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Henrik Karapetyan & Francis Yun

Henrik Karapetyan & Francis Yun

Twelve extra strings

by Sandor Slomovits

From the February, 2015 issue

You expect a lot of strings at a violin and harpsichord concert--four on the violin and at least 120 on the harpsichord (harpsichords are not uniform, so the number of strings varies from instrument to instrument). But, when violinist Henrik Karapetyan and keyboardist Francis Yun present a program of Baroque music at the Kerrytown Concert House on February 15, they will bring twelve more strings. That's because Karapetyan will play four violins.

Karapetyan and Yun have each recently completed their doctoral studies at the U-M. Both have long performed and taught widely in prestigious venues and institutions, and both are highly skilled on their instruments. But as gifted as he is, Karapetyan does not have eight arms, and won't be playing more than one violin at a time. They're needed because each of the three sonatas by Heinrich Biber on their program requires scordatura, or different-from-normal tuning. In one, the Resurrection Sonata, the violinist is even instructed to exchange the physical placement of two strings, crossing the A and D strings below the bridge, "which is really, really a terrible thing to do to a violinist!" says Karapetyan, laughing. Biber experimented often with scordatura, primarily for musical reasons, as it allowed him to play chords not possible in normal tuning. But in this case, "it's also a symbolic gesture," Karapetyan theorizes, as the interlaced strings visually represent Christ's cross. Biber, a famous violinist of his time, greatly expanded the harmonic and contrapuntal possibilities of the instrument, thereby laying the groundwork for Bach's later massive works for solo violin.

The program will also feature Handel's Sonata in A major and Bach's Sonata in C minor. Both written around 1725, they each adhere to some Baroque conventions, but Handel and Bach had very different approaches to music, and these sonatas dramatically exemplify those contrasting styles. While each uses the customary slow-fast-slow-fast four-movement structure of Baroque sonatas and both have a contrapuntal second movement, the similarities end there. Bach, unlike most

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Baroque composers, wrote out every note for the violin and harpsichord. Handel wrote out the violin part but notated only a figured bass or continuo part for the accompanying instrument or team of instruments. "There is the feeling of more space and relative freedom in Handel and more playful, folklike rhythmic patterns," says Karapetyan. Just as their instruments dialogue, Yun continues the thought: "There's more a kind of seriousness, more worked-out thoughts in Bach, while there is more theater, more special effects in Handel." Then, laughing, he adds, "Handel is Steven Spielberg directing Jaws, Bach is Steven Spielberg directing Schindler's List. Both are great, but there is a difference."     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2015.]


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