Johann Schmelzer: the Most Underrated Baroque Composer?

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is widely considered one of the most important composers for the violin in the Baroque era, with his innovations in tuning and fingering. It’s hard not to listen to his work without appreciating his virtuosity. But his Austrian contemporary, SchmelzerJohann Heinrich Schmelzer, with whom some scholars think Biber studied, certainly gives him a run for the money. And yet Schmelzer is hardly known even among Baroque music aficianados. It’s a mystery as mysterious as, well, Biber’s “Mystery Sonata.”

Before Biber came to prominence, Schmelzer helped establish the violin sonata outside of Italy. Arguably his most important work is the “Sonatae unarum fidium” of 1664. It was the first collection of sonatas for violin and basso continuo published outside of Italy and showcases some of Schmelzer’s finest work. The English violinist John Holloway has a lively and fresh take on the collection in a 2000 recording. The CD also contains an almost jazzy version of “Chiacona in A” by Antonio Bertali.


Some random impressions of Schmelzer’s music pulled from Amazon: 

“Some of the most lyrical and beautiful writing that I have come across.  You can hear through Schmelzer’s music the basis on which much of Biber is founded.”—Anonymous

“Most melodious violin sonatas I have ever heard.”—Y. Dai “abubblingegg”

“Beautiful, lyrical, haunting,”—Karen G.


“Schmelzer is revealed as a major composer, his violin sonatas exquisite gems.”—Victor Rodriguez Viera

“Intricate, somewhat experimental, and highly emotive expression.”—Alan Lekan

“Great virtuosity, with hauntingly sweet, slow passages.”—Anonymous

“Picks up where Biber left off, giving the sonata a fun and exhilerating Turkish concept.”—dolcissima2780

“Pulls you into the smooth waves of an ocean. . . . Exciting, fresh, poised.”—Dirkk

Some suggested listening:

“Sonata Quarta in D Major from Sonatae Unarum Fidium”

“Sonata III in G minor”

“Polish Bagpipes”

“Sonata IV a sei”

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Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Notes and Commentary

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of the Baroque period, and an important influence on later German and Austrian composers for violin. He made substantial contributions to the development of violin technique and promoted the use and development of sonata and suite forms in Austria and South Germany. He attained a high reputation in a field (violin playing and violin composition) which at the time was dominated by Italians; indeed, one traveler referred to him in 1660 as “nearly the most eminent violinist in all of Europe.” Schmelzer’s Sonatae unarum fidium of 1664 was the first collection of sonatas for violin and basso continuo to be published by a German-speaking composer. It contains the brilliant virtuosity, sectional structure, and lengthy ground-bass variations typical of the mid-Baroque violin sonata. Austrian violinist and composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) is believed to have been one of Schmelzer’s students. He lived from 1620-1623 to 1680.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Books and Music
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Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Books and Music

The Instrumental Music of Schmeltzer, Biber, Muffat and Their Contemporaries
Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011
Charles Brewer
$83.91 on Amazon


Before the Chinrest
Indiana University Press, 2012
Stanley Ritchie
$23.46 on Amazon


“He writes in an elegant, easy to follow style, using terms which a modern violinist can easily relate to”—Stringendo on Amazon

Selected Music

sch-solos Solo Violin Sonatas (2007), 1 CD

sch-sonatas Violin Sonatas (1996), 1 CD

sch-ball Sonatas – Balletti Francesi – Ciaconna (1993), 1 CD

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Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Complete Works

Lamento sopra la morte di Ferdinando III
Duodena selactarum sonatarum
Sacroprofanus Concentus
Sonatae unarum fidium seu a violino solo
Die musikalische Fechtschul

Sacred Music
Ad cocentus o mortales ad triumphos
Currite, accurrite
Die Stärke der Liebe
Hodie lux tua, sancti fulgebit
Inquietum est cor meum
Le memorie dolorose
Missa Dei patris benedicte
Missa Jesu crusifixi
Missa Mater purissima
Missa Natalis
Missa Peregrina in honorem Sancti Rochi
Missa pro defunctis
Missa Sancti Joannis
Missa Sancti Spiritus
Missa Sancti Stanislai
Missa Tarde venientium in honorem Sancti Wenceslai
Nos autem gloriari
O Jesu summa charitas
Sileat misericordiam tuam
Terra triumphans jubila
Vesperae brivissimae de beatissimae virgine et de apostolis

150 suites, vocal works, and Christian music

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