RHEINBERGER: Six Pieces, Op. 150 / Suite for Violin and Organ, Op. 166
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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 ofLiechtenstein, in 1839, and is considered to be theprincipality's most important composer. He was the sonof the Treasurer to the Prince and started to study musicwith a local organist, Sebastian Pohli, at the age of five.
The seven-year-old Rheinberger was appointed asorganist in Vaduz and rapidly began to compose and toperform on the organ. Amongst other works he wrote athree-part Mass with organ accompaniment. Afterfurther study with Philipp Schmutzer, choirmaster in thenearby town of Feldkirch, he entered the MunichConservatory, studying with Julius Joseph Maier andthe organist Johann Georg Herzog, and privately withthe composer Ferdinand Lachner, who had been amember of Schubert's circle in Vienna. In 1859 hejoined the teaching staff of the Conservatory, his pupilsover the years including Engelbert Humperdinck,Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, the American composer HoratioParker, and Wilhelm Furtwangler.
In his own lifetime Rheinberger was respected as amusician and composer without, however, achievingthe highest pinnacle of fame. He was an industriouscomposer, producing 197 opus numbers includingorchestral works, both symphonies and tone-poems,chamber music, piano pieces, including four sonatas,secular choral music and songs. Amongst his sacredworks are a series of Masses, three Requiems and aStabat Mater. He also composed two operas, two stageworks for children and incidental music to plays. Histwenty organ sonatas and other shorter compositions forthe instrument have long formed an important part oforgan repertoire, with their own special place as anelement in the training of players.
After his death Rheinberger's music becamequickly neglected. Nevertheless his Christmas cantataDer Stern von Bethlehem, Op. 164 (The Star of Bethlehem)was not forgotten in German-speaking countries. Inrecent years interest in his organ music has extended,particularly, to his two organ concertos, and to his fineTrio for violin, cello and organ, Op. 149.
The six pieces that make up Op. 150 do not haveany real interconnection, either thematically or withregard to key. The Pastorale, Gigue, Elegie andAbendlied, however, may be regarded as characteristicpieces, whilst the opening Overture and the finalvariations are more abstract compositions. The Overture,in G minor, is a typical example of Rheinberger'ssynthesis of baroque and romantic styles, the majesticintroduction with the violin's arpeggios and pointedrhythms could have been written by Handel had he livedalmost a hundred years later. The fugato start of thefollowing Allegro non troppo continues in this style, butthe pattern is broken by a recurrent cantabile episode inthe major, which is pure romanticism. The G majorPastorale is meditative and inspired by nature, with theostinato bass of the organ and the folk-melodyinfluenced violin part fulfilling the suggestion of thetitle. Gigue, in B minor, quickly departs from the baroqueinspiredand moves on to a section rooted in the major,which almost has the character of a romance, while theGigue itself returns in the middle and final sections. Themost beautiful movement of the set is the D minorElegie, with its melodically inspired feelings ofmelancholy and longing. Abendlied, like the Elegie, is aperfectly moulded miniature in ternary form, whichaccurately describes a particular emotion as deeply felt,in its warmer key of E flat major. The first threevariations of Theme with Variations in A minor adhereto strict variation form. but after the fourth variationRheinberger does not indicate any more numberedvariations. A bridge section with two small violincadenzas modulates to A major and then follows whatmay be regarded as a fifth variation. Following a returnto the theme the movement ends with a final coda.
The Op. 166, unlike Op. 150 is a genuine suite witha logical series of movements and of key progressions.
The C minor first movement Praeludium is yet anotherexample of Rheinberger's baroque-inspired style. Theviolin part is constructed in a rhetorical, discursivemanner and is free of the rather rigid character whichmarks the composer's treatment of the melodic line insome of the movements of Op. 150. The nextmovement, the A flat major Canzone, is also chambermusic of a kind that we do not find in Op. 150,suggesting the slow movement of a romantic violinsonata, with variation in timbre produced by the mutedviolin, the energy of the middle section underlined bythe removal of the mute, thus allowing the violin a freersound. The C minor Allemande follows a characteristicbaroque form, with its four beats to the bar and apeaceful pulse, here marked Andante espressivo. Itsmood, however, is very different, with a simple melodyof purely romantic character. The effervescent Triosection in C major is the culmination of the movement.
Here it is the organ that leads, leaving the violin toaccompany. The suite finishes with a virtuoso Motoperpetuo in C major, a restlessly unremitting piece,which makes great demands on the violinist's stamina.
Until the final chords sound, the violin plays insemiquaver triplets for two hundred bars without rest,supported by peaceful chords on the organ.Mogens Wenzel Andreasen and Henrik Wenzel Andreasen
Translation: Kenneth McFarlan