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Josef Rheinberger

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Josef Rheinberger
Born(1839-03-17)17 March 1839
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Died25 November 1901(1901-11-25) (aged 62)
Munich, Bavaria
EducationMunich Conservatorium
  • Organist
  • Composer
RelativesPeter Rheinberger (brother)
Hermine Rheinberger (niece)

Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (17 March 1839 – 25 November 1901) was an organist and composer from Liechtenstein, residing in Bavaria for most of his life. As court conductor in Munich, he was responsible for the music in the royal chapel. He is known for sacred music, works for organ and vocal works, such as masses, a Christmas cantata and the motet Abendlied; he also composed two operas and three singspiele, incidental music, secular choral music, two symphonies and other instrumental works, chamber music, and works for organ.

Life and career[edit]

Rheinberger was born on 17 March 1839 in Vaduz as the son of Johann Peter Rheinberger and his mother Elisabeth Carigiet as one of eleven children, including his brother Peter Rheinberger.[1]

When only seven years old, he was already serving as organist at the Vaduz parish church, and his first composition was performed the following year. In 1849, he studied with composer Philipp M. Schmutzer (31 December 1821 – 17 November 1898) in Feldkirch, Vorarlberg.[2]

Rheinberger as a younger man

In 1851, his father, who had initially opposed his son's desire to embark on the life of a professional musician, relented and allowed him to enter the Munich Conservatorium. Not long after graduating, he became professor of piano and of composition at the same institution. When this first version of the Munich Conservatorium was dissolved, he was appointed répétiteur at the Court Theatre, from which he resigned in 1867.[3]

Josef and Fanny shortly after their marriage

Rheinberger married his former pupil, the poet and socialite Franziska "Fanny" von Hoffnaass in 1867. They had no children. 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 also painted for literature in English and German.

In 1877, he was appointed court conductor, responsible for the music in the royal chapel. He was subsequently 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, Sidney Homer and Henry Holden Huss. Other students of his included important figures from Europe: Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Serbian composer Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, and German composers Engelbert Humperdinck and Richard Strauss and the conductor (and composer) Wilhelm Furtwängler. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Josef Rheinberger. 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, after a long illness, his wife died and two years later poor health led him to give up the post of Court Music Director.[4]

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,[5] chamber music, and choral works.

The former grave in Munich.
The grave in Vaduz.

Today Rheinberger is remembered above all 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),[6] 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.

— J. Weston Nicholl, Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1908 edition), v. 4, 85

Rheinberger died in 1901 in Munich, and was buried in the Alter Südfriedhof. His grave was destroyed during World War II, and his remains as well as those of his wife were moved to his home town of Vaduz in 1950.[3]


This list only mentions works that were assigned an opus number by Rheinberger himself.

  • Sacred vocal works
  • Dramatic works
  • Secular choral music
    • Choir ballads
    • Choral pieces with and without accompaniment
    • Works for mixed choir
    • Works for female and male choirs
  • 12 lieder for Voice and Piano
  • Orchestral music
    • 2 symphonies
    • 3 overtures
    • Piano concerto in A-flat, Op. 94 (1877)
    • 3 other concertos for instruments with orchestra (including two concertos for organ and orchestra)
  • Chamber music
    • String quartets, string quintets, piano trios, sonatas for solo instruments and piano
      • e.g., Clarinet Sonata, Op. 105 in A major
    • 4 piano sonatas
  • Works for organ
    • 2 organ concertos
    • 20 organ sonatas
    • 12 Fughettas, Op. 123
    • 12 Monologues, Op. 162
    • 12 Meditations, Op. 167
    • Preludes, trios, character pieces
    • Works for solo instruments (violin and oboe) with organ



  1. ^ Wanger, Harald (31 December 2011). "Rheinberger, Joseph Gabriel". Historisches Lexikon des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (in German). Retrieved 26 April 2024.
  2. ^ "International Rheinberger Society". Archived from the original on 12 January 2020. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b Jameson, Michael. "Joseph Rheinberger". Allmusic. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  4. ^ Guy Wagner, "A Master from Liechtenstein" Archived 3 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ "Dr Ken Wolf – in memoriam". Worcester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. 21 October 2011. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  7. ^ "Josef Gabriel Rheinberger". www.paracletepress.com. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  8. ^ "Rheinberger: Geistliche Vokalmusik – Carus: CV83336 | Buy from ArkivMusic". www.arkivmusic.com. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  9. ^ "The Complete Organ Sonatas of Josef Rheinberger – Roger Sayer plays The Organ of The Temple Church, London". Retrieved 26 April 2018.

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