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8.557184 - RHEINBERGER, J.G.: Organ Works, Vol. 5 (Rubsam)
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Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)

Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)

Organ Works, Volume 5


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, who, as a young man, had been 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 marriage in 1867 to a widowed former pupil, the writer Franziska von Hoffnaass, led to the setting of many of her verses, part of a wide range of works of all kinds. His organ compositions, while keeping some place in current performance repertoire, have for long proved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.


Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 12 in D flat major, Op. 154, written in the 1880s, starts with a Fantasia. Marked at first Maestoso lento, this has an impressive introduction, leading to an enharmonic C sharp minor Allegro agitato. The original major key returns with the music of the opening. The second movement is a gentle Pastoral in A major, its melody played on the swell by the right hand, which is forced, in the fourth bar, to take one note from the accompaniment, otherwise allotted, properly, to another manual. This is only one of other possible discrepancies, passages where the composer seems to disregard the contrasting registration of different manuals, and here, as the movement proceeds, the melodic interest lies in the upper part, not always distinct in registration from its accompaniment. The third movement of the sonata is an Introduction and Fugue. This opens Lento with a modulating passage, moving from A major to an eventual D flat major, and then, for the fugue, to its enharmonic minor of C sharp. The fugal subject is announced in the tenor, answered in ascending order by three upper voices, and finally by the bass in the pedals. A coda, diminishing in volume, leads back to the original key and the triumphant optimism of the opening of the sonata.


Rheinberger wrote the twelve Trios that form Opus 189 in November and December 1897. The first five of the set are included in the fourth volume of the present series (Naxos 8.554809). The sixth, in A minor, is a gentle Allegretto, with a running accompaniment to its melody. The seventh, in D major, in ternary form, and marked Moderato, has a moving pedal accompaniment to the interwoven upper voices. It is followed by an A major Alla breve, in which the upper parts are in canon, the left hand answering the right. The G minor ninth piece, marked Con moto and in 12/8, retains an accompanying triplet figuration in the left hand, while the right hand and the pedals are in canon at the twelfth. The following B flat major Andantino keeps its melody in the upper part. The eleventh trio, in F sharp minor and marked Adagio, allows the left hand a continuing semiquaver accompaniment to the upper melody. The set ends with a B major Andantino in 6/4. Here the upper part follows the lower manual in a canon at the sixth.


Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 13 in E flat major, Op. 161, was written in 1890. It opens with an effectively majestic introduction, leading to a modulating central section, making use of characteristic features of organ-writing. There is a return to the key and music of the opening and a final reminiscence of the principal motif of the central section. The second movement Canzone starts in G sharp minor, its upper-voice melody accompanied by a moving quaver figuration for the left hand. A hushed final passage, over an E flat pedal, shifts to the enharmonic key of A flat major. The third movement is an E major Intermezzo, marked Largo, and with dramatic initial figuration. There are shifts of key to a mellifluous C major, before a final passage, derived from the opening of the Intermezzo and now in E flat major, ending on the dominant in order to introduce the final Fugue. The E flat minor subject is stated by the left hand, to be answered by the three upper voices in ascending order and finally by the pedals, a characteristic traditional practice that is always effective. The contrapuntal textures are fully exploited, with the inclusion of new material, before all is resolved in a final coda derived from the first movement.


Keith Anderson

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