Rheinberger & Bach

There is an abundance of music for instruments and keyboard available to be performed. The music of J.S. Bach, in particular, is performed and recorded frequently, and for good reason—most of it is pure loveliness. Partnered with the compositions of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, along with the remainder of the 19th century, as well as the entire 20th and 21st centuries, there is a vast catalog of music for chamber music involving harpsichord and piano.
    Music for organ and strings, however, is somewhat rarified: the works that exist are entirely praiseworthy and performable; that being said, being obscure makes them less well-known to audiences, which in turn makes them a little more risky to program. Nevertheless, along with the sublime Sonata for Violin and Continuo No. 1 by Bach, Micah Ganger, Damian Kremer and I recorded two works by Josef Rheinberger that deserves more; accordingly, two principals from
  • Rheinberger & Bach—a concert of chamber music for organ and strings by J. S. Bach and Josef Rheinberger

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the Charleston Symphony and I decided to give Rheinberger's music what exposure we could.
    The pieces on these CDs were recorded in real time on February 12, 2017 at St. John the Be­lov­ed Church in Summerville, South Carolina.
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Johann Sebastian Bach

Sonate, h-Moll, BWV 1014
1. Adagio
2. Allegro
3. Andante
4. Allegro
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J. S. Bach spent most of his career as a church musician, cranking out a prodigious quantity of cantatas, oratorios, passions, and organ music to meet the inexorable demands of the liturgical calendar. But his contemporaries knew him best as a virtuoso on the organ and harpsichord. By all ac­counts, his keyboard technique was extraordinarily e­co­no­mi­cal. “Bach is said to have played with so easy and small a mo­tion of the fingers that it was hardly perceptible,” wrote his biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel. In addition, the com-
work­ing out intricate passages on his fine violin by Jacob Stainer, a leading violin maker of the Baroque period. Bach’s pro­fi­ciency on both string and keyboard instruments proved useful when he became director of the Leipzig col-
  • Bach's MSS first page of the Sonate für Violino und Continuo in H-moll.

poser learned to play the violin as a child-probably from his father, a town piper in Eisenach-and kept it up for the rest of his life.
    Bach was in his early 30s and already enjoyed widespread renown as an organist when he accepted an appointment as Kapellmeister, or director of music, to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen in 1717. The young composer felt lucky to be in the employ of “a gracious Prince who both loved and knew music.” It was during his six happy years in Köthen that Bach wrote much of his most beloved instrumental music, in­clu­ding the Six “Brandenburg” Concertos, the four orchestral suites, the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the solo suites and sonatas for unaccompanied violin and cello, and the six sonatas for violin and keyboard, BWV 1014–1019.
    Bach’s early chamber music for violin was no doubt written for a member of the small but excellent court orchestra at Köthen. Although Bach himself, according to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, played the violin “clearly and penetratingly,” it is questionable whether his technique was equal to the daun­ting challenges posed by his own music for the in­stru­ment. One can easily imagine, however, the composer
legium musicum in 1729 and began presenting regular concerts of secular music to a The Sonate für Violino und Continuo were probably composed in Cöthen (1717–1723); the first, played here, is compositional trickery: it is, in fact, a trio sonata. Whereas the traditional trio sonata is scored for two violins, harpsichord and violoncello or viola da gamba—four players in a trio—Bach taxes the keyboardist by not using the right hand to realize the figured bass into chords, but as an independent melodic line; the right hand, for all intents and purposes, is the second violin. The resulting texture is open and airy and distinct from the sound of four instruments; it feigns four with only three.
    The opening "Lamentoso" is also an unusual feature in its key of B-minor, thereby allowing Bach full use of the harpsichord, since the lowest note on a German instrument of the time is tunable to low B. The sighing figures and dissonances create a mood of sadness and weeping. The second movement is a lively dance in cut time; its A-B-A form emphasizes the symmetry of the form and the theme. The third movement, with its walking bass, is an ideal contrast between the dance in cut time and the sprightly triple meter jaunt concluding the movement and the work. It is a completely unique and satisfying piece that is too rarely heard.
Josef Gabriel Rheinberger
  • Portrait of Josef Rheinberger by an unknown photographer, 1895. [ÖNB Bildarchiv und Grafiksammlung, Pf 10147: D(2)]

Josef Gabriel Rheinberger is an underrated composer of organ, chamber, vocal and orchestral music that is pure high Romanticism in its affect. His two suites—Opus 166 for violin and organ and Opus 149 for violin, cello and organ—are master-
works of instrumental writing.
    The Suite for Violin and Organ, Opus 166, begins with a stately Prelude that alternates melodic writing
between the instruments. At times the organ provides simple accompaniments, while at others it plays a more important role. Movement two, a "Canzone," has the violin playing almost always with the mute, and is quite slow—making the movement quiet and song-like.
    Movement three is an "Allemande" with a trio in the middle where the organ is more prominent, bookended by sections where violin and organ engage in melodic dialogue, ending in a strong, solemn conclusion. Movement four is a "Perpetuo moto" for the violin: a tour de force for the soloist accompanied by simple harmonies on the organ.
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1. Präludium
2. Canzone
3. Allemande
4. Moto perpetuo
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The Suite for Violin, Cello and Organ, Opus 149, begins with a movement marked Con moto and is an excellent example of sonata-allegro form, with an extended development surrounded by sections that develop two main, contrasting themes. Its quiet end prepares us for the slow movement, which is a Theme and Variations in a slow duple meter that switches to a triple section midway. Movement four—Micah’s favorite—is a stately Sarabande, a triple meter courtly dance with a trio section similar to movement three of Opus 166.
    The fourth movement is the most prominent for the organ with virtuoso writing that is more or less accompanied with melodies and punctuated figures that enhance the organ part. It is a modified Rondo, with the opening measures repeated throughout the movement, followed by a stirring coda and an ending that is an descending chromatic scale enhanced with dotted figures in the strings—creating a stirring and fitting end to this magnificent and substantial work. It is better known than Opus 166, even though Rheinberger’s other music for organ and strings is equally vibrant and well-crafted.
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1. Con moto
2. Thema mit Veränderungen
3. Sarabande
4. Finale
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