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8.557383 - RHEINBERGER, J.G.: Six Pieces, Op. 150 / Suite for Violin and Organ, Op. 166 (Most, Ziener)
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Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Six Pieces for Violin and Organ, Op. 150 • Suite for Violin and Organ, Op. 166

Joseph Rheinberger was born at Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, in 1839, and is considered to be the principality’s most important composer. He was the son of the Treasurer to the Prince and started to study music with a local organist, Sebastian Pöhli, at the age of five. The seven-year-old Rheinberger was appointed as organist in Vaduz and rapidly began to compose and to perform on the organ. Amongst other works he wrote a three-part Mass with organ accompaniment. After further study with Philipp Schmutzer, choirmaster in the nearby town of Feldkirch, he entered the Munich Conservatory, studying with Julius Joseph Maier and the organist Johann Georg Herzog, and privately with the composer Ferdinand Lachner, who had been a member of Schubert’s circle in Vienna. In 1859 he joined the teaching staff of the Conservatory, his pupils over the years including Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, the American composer Horatio Parker, and Wilhelm Furtwängler.

In his own lifetime Rheinberger was respected as a musician and composer without, however, achieving the highest pinnacle of fame. He was an industrious composer, producing 197 opus numbers including orchestral works, both symphonies and tone-poems, chamber music, piano pieces, including four sonatas, secular choral music and songs. Amongst his sacred works are a series of Masses, three Requiems and a Stabat Mater. He also composed two operas, two stage works for children and incidental music to plays. His twenty organ sonatas and other shorter compositions for the instrument have long formed an important part of organ repertoire, with their own special place as an element in the training of players.

After his death Rheinberger’s music became quickly neglected. Nevertheless his Christmas cantata Der Stern von Bethlehem, Op. 164 (The Star of Bethlehem) was not forgotten in German-speaking countries. In recent years interest in his organ music has extended, particularly, to his two organ concertos, and to his fine Trio for violin, cello and organ, Op. 149.

The six pieces that make up Op. 150 do not have any real interconnection, either thematically or with regard to key. The Pastorale, Gigue, Elegie and Abendlied, however, may be regarded as characteristic pieces, whilst the opening Overture and the final variations are more abstract compositions. The Overture, in G minor, is a typical example of Rheinberger’s synthesis of baroque and romantic styles, the majestic introduction with the violin’s arpeggios and pointed rhythms could have been written by Handel had he lived almost a hundred years later. The fugato start of the following Allegro non troppo continues in this style, but the pattern is broken by a recurrent cantabile episode in the major, which is pure romanticism. The G major Pastorale is meditative and inspired by nature, with the ostinato bass of the organ and the folk-melody influenced violin part fulfilling the suggestion of the title. Gigue, in B minor, quickly departs from the baroqueinspired and moves on to a section rooted in the major, which almost has the character of a romance, while the Gigue itself returns in the middle and final sections. The most beautiful movement of the set is the D minor Elegie, with its melodically inspired feelings of melancholy and longing. Abendlied, like the Elegie, is a perfectly moulded miniature in ternary form, which accurately describes a particular emotion as deeply felt, in its warmer key of E flat major. The first three variations of Theme with Variations in A minor adhere to strict variation form. but after the fourth variation Rheinberger does not indicate any more numbered variations. A bridge section with two small violin cadenzas modulates to A major and then follows what may be regarded as a fifth variation. Following a return to the theme the movement ends with a final coda.

The Op. 166, unlike Op. 150 is a genuine suite with a logical series of movements and of key progressions. The C minor first movement Praeludium is yet another example of Rheinberger’s baroque-inspired style. The violin part is constructed in a rhetorical, discursive manner and is free of the rather rigid character which marks the composer’s treatment of the melodic line in some of the movements of Op. 150. The next movement, the A flat major Canzone, is also chamber music of a kind that we do not find in Op. 150, suggesting the slow movement of a romantic violin sonata, with variation in timbre produced by the muted violin, the energy of the middle section underlined by the removal of the mute, thus allowing the violin a freer sound. The C minor Allemande follows a characteristic baroque form, with its four beats to the bar and a peaceful pulse, here marked Andante espressivo. Its mood, however, is very different, with a simple melody of purely romantic character. The effervescent Trio section in C major is the culmination of the movement. Here it is the organ that leads, leaving the violin to accompany. The suite finishes with a virtuoso Moto perpetuo in C major, a restlessly unremitting piece, which makes great demands on the violinist’s stamina. Until the final chords sound, the violin plays in semiquaver triplets for two hundred bars without rest, supported by peaceful chords on the organ.

Mogens Wenzel Andreasen and Henrik Wenzel Andreasen
Translation: Kenneth McFarlan

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