Hearing Heinrich and thinking about #coachlearninginsport


Introducing Heinrich

I listened to ABC Classic FM on my drive from Braidwood to Canberra this morning. By the time I reached the Hume Highway, Christopher Lawrence’s Mornings program had started. He introduced me to Heinrich Biber through Battalia à 10 (written in 1673).
One biographical note about Heinrich observes that he “was a Bohemian seventeenth century violin virtuoso and a prominent composer whose wildly experimental works were unknown until the twentieth century” (my emphasis). The same note records that his cycle of Mystery Sonatas (1676) for solo violin sonatas use special tunings (scordatura) for the instrument, and “elements of collage and polytonality appear in his orchestral Battalia (1673)”.
I was not aware of all this on the Hume Highway but there was something about Battalia à 10 that made me think about virtuosity, understanding and being ahead of your time. Peter Holman (1994) helped me understand just how far Heinrich was ahead. For example:

  • Scordatura was used by other composers but “Biber took the idea further than anyone else” in order to “make available chord combinations that would be difficult or impossible in normal tuning”.
  • The use of discordant voices in Battalia à 10 combined “a number of popular tunes in a startling anticipation of Charles Ives“. (Charles Ives started composing in the late 1890s in the United States of America.)

Peter says of Heinrich ” we can now see that he was a great composer who occupied a position in Austrian musical life not dissimilar to that enjoyed in England by Henry Purcell”. (1994:441).


I found it interesting that Christopher Lawrence and Peter Holman linked Heinrich to Charles Ives. The wikipedia account of Charles’ life notes:

Ives’s music was largely ignored during his lifetime, particularly during the years in which he actively composed. Many of his published works went unperformed even many years after his death in 1954.

This connection added to my interest in Heinrich’s work. Heinrich was a performing violinist as well as a composer. He was regarded as an outstanding violinist of his generation (Gilman, 1977). The connection between playing and composing raises the question of tuning … and perhaps coaching.
Scordatura was intended to make passages easier to play and vary the tone-colour of instruments. Kurt Gilman (1977) points out that “most scordatura compositions are difficult to play by other than experienced violinists” … “and even they may encounter some confusion”.


Thank you for staying with the story this far. The #coachlearninginsport connection?
Heinrich (and Charles) are ahead of their times. Heinrich integrates his understanding as a virtuoso violinist and composer to transform the technology of his time to bring about changes in performance. The changes are so profound that they are comprehended centuries later.
Most coaches have contracts in years rather than centuries. Heinrich stayed in Salzburg for much of his music life. He had time to flourish.
I am really attracted to scordatura as a metaphor for the modulation of pedagogy. Expert coaches are able to adapt to circumstances as well as providing the framework for performance. They simplify the complex.
A second characteristic of scordatura is to “vary the tone-colour of instruments”. I wonder if this is what coaches do with players. They invite them to transform performance intensity with subtle changes to learning environments.
I like the idea that performers and coaches can “encounter some confusion” in doing this.

Learning a new language

Fortunately, the Hume Highway was long enough for me to hear the whole of Battalia à 10. Heinrich is Christopher Lawrence’s composer of the week on his ABC Classic FM program.
I am delighted they have given me the opportunity to connect musicology and pedagogy as I explore the language we use to discuss coach learning. I will need to learn more about the language of baroque music and contemplate listening to Charles Ives too.
Imagine having a coach education course that connects Heinrich and Charles to trigger discussions about the science, art and musicality of coaching. Do we have an equivalent of scordatura?

Photo Credits

Saltzburg (AudreyR, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Violin (Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0)
Sharing a story (Ron Cogswell, CC BY 2.0)
Hume Highway (Bentley Smith, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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