RHEINBERGER: Works for Organ, Vol. 4 (USA RMC Classical Music/ Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.554809)
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Organ Works, Volume 4
Organ of Fulda Cathedral
Sonata No.10 in B minor, Op.146
 Praeludium and Fugue: Molto moderato Poco più mosso, maestoso
 Theme and Variations: AndanteIntermezzo: Andantino
 Fantasia and Finale: Quasi adagio Allegro non troppo
Five Trios for Organ, Op.189, Nos.1-5
 I. Andantino amabile
 II. Moderato
 III. Allegretto
 IV. Quasi adagio
 V. Moderato
Sonata No.11 in D minor, Op.148
 Agitato: Allegro
Fugue: Con moto
Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901): Organ Works, Volume 4
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 Schuberts 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 appointed Court Kapellmeister and was the recipient of academic honours in Munich and abroad. 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 proved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.
Rheinbergers Sonata No.10 in B minor, Opus 146, written about 1886, starts with a Prelude and Fugue. The first of these opens over a prolonged tonic pedal, a sustained note above which the upper parts weave their own imitative pattern. The subject of the following Fugue is announced on the pedals, answered by the left hand, followed by a third entry in the right. A second subject is introduced in rapider note values, entrusted to the manuals before the entry of the pedals with the first subject, as the two elements are combined. The simple theme of the second movement is in G major. The first variation keeps the theme in the middle voice, while the second brings ornamentation in triplet rhythms. The third, in quavers, is succeeded by a variation in rapider notes and a fifth in more emphatic chords, before the E flat major sixth version of the material and a final treatment of the theme that grows quieter in conclusion, after a dynamic climax. The influence of Bach, clear enough in the first movement of the sonata, is apparent in the closing Fantasia, although transformed by the musical language of the nineteenth century. This is even more apparent in the B major Finale, which brings its own elements of tension and relaxation, exploring remoter keys before its reaches its majestic conclusion.
Rheinberger wrote the twelve Trios that form Opus 189 in November and December 1897. The first of the set, in D flat major and marked Andantino amabile, offers a melody of simple charm. It is followed by a piece in B flat minor in which the opening motif in the upper register has a continuing rôle. The third Trio, in E flat major and a lilting compound rhythm, opens with a similar descending interval and is comparable in its gentle contrapuntal texture. The fourth, in C major, offers a tender melody of clear charm with an accompanying part in rapid figuration, and the fifth of the set, in E major, has the pedals entering and continuing throughout in canon with the upper voice, while the middle voice offers a running accompaniment.
Sonata No.11 in D minor, Opus 148, was written in 1887. In the previous December Rheinberger had taken the place of an indisposed Hermann Levi to conduct a revival of his opera Des Thürmers Töchterlein (The Tower-Keepers Little Daughter) at the Munich Court and National Theatre, his place taken by the young conductor Richard Strauss at a further performance in January 1887. By this stage of his career Rheinberger was virtually unable to perform as an organist owing to an injury to the right hand that refused to heal, in spite of three operations, and his health, in any case, had always been weak. The new sonata has the dimensions of a symphony, with an extended first movement that has all the characteristics of a sonata-fantasia in its varieties of mood and texture. The following F major Cantilene presents a singing melody, tender in mood, but tinged with melancholy. The D flat major Intermezzo finds its way to D major, after a slow conclusion to usher in the final D minor Fugue, with its reminiscences of the preceding movement. The subject, announced in the tenor voice, is answered by alto, soprano and bass, in that order, the formal texture increasingly obscured, as the subject appears over a running counterpoint and the music draws to a climax with a transforming D major final section.