Rheinberger, Josef Gabriel

1839-1902

 

Eminent German organist and composer; born at the little town of Vaduz, in the upper Rhine valley. Neither of his parents was especially musical, but the child was most precocious, and at the age of four years showed such aptitude for music that his father placed him under piano instruction, and after two years of industrious application, he was coached in musical theory by Pohly, a retired school teacher, who prepared him for the position of organist in the parish church, the duties of which he assumed at the age of seven. Within a year a three-part mass of his own composition, with organ accompaniment, was performed there. The pedals of the organ were supplanted by a second set, placed where the child's feet could reach them an invention attributed to Pohly. Josef's next study was under the choir-director at the neighboring town of Feldkirch, where, beside his lessons, he had daily opportunity of practising concerted music with the violin, and of becoming familiar with the scores of the great masters.

 

In 1850 the boy was sent to the, Conservatory at Munich. Here he studied piano under Leonhard, organ under Herzog, and counterpoint under Maier, for several years, and after leaving that institution, continued private study under Franz Lachner. He also taught some pupils himself, and in 1859 succeeded Leonhard as piano teacher at the Conservatory. The following year he was appointed professor of composition, and became organist of the Court Church of St. Michael, a post he held till 1866. Maitland dates his conductorship of the Munich Oratorio Society from 1864. In 1865, the Munich Conservatory was reorganized, and Rheinberger was transferred to the position of director of rehearsals, at the Court Opera, which he resigned in 1867, accepting a recall to his former position at the Conservatory, now under the direction of von Bülow, and known as the Royal Music School. In addition to his work as professor of composition and advanced organ-playing, he was appointed an inspector. The growing ascendency of Wagner at the Opera made this, no doubt, a welcome change, as all through his life his unfeigned antipathy to the Bayreuth master was well known. He has, indeed, been called fanatical in his opposition to all new tendencies in music.

 

Rheinberger became world-famous as a teacher, and is said to have influenced the modern American School more than any other one European musician, through Chadwick, his most celebrated American pupil. Rheinberger has been called the best teacher of composition since Hauptmann, being thorough and systematic to a degree seldom manifested by men of equal talent. In 1877 he resigned his conductorship of the Munich Oratorio Society, and assumed the directorship of the Royal Chapel choir. This position he held until his death, which was caused by complicated troubles, involving both the lungs and the nervous system. He was also director of the Academy of Music in Munich at the time of his death. He received numerous honors and decorations, including a membership in the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and in many choral societies of Germany and other countries.