Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, whose father was the treasurer for Aloys II, Prince of Liechtenstein, showed exceptional musical talent at an early age. At only seven years of age he was already serving as organist of the Vaduz parish church, and his first composition was performed the following year.
In 1851, his father, who had initially been resistant to his son's desire to pursue a musical career, allowed him to enter the Munich Conservatorium, where he later became professor of piano and subsequently professor of composition. When this first version of the Munich Conservatorium was dissolved he was appointed répétiteur at the Court Theatre, from which he resigned in 1867.
Rheinberger married his former pupil, the poetess and socialite Franziska von Hoffnaass (eight years his senior) in 1867. The couple remained childless, but the marriage was happy. Franziska wrote the texts for much of her husband's vocal work.
The stylistic influences on Rheinberger ranged from contemporaries such as Brahms to composers from earlier times, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert and, above all, Bach. He was also an enthusiast for painting and literature (especially English and German).
In 1877 he was appointed court conductor, responsible for the music in the royal chapel. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. A distinguished teacher, he numbered many Americans among his pupils, including Horatio Parker, William Berwald, George Whitefield Chadwick, Bruno Klein and Henry Holden Huss. Other pupils of his included important figures from Europe: Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and German composers Engelbert Humperdinck and Wilhelm Furtwängler (the latter much better known as a conductor). When the second (and present) Munich Conservatorium was founded, Rheinberger was appointed Royal Professor of organ and composition, a post he held for the rest of his life.
On 31 December 1892 his wife died, after suffering a long illness. Two years later, poor health led him to give up the post of Court Music Director.
Rheinberger was a prolific composer. His religious works include twelve Masses (one for double chorus, three for four voices a cappella, three for women's voices and organ, two for men's voices and one with orchestra), a Requiem and a Stabat Mater. His other works include several operas, symphonies, chamber music, and choral works.
Today he is remembered primarily for his elaborate and challenging organ compositions; these include two concertos, 20 sonatas in 20 different keys (of a projected set of 24 sonatas in all the keys), 22 trios, and 36 solo pieces. His organ sonatas were once declared to be
undoubtedly the most valuable addition to organ music since the time of Mendelssohn. They are characterized by a happy blending of the modern Romantic spirit with masterly counterpoint and dignified organ style.
- Rheinberger: Missae et Cantiones, Wolfgang Schäfer Choir Director, Edgar Krapp Organ, Klaus Mertens Baritone, Frankfurter Kantorei, Carus-Verlag 1998
- Rheinberger: Organ Sonatas Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 16, 17, 19, 20: Bruce Stevens, organ; Raven Recordings; 4 CDs
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- Jameson, Michael. "Joseph Rheinberger". Allmusic. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Percy Goetschius, Masters of the Symphony (Boston: Ditson, 1929, 331) wrote that Rheinberger "is celebrated mainly for his organ works ... He composed only two Symphonies: No. I, Wallenstein, D minor, in the usual four Movements, but tracing a definite program, as indicated by the given titles; and No. II, Op. 87, the Florentine."
- "Dr Ken Wolf – in memoriam". Worcester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- This article incorporates text from a publication that prior to 1923, is in the public domain: The Etude (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser Company)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- The Musical Times
- Free scores by Josef Rheinberger at the International Music Score Library Project
- e-Partitions Newly edited and typeset organ scores.
- Free scores by Josef Rheinberger in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
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