Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger(1839-1901)
Sechs Stücke (Six Pieces) for Violin & Organ, Op. 150
Suite for Organ, Violin & Cello, Op. 149
Andreas Juffinger (organ),
Ernö Sebestyen (violin),
Martin Ostertag (cello on Op.149),
Hartmut Haenchen, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
recording: 1989 - 1990, Capriccio
Suite for organ, violin and cello Op 149
The development of the symphony during the latter part of the eighteenth century meant the demise of the baroque suite, but the form began to reassert itself in the middle of the nineteenth century as a way of drawing together sets of character pieces. Rheinberger’s teacher, Franz Lachner, wrote eight suites for orchestra and several of his own organ sonatas are in fact closer in spirit to this form than to the late nineteenth-century concept of the sonata.
The Op 149 Suite begins with an extended movement in sonata form, launched in vigorous mood by the violin’s octave leap which is immediately imitated by the cello. The material of the exposition consists of several short motifs, each with a distinctive profile, presented in dialogue by the violin and cello, the organ taking a more modest, though not merely accompanimental, role. The music moves effortlessly from one idea to the next and the section ends with a three-note cadential figure played by the strings in unison. The music, having remained firmly rooted in the home keys of C minor and E flat major during the exposition, now plunges into the remote region of G flat major and develops one of the more lyrical ideas. The working out of the ideas in the development section is remarkably lucid and thoroughgoing, but without any hint of the dryness of which Rheinberger is sometimes accused; the music has a tremendous sweep and vigour. A move towards G minor, during which the violin and the right hand of the organ play a duet in thirds and sixths, marks the beginning of the long preparation for the return to the opening ideas. Again this is no mere mechanical reprise, but themes are presented in new juxtapositions and now in C major. After an impassioned climax and a gentle reminder of the initial motif the music winds down to a quiet close.
The second movement, a theme and seven variations, again shows Rheinberger’s mastery of form. The soulful, yearning theme is first presented by the organ and then repeated by the strings a major third lower, a beautiful Schubertian touch. The organ then plays a four-bar coda, which appears virtually unchanged in each of the opening four variations. The first variation follows the outline of the theme fairly closely, but already in the second Rheinberger is beginning to use it as a pool of ideas for development. As the variations progress they become much more wide-ranging harmonically – a collection of short character pieces. The fifth and sixth variations, which run into one another, can be seen as a miniature development section with the violin spinning a long impassioned melody over a pizzicato cello part. After a powerful climax the music relaxes through E flat major but immediately builds the tension again for the return to the home key of G major and the seventh variation, the longest. Brief cadenza-like figures herald the quiet end of this remarkable movement.
The Sarabande is in an uncomplicated A–B–A form, in C minor, with a contrasting trio section in A flat. The organ comes into its own in the Finale where the writing is extrovert and virtuosic with much rapid passagework. The movement makes a triumphant ending to a genuinely original work: a real piece of chamber music for a rarely explored combination of instruments.
Six Pieces for Violin and Organ Op 150
The variations which make up the first of the Six Pieces, Op 150, are possibly even more wide-ranging and improvisatory than those in the Suite, Op 149. The theme is in the manner of a sarabande, with a dramatic interrupted cadence in the twelfth bar, which is reinterpreted in many different ways in the course of the piece. The first variation begins by sticking to the harmonic outline of the theme, but soon the violin’s cantilena is winging its own independent way. There is an interesting change in texture for the second variation, with the violin playing on its lowest string and the organ above it. The third is in the style of a caprice, with continuous semiquavers for the violin and chordal accompaniment from the organ. The fourth and final variation is like a miniature violin concerto, complete with cadenza, ending quietly in the major.
The other pieces in the set are all in fairly traditional forms, in an idiom familiar from his Monologues and Character Pieces for solo organ. Abendlied, Pastorale and Elegie all demonstrate Rheinberger’s ability to spin long and expressive melodic lines, and he thought highly enough of them to arrange them for cello. Even in the simple song form of a piece like Abendlied, he confounds our expectations by interrupting the reprise with new material. The third movement is a Gigue, with a certain earthy, peasant-like quality to it. The adagio of the sixth movement combines the sharply dotted rhythms of the French overture with the rhetorical flourishes of the nineteenth-century virtuoso. The energetic fugato which follows moves effortlessly in and out of passages of contrasting lyricism. The opening dotted style returns at the end to round the piece off in a grand and dramatic manner.