Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901)
Biography of Josef Gabriel Rheinberger
During the second half of the 19th century Rheinberger, who was born in 1839 in Vaduz (Liechtenstein), was a major figure of European stature. In demand as a teacher of composition and esteemed as a composer, this professor at the Munich Conservatoire and Bavarian Court Kapellmeister made his mark on a whole generation of musicians. The fact that many of his compositions were no longer performed after his death in 1901, despite their high musical qualities, was largely a result of external circumstances. The change of aesthetic orientation which began about the turn of the century led to a radical move away from the conservative-classical ideals to which Rheinberger – like Brahms – had felt himself committed. It was also a fact that Rheinberger never publicized his own works vigorously.
However, Rheinberger was still remembered as a composer of organ music and sacred vocal works. Although he had rejected the backward-looking precepts of the Cecilian movement, with the result that his works, especially his masses, were not included in the lists of music from which Catholic church choirs were supposed to draw their repertoire, his church music was nevertheless able to gain acceptance at church services in southern Germany and Switzerland. Rheinberger's reputation as a teacher of composition also lived on in the work of his pupils Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Horatio Parker and Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Much of Rheinberger's music awaits rediscovery: The accomplished chamber music, the piano works (including four piano sonatas), the secular choral compositions, the orchestral works, the Piano Concerto, and the two operas Die sieben Raben and Türmers Töchterlein. A change of aesthetic outlook regarding all 19th-century art, which has become perceptible since the middle of the 20th century, has led to a revived awareness of the music of such composers as Spohr, Lachner and Bruch. In the case of Rheinberger this has resulted in the fact that many of his works have again been played and have been published in new editions. Initially there were the facsimile reissues of first publications, which made the original versions available again (the masses, in particular, had hitherto been generally available only in arrangements intended to make them comply with the rules of the Cecilian movement). Since 1987, under the patronage of Rheinberger's homeland Liechtenstein, Carus-Verlag have been issuing, in addition to numerous separate publications, a scholarly Complete Edition of the works of Josef Gabriel Rheinberger. Today Rheinberger is no longer among the unknowns of the 19th century.
Sheet Music by Rheinberger available from Carus