Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Organ Works, Volume 5
While for many his name may now have little resonance,Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger remains familiar enough to organists, to whoserepertoire he made such an extensive contribution, in particular his twentysonatas for the instrument. Among his contemporaries he was held inconsiderable esteem as a teacher, preserving classical standards in a changingworld, and some of his Catholic liturgical music may still occasionally be heard.
Rheinberger was born in Vaduz, the capital of theprincipality 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 ableto serve as organist at Vaduz, making his first attempts at composition. From1848 he was able to have more formal instruction in the nearby town ofFeldkirch from the choirmaster Philipp Schmutzer, who had been trained inPrague, and gain some familiarity with the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.It was on the advice of the composer Matthaus Nagiller that his father waspersuaded to allow him, in 1851, to study at the Munich Conservatory. Histeachers there included, for theory of music, Julius Joseph Maier, a pupil ofMoritz Hauptmann, himself a pupil of Spohr and founder of the BachGesellschaft. His organ teacher was the virtuoso Johann Georg Herzog, who hadjoined the staff of the Conservatory in 1850, and he studied the piano withJulius 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. Duringhis three years of formal study he already showed very considerable abilityboth as an organist and as a master of counterpoint and fugue. In the 1850s hecontinued to write a varied series of compositions, including three operas andthree symphonies, but these were withheld from publication. His first publishedcomposition was a set of piano pieces, issued in 1859, the year in which he wasappointed to the staff of the Munich Conservatory as a piano teacher andsubsequently as a teacher of theory. In the following years he was appointedorganist at the Church of St Michael, conducted the Oratorio Society, servedbriefly as repetiteur at the Court Opera, and from 1867 held the position ofprofessor of organ and composition at the Conservatory, retaining this untilhis death in 1901. Among other distinctions he was in 1877 appointed CourtKapellmeister and was the recipient of academic honours in Munich and abroad.He enjoyed the highest reputation as a teacher, with pupils includingHumperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwangler, inculcating in them a respect forsound classical principles. His marriage in 1867 to a widowed former pupil, thewriter Franziska von Hoffnaass, led to the setting of many of her verses, partof a wide range of works of all kinds. His organ compositions, while keepingsome place in current performance repertoire, have for long proved a valuableelement in the training of new generations of players.
Rheinberger's Sonata No. 12 in D flat major, Op. 154,written in the 1880s, starts with a Fantasia. Marked at first Maestoso lento,this has an impressive introduction, leading to an enharmonic C sharp minorAllegro agitato. The original major key returns with the music of the opening.The second movement is a gentle Pastoral in A major, its melody played on theswell by the right hand, which is forced, in the fourth bar, to take one notefrom the accompaniment, otherwise allotted, properly, to another manual. Thisis only one of other possible discrepancies, passages where the composer seemsto disregard the contrasting registration of different manuals, and here, asthe movement proceeds, the melodic interest lies in the upper part, not alwaysdistinct in registration from its accompaniment. The third movement of thesonata is an Introduction and Fugue. This opens Lento with a modulatingpassage, moving from A major to an eventual D flat major, and then, for thefugue, to its enharmonic minor of C sharp. The fugal subject is announced inthe tenor, answered in ascending order by three upper voices, and finally bythe bass in the pedals. A coda, diminishing in volume, leads back to theoriginal key and the triumphant optimism of the opening of the sonata.
Rheinberger wrote the twelve Trios that form Opus 189 inNovember and December 1897. The first five of the set are included in thefourth volume of the present series (Naxos 8.554809). The sixth, in A minor, isa gentle Allegretto, with a running accompaniment to its melody. The seventh,in D major, in ternary form, and marked Moderato, has a moving pedalaccompaniment to the interwoven upper voices. It is followed by an A major Allabreve, in which the upper parts are in canon, the left hand answering theright. The G minor ninth piece, marked Con moto and in 12/8, retains anaccompanying triplet figuration in the left hand, while the right hand and thepedals are in canon at the twelfth. The following B flat major Andantino keepsits melody in the upper part. The eleventh trio, in F sharp minor and markedAdagio, allows the left hand a continuing semiquaver accompaniment to the uppermelody. The set ends with a B major Andantino in 6/4. Here the upper partfollows the lower manual in a canon at the sixth.
Rheinberger's Sonata No. 13 in E flat major, Op. 161, waswritten in 1890. It opens with an effectively majestic introduction, leading toa modulating central section, making use of characteristic features oforgan-writing. There is a return to the key and music of the opening and afinal reminiscence of the principal motif of the central section. The secondmovement Canzone starts in G sharp minor, its upper-voice melody accompanied bya moving quaver figuration for the left hand. A hushed final passage, over an Eflat pedal, shifts to the enharmonic key of A flat major. The third movement isan E major Intermezzo, marked Largo, and with dramatic initial figuration.There are shifts of key to a mellifluous C major, before a final passage,derived from the opening of the Intermezzo and now in E flat major, ending onthe dominant in order to introduce the final Fugue. The E flat minor subject isstated by the left hand, to be answered by the three upper voices in ascendingorder and finally by the pedals, a characteristic traditional practice that isalways effective. The contrapuntal textures are fully exploited, with theinclusion of new material, before all is resolved in a final coda derived fromthe first movement.