fiddler. Obsidian has always been dedicated to bringing little-known early music to light, and this disc is a fantastic example of a previously overlooked composer who deserves to be brought to a wider audience. David’s extensive booklet notes, as well as the research and thought that went into this recording, also accord closely with Obsidian’s aim of presenting Renaissance and Baroque music in context, backed up by rigorous academic research."
— Frances Sunderland, director, Obsidian Records