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8.570313 - RHEINBERGER, J.G.: Organ Works, Vol. 6 (Rubsam)
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Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Organ Works, Volume 6


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 offered the position of director of the new Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, which he refused, but was appointed Court Kapellmeister, directing the music at the Court Church of All Saints in Munich. Various public and academic honours were bestowed on him, in Munich and abroad, with a papal knighthood after his dedication of his Cantus Missae to Pope Leo XIII. 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 also proved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.

Rheinberger's Sonata No. 14 in C major, Op. 165, written in 1890, starts with a Praeludium in which the opening rhythmic figure retains importance. The movement leads to a fugue, its subject derived in part from the opening figure of the Praeludium. The fugue contains a secondary theme, material that is repeated in the equivalent of a sonata recapitulation before the return of the opening of the movement in a coda. The F major second movement, Idyll, in a gentle 6/8, has a contrasting central section in which the first theme is variously inverted. The sonata ends with a busy Toccata which leads to a grandiose chordal Maestoso, the whole ending in a dramatic climax.

Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 168, dating from 1891, opens with a Fantasia, marked Andante amabile and in 9/8. An Agitato section has two contrasting melodies, the first in D minor and the second, first heard in the tenor register, in F major. The second movement, a B flat major Adagio, opens with sixteen bars of relative tranquillity before the intrusion of more forceful material. Both elements return in the final section of the movement. As its title indicates, the third movement starts with an Introduction. The following fugal section opens with a statement of the subject, already suggested in the Introduction. Unusually, at the heart of the movement is an Intermezzo, based on an inversion of the fugal subject. Polyphonic writing returns in the final Ricercare, with its playful countersubject, and the sonata ends with a reminiscence of the first movement, now marked Maestoso.

Rheinberger's Sonata No. 16 in G sharp minor, Op. 175, written in 1893, the year after his wife's death, opens with an Allegro moderato, its first theme developed before the introduction of a second, material that returns in recapitulation. The second movement, Skandinavisch, makes use of two contrasting Scandinavian folk-themes, and the last movement, with its E major Introduction, returns to the principal key of the whole work, G sharp minor, with its 6/8 fugal subject, in a movement that has its final enharmonic A flat major apotheosis in a Maestoso final section.

Keith Anderson


(Organ registrations of the Fulda Cathedral organ are shown beneath the German notes.)


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