Josef Rheinberger

rheinbergerI pinched this beautiful motet in German by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) from the Anglican Diaspora forum, but I have my own thoughts about this little-known nineteenth-century composer born in Leichtenstein amidst the soaring Alps.

Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, und der Tag hat sich geneiget (Abide with us as evening shadows fall and the day has ended).

Rheinberger’s music is certainly classical for his era, easy to play because it is generally so predictable. At least, that is for his organ music. Perhaps this music can be characterised in terms of combining the romantic spirit with classical counterpoint and form. One cannot but think of Mendelssohn, but Rheinberger’s style is definitely personal and lacks the weight and turgidity of Reger. Rheinberger, unlike Reger, Brahms or Beethoven, is not mentioned in connection with the German school of absolute music, opposed to the view that music has to have “meaning” or imitate some other aesthetic reality, but I see him in this tradition.

Does Rheinberger lack inspiration? That is difficult to say, but it has charm, intimacy and beauty. I have downloaded from Youtube a lovely organ concerto, a piano concerto and some chamber music. My music school choir here in Normandy put on Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater last summer.

Rheinberger merits being better known like our own Charles Villiers Stanford in England. I have to admit that Stanford seems to have that much more “punch”, especially in his symphonic works.

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2 Responses to Josef Rheinberger

  1. Yes – I also made much use of his organ music when learning to play, partly because it was not all that difficult to master, but also because it IS beautiful without being pushy. I have always thought of it as ideal “prayer music.” Which is not to say that more sparkly and dramatic music isn’t also wonderful. But old Rheinberger has his place . . . and, I agree, deserves to be better known!

    • Prayer music? I remember an old anecdote from Dr Francis Jackson (former organist of York Minster) about George Oldroyd who said that he never composed anything without saying a prayer. Dr Jackson, with his priceless wit, said – “Yes, and it sounds like it too“.

      This is the sort of music he composed:

      It doesn’t really seem to “go anywhere”… Fine to keep people shuffling up the isle for Communion in a recollected state. The style seems to draw some inspiration from Palm Court music – which is fine for nice sunny afternoons in St James’ Park. Frankly, I find Oldroyd tiresome.

      Meanwhile, here’s the Ladies Palm Court Orchestra doing a nice performance in London in the 1990’s.

      Here’s another one, The Boulevardier, certainly from the 1920’s and reminds me of Charlie Chaplin helping a mechanic repair a big machine in a factory. Great fun!

      And the real Charlie Chaplin bit (from: 57 min 20 s). I love it!

      * * *

      The Ladies Palm Court Orchestra seems to be an amateur outfit, but I find this stuff rather enjoyable, especially while working or doing chores in the house. Here’s the whole playlist on Youtube. The recording quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s fun.

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