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8.554549 - RHEINBERGER, J.G.: Organ Works, Vol. 3 (Rubsam)

Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)

Organ Works, Volume 3

While for many his name may now have little resonance, Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger remains familiar enough to organists, to whose repertoire he made such an extensive contribution, in particular his twenty sonatas for the instrument. Among his contemporaries he was held in considerable esteem as a teacher, preserving classical standards in a changing world, and some of his Catholic liturgical music may still occasionally be heard.

Rheinberger was born in Vaduz, the capital of the principality of Liechtenstein, in 1839, the son of the Treasurer to the Prince. He had his first organ lessons at the age of five and two years later was able to serve as organist at Vaduz, making his first attempts at composition. From 1848 he was able to have more formal instruction in the nearby town of Feldkirch from the choirmaster Philipp Schmutzer, who had been trained in Prague, and gain some familiarity with the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. It was on the advice of the composer Matthäus Nagiller that his father was persuaded to allow him in 1851 to study at the Munich Conservatory. His teachers there included, for theory of music, Julius Joseph Maier, a pupil of Moritz Hauptmann, himself a pupil of Spohr and founder of the Bach Gesellschaft. His organ teacher was the virtuoso Johann Georg Herzog, who had joined the staff of the Conservatory in 1850, and he studied the piano with Julius Emil Leonhard. He was also to take private lessons from Franz Lachner, as a young man a member of Schubert's circle in Vienna. During his three years of formal study he already showed very considerable ability both as an organist and as a master of counterpoint and fugue. In the 1850s he continued to write a varied series of compositions, including three operas and three symphonies, but these were withheld from publication. His first published composition was a set of piano pieces, issued in 1859, the year in which he was appointed to the staff of the Munich Conservatory as a piano teacher and subsequently as a teacher of theory. In the following years he was appointed organist at the Church of St Michael, conducted the Oratorio Society, served briefly as repetiteur at the Court Opera, and from 1867 held the position of professor of organ and composition at the Conservatory, retaining this until his death in 1901. Among other distinctions he was in 1877 appointed Court Kapellmeister and was the recipient of academic honours in Munich and abroad. He enjoyed the highest reputation as a teacher, with pupils including Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwängler, inculcating in them a respect for sound classical principles. His organ compositions, while remaining in current performance repertoire, have for long proved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.

Rheinberger's Sonata No. 8 in E minor, Opus 132, of 1882 starts with a slow introduction. These sixteen introductory bars are followed by a fugue. The subject contains two elements, the first based on an ascending scale and the second a gradual descent by wider intervals. Three parts enter, at first in ascending order, followed by the final entry of the pedals. The whole texture is varied by the use of brief interludes of relaxed tension, based on the beginning of the subject. This makes its last appearance in E major, after a grand climax over a sustained pedal note. The key of E minor is quickly re-established in the final section. The gentle Intermezzo is in E major. There are contrasting sections in minor keys before a more extended central section in C major, leading to a return of the original material and key. The lilting A minor Scherzoso leads to the most significant of the movements, a Passacaglia. The ground on which the Baroque variation form is based is heard first, very properly, from the pedal, 24 variations follow, a triplet rhythm introduced in the fifth. In the seventh variation the theme moves to the top part, returning to the pedals in the ninth. In the tenth version it is played by the left hand, with a varied rhythm above, returning to the pedals for the eleventh. The fourteenth builds to a climax, gradually relaxing into the gentle eighteenth and subdued nineteenth variations, tranquility dispelled, however, with the rapider figuration that follows, the shifting placing of the ground and grandiose chordal writing.

The first of the Ten Trios, Opus 49, provides an immediate contrast. It is an expressive little piece in G minor, the left hand offering a triplet rhythm accompaniment to the right hand melody. The second, in C major, follows a similar procedure, with the left hand now offering a semiquaver moving accompaniment to the duple time melody of the right hand. The third Trio is in A minor, its right hand melody, soon echoed by the left hand, presented over a chromatically descending pedal part. In D flat major, the fourth, like the first, can be played on one manual, with pedals, and therefore with no overlapping of parts on the manual. A similar mood prevails in the G sharp minor fifth piece, in which the left hand provides a moving accompaniment to the right hand melody.

No. 9 in B flat minor, Opus 142, from 1885, is dedicated to the great French organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant. There is a slow introduction to the first movement, elements of which return in the final coda. The Allegro moderato presents a first melody in B flat minor, followed by a second in D flat major and a third of winning tranquility. The three themes then return, in order, with appropriate changes of key, followed by the final return of the first theme and the coda. The gentle E flat major Romance that forms the second movement proceeds to a central section in E flat minor with a moving accompanying part, above which the melody is heard, before the return of the opening material. The final Fantasia swings between an Allegro moderato and Adagio, suggesting a free improvisation as rapider figuration is followed by steadier chordal writing. The B flat major Fugue that follows is treated with some freedom. The two inner parts enter first in turn with the subject, followed by the pedal entry and a final entry in the highest register. Before long, however, there is a return to the principal theme of the first movement, woven together with elements of the fugal subject. Further reminiscences of what has passed appear amid the fugal texture, giving the sonata an over-all unity.

The sixth of the Trios, in E flat major, is for one manual and pedals. It is followed by a seventh, in A major, its 9/8 lilt unwinding at first over a sustained pedal. The following short movement, in C minor, uses two manuals and pedals, the last at first in chromatically descending octave leaps. The ninth Trio, in G major, is dominated by its opening figure, variously heard as the music proceeds. The set ends with an F major canon between two manuals, continued until the final bars, a perfect conclusion to a series of eminently practical short piece.

Keith Anderson

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