RHEINBERGER: Works for Organ, Vol. 3
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Joseph GabrielRheinberger (1839-1901)
Organ Works, Volume 3
While for many his name may now have little resonance, Joseph GabrielRheinberger remains familiar enough to organists, to whose repertoire he madesuch an extensive contribution, in particular his twenty sonatas for theinstrument. Among his contemporaries he was held in considerable esteem as ateacher, preserving classical standards in a changing world, and some of hisCatholic liturgical music may still occasionally be heard.
Rheinberger was born in Vaduz, the capital of the principality ofLiechtenstein, in 1839, the son of the Treasurer to the Prince. He had hisfirst organ lessons at the age of five and two years later was able to serve asorganist at Vaduz, making his first attempts at composition. From 1848 he wasable to have more formal instruction in the nearby town of Feldkirch from thechoirmaster Philipp Schmutzer, who had been trained in Prague, and gain somefamiliarity with the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. It was on the adviceof the composer Matthaus Nagiller that his father was persuaded to allow him in1851 to study at the Munich Conservatory. His teachers there included, fortheory of music, Julius Joseph Maier, a pupil of Moritz Hauptmann, himself apupil of Spohr and founder of the Bach Gesellschaft. His organ teacher was thevirtuoso Johann Georg Herzog, who had joined the staff of the Conservatory in1850, and he studied the piano with Julius Emil Leonhard. He was also to takeprivate lessons from Franz Lachner, as a young man a member of Schubert'scircle in Vienna. During his three years of formal study he already showed veryconsiderable ability both as an organist and as a master of counterpoint andfugue. In the 1850s he continued to write a varied series of compositions,including three operas and three symphonies, but these were withheld frompublication. His first published composition was a set of piano pieces, issuedin 1859, the year in which he was appointed to the staff of the MunichConservatory as a piano teacher and subsequently as a teacher of theory. In thefollowing years he was appointed organist at the Church of St Michael,conducted the Oratorio Society, served briefly as repetiteur at the CourtOpera, and from 1867 held the position of professor of organ and composition atthe Conservatory, retaining this until his death in 1901. Among otherdistinctions he was in 1877 appointed Court Kapellmeister and was the recipientof academic honours in Munich and abroad. He enjoyed the highest reputation asa teacher, with pupils including Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwangler,inculcating in them a respect for sound classical principles. His organcompositions, while remaining in current performance repertoire, have for longproved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.
Rheinberger's Sonata No. 8 in E minor, Opus 132, of 1882 startswith a slow introduction. These sixteen introductory bars are followed by afugue. The subject contains two elements, the first based on an ascending scaleand the second a gradual descent by wider intervals. Three parts enter, atfirst in ascending order, followed by the final entry of the pedals. The wholetexture is varied by the use of brief interludes of relaxed tension, based onthe beginning of the subject. This makes its last appearance in E major, aftera grand climax over a sustained pedal note. The key of E minor is quicklyre-established in the final section. The gentle Intermezzo is in Emajor. There are contrasting sections in minor keys before a more extendedcentral section in C major, leading to a return of the original material andkey. The lilting A minor Scherzoso leads to the most significant of the movements, a Passacaglia.
The ground on which the Baroque variation form is based is heard first,very properly, from the pedal, 24 variations follow, a triplet rhythmintroduced in the fifth. In the seventh variation the theme moves to the toppart, returning to the pedals in the ninth. In the tenth version it is playedby the left hand, with a varied rhythm above, returning to the pedals for theeleventh. The fourteenth builds to a climax, gradually relaxing into the gentleeighteenth and subdued nineteenth variations, tranquility dispelled, however,with the rapider figuration that follows, the shifting placing of the groundand grandiose chordal writing.
The first of the TenTrios, Opus 49, provides an immediate contrast. It is an expressive littlepiece in G minor, the left hand offering a triplet rhythm accompaniment to theright hand melody. The second, in C major, follows a similar procedure, withthe left hand now offering a semiquaver moving accompaniment to the duple timemelody of the right hand. The third Trio is in A minor, its right hand melody,soon echoed by the left hand, presented over a chromatically descending pedalpart. In D flat major, the fourth, like the first, can be played on one manual,with pedals, and therefore with no overlapping of parts on the manual. Asimilar mood prevails in the G sharp minor fifth piece, in which the left handprovides a moving accompaniment to the right hand melody.
No. 9 in B flat minor, Opus 142, from1885, is dedicated to the great French organist and composer AlexandreGuilmant. There is a slow introduction to the first movement, elements of whichreturn in the final coda. The Allegro moderato presents a first melodyin B flat minor, followed by a second in D flat major and a third of winningtranquility. The three themes then return, in order, with appropriate changesof key, followed by the final return of the first theme and the coda. Thegentle E flat major Romance that forms the second movement proceeds to acentral section in E flat minor with a moving accompanying part, above whichthe melody is heard, before the return of the opening material. The final Fantasiaswings between an Allegro moderato and Adagio, suggesting afree improvisation as rapider figuration is followed by steadier chordalwriting. The B flat major Fugue that follows is treated with somefreedom. The two inner parts enter first in turn with the subject, followed bythe pedal entry and a final entry in the highest register. Before long,however, there is a return to the principal theme of the first movement, woventogether with elements of the fugal subject. Further reminiscences of what haspassed appear amid the fugal texture, giving the sonata an over-all unity.
The sixth of the Trios,in E flat major, is for one manual and pedals. It is followed by a seventh,in A major, its 9/8 lilt unwinding at first over a sustained pedal. Thefollowing short movement, in C minor, uses two manuals and pedals, the last atfirst in chromatically descending octave leaps. The ninth Trio, in G major, isdominated by its opening figure, variously heard as the music proceeds. The setends with an F major canon between two manuals, continued until the final bars,a perfect conclusion to a series of eminently practical short piece.