Rheinberger, Joseph (Gabriel)
(b Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 17 March 1839; d Munich, 25 Nov 1901). German composer, organist, conductor and teacher. He was the son of the Prince of Liechtenstein's treasurer Johann Peter Rheinberger and Elisabeth Carigiet, who came from the Rhaeto-Romanic canton of Grisons. The first to discover his talent was the organist and teacher Sebastian Pöhli, from whom he had his first lessons at the age of five. He made such startling progress that at seven he was organist in Vaduz; he also began to write music, including a three-part mass with organ accompaniment. In 1848 he was taught harmony, the piano and the organ by the choir director of Feldkirch, Philipp Schmutzer, who also introduced him to the works of Bach and the Viennese Classical composers. Although by this time he was making frequent public appearances as a pianist, it was only through pressure and persuasion from the composer Nagiller that the boy's father decided to send him for further study to Munich, where he moved in 1851, making it his permanent home.
At the Munich Conservatory, where Franz Hauser was director, Rheinberger studied theory with J.H. Maier, the organ with J.G. Herzog and the piano with J.E. Leonhard; later he also had occasional private instruction from Franz Lachner. Even in his student days (up to 1854) his rapidly developing talent, as an organist and in such techniques as counterpoint, fugue and score-reading, won much admiration. K.F.E. von Schafhäutl in particular had an important and beneficial influence on the intellectual and spiritual growth of the young artist. As early as 1853 Rheinberger was employed as an organist at a number of churches and also earned his living as a private music teacher. Above all, he devoted himself with great zeal to composition, and in the next few years he wrote well over 100 works of the widest variety; but he was critical of all these early works and did not release them: his op.1, four piano pieces, appeared only in 1859. That year he was taken on to the staff of the conservatory, first as a piano teacher and then in theory subjects as well; in addition he became organist at St Michael and soon achieved some notable early successes as a composer with a Stabat mater and incidental music to Calderón's El mágico prodigioso. In 1864 he succeeded Perfall as conductor of the Munich Oratorienverein, a post he held until 1877; during this period he proved himself an able choral conductor, especially of works by Handel. He also worked for a time as a coach at the court opera and thus witnessed at close quarters the events and feuds surrounding Richard Wagner's stay in Munich, which culminated in the première of Tristan und Isolde. In 1867 he became a professor at the conservatory, where he remained until his death a highly revered, much sought-after and increasingly renowned teacher. Bülow, who was a friend of his and also did much to promote his compositions, said ‘Rheinberger is a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject; in short, one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world’.
In 1867 Rheinberger married his former pupil Franziska von Hoffnaass (1832–92), a socially influential and widely cultured woman who was also a gifted poet (Rheinberger set much of her poetry). Her (unpublished) diary is of biographical as well as contemporary historical interest (D-Mbs Cgm 6338). Rheinberger was now frequently plagued by ill-health; he nevertheless continued to compose indefatigably, enjoying the company of a few valued friends, as befitted his retiring, somewhat melancholy nature. His career was accompanied by many, if not all spectacular, successes which brought him numerous honours and marks of recognition. In 1877 he was appointed Hofkapellmeister and thereby acquired considerable influence on the cultivation of sacred music. In 1894 he was ennobled and awarded the title of privy councillor; in 1899 the University of Munich awarded him an honorary doctorate. He was also a member of the Berlin Royal Academy (1887) and a corresponding member of the Paris and Florence academies. He died a few weeks after his retirement. His grave in Munich was destroyed during World War II and since 1950 he has lain buried in his birthplace. His entire artistic legacy went to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.
Rheinberger's lasting fame resulted primarily from his teaching. Many important musicians and musical scholars were the product of his rigorous schooling, including Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari, Thuille, Sandberger, Kroyer, Trunk, the Pembaurs, Schmid-Lindner, Buonamici, Horatio Parker, G.S. Chadwick and Furtwängler. At a time when young people were pressing towards new goals with a thirst for freedom and a belief in progress, he imparted to his students a sound and extensive knowledge based on the Classical tradition. It was typical of his generous nature that, although he himself disliked the work of Wagner and Liszt and was no partisan of the New German School, he never tried to influence the young artists in his care through his personal views. Bonds with tradition are also characteristic of Rheinberger's work as a composer, which derives from Bach, Mozart and the middle-period Beethoven as well as other early Romantics; he consciously remained aloof from the new currents that developed in the mid-19th century. The strength of his works, in every sphere, lies in the indisputable mastery and the planned coherence of his compositional style, which is imbued with the spirit of polyphonic thinking rather than compelling inventiveness or vivid conception. The survival of his work is thus prejudiced not so much by an absence of links with the musical development of his time as by a certain academic approach and want of lively intensity of expression. Nevertheless, even his best works are only rarely heard: his work remains valued chiefly by organists and Catholic choirmasters. Certainly he produced his most outstanding and highly individual work in the 20 organ sonatas, which are rich in artistry and ideas, but he also made a significant contribution to sacred music, especially in the works written after 1877, in which he went his own way in contrast to the stylistic inflexibility of followers of the Cecilian movement. The wide range of his compositions offers many worthwhile opportunities for the rediscovery of his work.
MS collections in D-DO, HEms, Mbs, Mk, Mm, OEB, Rp, BG
printed works first published in Leipzig
Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger: Sämtliche Werke, ed. Josef-Rheinberger-Archiv (Stuttgart, 1988–)
Orch: Wallenstein, sym. poem, op.10; Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung, ov., after W. Shakespeare, op.18; Sym. no.2, F, op.87; Pf Conc., A, op.94; Demetrius, ov., after F. von Schiller, op.110; 2 org concs., F, op.137, g, op.177; Akademische Festouvertüre in Form einer Fuge mit sechs Themen, op.195
Chbr without pf: Nonet, fl, ob, cl, bn, hn, vn, va, vc, db, op.139; Str Qnt, a, op.82; 3 str qts, c, op.89, g, op.93, F, op.147
Chbr with pf: Qnt, C, op.114; Qt, E, op.38; 4 trios, d, op.34, A, op.112, B, op.121, F, op.191a; 2 vn sonatas, E, op.77, e, op.105; Cello Sonata, C, op.92
Pf: 4 sonatas, ‘Symphonic’, C, op.47, D, op.99, E, op.135, ‘Romantic’, f, op.184; numerous other pf pieces, incl. Studien über ein Thema von Händel, op.45
Pf 4 hands: Tarantella, op.13; Aus den Ferientagen, op.72; Fantasia, op.79; Sonata, c, op.122
2 pf: Duo, op.15; arr., Bach: Goldberg Variations, ed. M. Reger (1915)
Org: 20 sonatas, c, op.27, ‘Fantasie-Sonate’, A, op.65, ‘Pastoral-Sonate’, G, op.88, a, op.98, f, op.111, e, op.119, f, op.127, e, op.132, b, op.142, b, op.146, d, op.148, D, op.154, E, op.161, C, op.165, D, op.168, g, op.175, ‘Fantasie-Sonate’, B, op.181, A, op.188, g, op.193, ‘Zur Friedensfeier’, F, op.196; other works, org solo; Suite, org, vn, vc, op.149; 2 suites, vn, org, opp.150 and 166
Stage: Scherz, Liszt und Rache (komische Oper, 4, J.W. von Goethe), 1854, ?unperf.; Die Wette (ob, 1), 1856, ?unperf.; Die sieben Raben (dramatisiertes Märchen, 3, F. Bonn), op.20, 1860–63, rev. 1868, Munich, Hof, 23 May 1869, vs (Leipzig, 1869); Der arme Heinrich (komisches Spl for children, Bonn), op.37, 1863, unperf., vs (Nuremberg and Munich, 1870); Türmers Töchterlein (komische Oper, 4, M. Stahl), op.70, Munich, Hof, 23 April 1873, vs (Bremen, 1874); Das Zauberwort (Spl for children, 2, F. von Hoffnaass), op.153, 1889, vs (Leipzig, 1888); Lucius Aula (grosse Oper, G.A. Hemmerich), inc., autograph lost, lib of Act 1 in D-Mbs
Masses: 1v, org, op.62; d, 4vv, op.83; E, 8vv, op.109; SS Trinitatis, F, 4vv, op.117; In nativitate Domini, A, 3 female vv, org, op.126; SS Crucis, G, 4vv, op.151; SS Reginae Rosarii, E, 3 female vv, org, op.155; f, 4vv, org, op.159; C, solo vv, chorus, orch, op.169; B, male vv, org/wind insts, op.172; Sincere in memoriam, g, 3 female vv, org, op.187; F, 4 male vv, org, op.190; Misericordias Domini, E, chorus, orch, op.192; a, chorus, orch, frag., completed by L.A. Coerne as op.197
Other sacred: 3 Requiem, b, op.60, E, op.84, d, op.194; 2 Stabat mater, solo vv, chorus, orch, op.16, chorus, str orch, org, op.138; Das Töchterlein das Jairus, (children's cant.), op.32; Christophorus (legend, F. von Hoffnaass) solo vv, chorus, orch, op.120; Der Stern von Bethlehem (Christmas cant., Hoffnaass) solo vv, chorus, orch, org, op.164; hymns, motets, sacred songs
Secular: Das Tal des Espingo (P. Heyse), ballad, 4 solo vv, male chorus, orch, op.50; Toggenburg (cycle of romances, Hoffnaass), solo vv, chorus, orch, op.76; Klärchen auf Eberstein (Hoffnaass), ballad, solo vv, chorus, pf, op.97; Wittekind (F. Halm), ballad, male vv, orch, op.102; Die Rosen von Hildesheim (Hoffnaass), ballad, male vv, brass insts, op.143; Montfort, eine Rheinsaga (Hoffnaass), solo vv, chorus, orch, op.145; Vom goldenen Horn, Turkish Liederspiel, solo vv, chorus, pf, op.182; other choral songs, ballads; c70 songs, 1v, pf, various op. nos.; 30 Children's Songs, op.152
GroveO (A. Würz/R)
A. Hinger: ‘J. Rheinberger’, Jb des Historischen Vereins für das Fürstentum Liechtenstein, iii (1903), 166–87
T. Kroyer: Joseph Rheinberger (Regensburg and Rome, 1916/R)
A. Sandberger: ‘Joseph Rheinberger’, Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Musikgeschichte, i (Munich, 1921/R), 320–30
H. Grace: The Organ Works of Rheinberger (London, 1925)
H.-J. Irmen: Gabriel Josef Rheinberger als Antipode des Cäcilianismus (Regensburg, 1970)
H.-J. Irmen: Joseph Rheinberger: thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Kompositionen (Regensburg, 1975)
H. Wanger: J.G. Rheinberger und die Kammermusik (St Gallen, 1978)
W.D. Koch: ‘Die Messen J.G. Rheinbergers’, Musica sacra [Regensburg], ci (1981), 411–18
H. Wanger and H.-J. Irmen, eds.: Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger: Briefe und Dokumente seines Lebens (Vaduz, 1982–74)
M. Weyer: Die Orgelwerke Joseph Rheinbergers: ein Handbuch für Organisten (Wilhelmshaven, 1994)
ANTON WÜRZ/SIEGFRIED GMEINWIESER