Joseph Gabriel 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, at which time he
also made 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 music theory teacher there was, 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 his piano teacher was Julius Emil Leonhard. Rheinberger also took private lessons from
Franz Lachner who had been a member of Schubert’s circle in Vienna.
During his three years of formal study Rheinberger showed 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 withheld them from
publication. His first published composition was a set of piano pieces, issued in 1859, the year in which he joined 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, conductor of the Oratorio Society and repetiteur at the Court Opera. From 1867, he held professorship of organ and composition at the Conservatory, retaining this until his death in 1901. Among other distinctions he was appointed Court Kapellmeister in 1877 and was the
recipient of academic honours in Munich and abroad. He enjoyed the highest reputation as a teacher, with pupils such as Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwängler, inculcating in them a respect for sound classical principles. His organ compositions, while remaining in current
performance repertoire, have for long proved a valuable element in the training of new generations of players.
For many the name Rheinberger may now have little resonance, he remains familiar to organists, because of this extensive contribution to the repertoire for the organ, most remarkably the twenty sonatas that he wrote throughout his career. His contemporaries held him in
considerable esteem as a teacher, preserving classical standards in a changing world, and some of his Catholic liturgical music remains an indispensable part of church music today
Although Rheinberger contributed to other forms of music, dramatic and orchestral, sacred and secular, he is now remembered for his twenty organ sonatas and other shorter compositions for the instrument.
Chamber music by Rheinberger includes suites for organ and violin and organ with violin and cello, in addition to music for the usual chamber ensembles.
In addition to two organ concertos, Rheinberger wrote relatively little, with one surviving symphony, a symphonic poem and a small number of concert overtures.
Vocal and Choral Music
Although Rheinberger wrote music for the theatre and a number of secular songs, he is principally remembered for his contribution to church music, witnessed in a number of Mass settings, three settings of the Requiem and two of the Stabat Mater.
Biography selected from Naxos, the World's Leading Classical Music Label.
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