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8.570315 - RHEINBERGER, J.G.: Organ Works, Vol. 8 (Rubsam)
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Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901)
Organ Works, Volume 8


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. 19 in G minor, Op. 193, is dated 1899. The first movement, marked Molto moderato, ma energico, starts with a grandiose first theme to which a secondary theme, in B flat major, provides a relatively lyrical contrast. This material is developed before the return of the first theme, followed by the secondary theme, marked dolce, and in G major. The movement ends with a return to the stately opening. The G major second movement, with the title Provençalisch and marked Andantino, offers a melody the first part of which is drawn from Machaut’s J’aim la flour de valour, which forms the substance of the first section of the movement. This is followed by a G minor Agitato leading to a Maestoso treatment of the theme, now in E flat major and then, after a short transition, in F. The theme appears in other keys and guises before a flourish, followed by a slightly elaborated version of the melody in the initial key of G major. The sonata ends with an Introduction and Finale, which starts with an introductory G minor Grave before a con moto G major melody appears, to be contrasted with a fuller texture, marked Maestoso, elements that form the substance of the movement.

Written in 1854 during his student years, with an identifying number taken from his own thematic index for works composed between 1853 and 1859, Rheinberger’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, JWV 16, is one of a set of three similar pieces dedicated to his organ teacher at Munich Conservatory, Johann Georg Herzog. The C minor Prelude leads to a C major Fugue, marked Allegro maestoso, with the subject first stated in the soprano, followed by alto, bass and tenor entries, before the pedals complete the exposition. A contrasting second subject is introduced and combined with the first subject, as the fugue unwinds, with apt use, in due course, of traditional contrapuntal devices, pedal-point, inversion, augmentation and stretto.

Dated 1901, Sonata No. 20 in F major, Op. 196, has the explanatory title ‘Zur Friedensfeier’ (‘For a Peace Celebration’), although no particular peace is specified. Two elements form the substance of the Praeludium, which opens Lento maestoso with what might be a hymn to peace. To this a second element provides a contrast and some contrapuntal interest, as it is introduced with one voice imitating another. The Intermezzo, a D flat major Adagio, starts with the suggestion of a hymn, before more elaborate textures intervene. The A major third movement, Pastorale, marked Andantino, has a melody that reflects the title of the movement, framing a contrasting middle section that starts in A minor. The sonata ends with the grandiose chords that open the Finale, marked Con moto, its key of F major contrasted with the F minor secondary material, transformed when it returns, before the impressive concluding section.

Keith Anderson

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