Friday, January 17, 2014

Rheinberger - Concerto For Organ In G Minor Op. 177

Joseph Rheinberger was born in 1839 and showed musical talent early on. By the time he was seven years old he was already playing the organ in the church of his hometown,  Vadus in Lichtenstein. He attended the Munich Conservatory, and after graduating served as professor of piano and composition who most notably taught Wilhelm Furtwängler, Englebert Humperdink and many others. His influences in composition were Brahms, Schubert and J.S. Bach.

Rheinberger was a prolific composer and composed from the age of 12 until his death in 1901. He wrote for all the genres of his time. Most of his works suffered from neglect after his death except for the pieces for solo organ. His sonatas for organ and other pieces were in the repertoire of organists from early on and remained the one link to the composer for many years.

Rheinberger wrote two concertos for organ and orchestra. After the success of Organ Concerto No. 1 In F Major (written in 1884) Rheinberger was requested by organists to compose another concerto. Organ Concerto No. 2 In G Minor was written in 1894. While the first concerto is for organ, strings and three horns, the second concerto adds trumpets and timpani to the mix. The concerto is in three movements:

I. Grave - The strings play a short descending figure that leads to the appearance of the organ. The strings repeat the descending figure, and the organ replies again. Another theme is begun in the strings while the organ accompanies. The first movement is chock full of themes that are played by the strings and commented on by the organ. This is the nature of the entire concerto, as the orchestra and organ seldom conflict but work to compliment each other. The organ helps to fill in the missing woodwind texture of the orchestra.  The opening reappears as a recapitulation, as there isn't a solid sense of a separate development section of the themes, but they are varied in the recapitulation. A short coda winds down the music with a flourish.

II.  Andante - Rheinberger breaks with the traditional scheme of three-movement concertos by having two slow movements back-to-back. The movement begins with the solo organ, but the full compliment of strings soon join the organ. An agitated section of music that includes the trumpets follows. The serene mood returns with the opening organ solo as the strings and organ trade off playing and commenting on the theme until the movement gently winds down.

III. Con moto - The tempo of the concerto finally speeds up as sharp chords are played in the orchestra. The organ enters, the chords repeat along with the organ entrance. This movement also is chock full of themes that are treated by orchestra and organ in ways unique to Rheinberger.  The accented chords of the beginning of the movement reappear as does the organ. Rheinberger varies themes somewhat as the music moves towards the conclusion. Trumpets act as an accent, the organ is mellow and anxious in turn. The chords appear once more as the organ and strings pull out all the stops for a grand ending.

Rheinberger was a conservative composer in the mold of Brahms, which was part of the reason his music fell into neglect after his death, but his music began to be noticed by more than just organists later in the 20th century. The late E.Power Biggs (1906 - 1977) almost single handedly revived the two organ concertos when he recorded them in the early 1970's. His recording was my first exposure to Rheinberger, and the organ concertos have been a favorite ever since.

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