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A Personal View of Rheinberger.

 

With his monumental series of twenty organ-sonatas (the last only published a few weeks ago) Rheinberger enriched organ-literature to an incalculable extent. The predominating characteristics of his sonatas are a happy blending of the modern romantic spirit with masterly counterpoint and a noble and dignified organ-style; and, as examples of perfect form, these organ-sonatas are unrivaled. Movements of wonderful beauty and lofty inspiration are to be found in each one of them, and it is a real joy to the earnest and conscientious organist to study and assimilate these fine examples of musical art.

All Rheinberger’s pupils stood in profound awe of him; respect mingled with admiration was the prevailing sentiment he inspired. Perfectly simple, honest, and straightforward,—sparing not himself,—he expected everyone to be the same, and any lack of effort on the part of a student called forth his severest censure. This was most noticeable in his organ-class, which was very select, containing only four students. He expected, and in fact demanded, that a student should be technically perfect in an organ-piece before playing it for him. Rheinberger’s four organ-students—two Germans, an American, and an Englishman (the writer)—had to work very hard and conscientiously to satisfy the doctor. At a technical blunder the professor would frown, and if later in the lesson the same mistake occurred he would expostulate. Once from nervousness or perhaps lack of sufficient preparation a student made the same mistake three times during the playing of a Rheinberger sonata; the result was that the lesson came to a violent stop, and the unfortunate student left the Conservatorium in a very unenviable state of mind.

As one would expect, Rheinberger’s idea of the greatest in organ-music is Bach, given with broad and noble delivery. The many changes of manual affected by some modern organists and arrangers of Bach’s music he strongly deprecated. Once when the present writer suggested changes of manual to add variety to a performance of a Bach fugue, Rheinberger said: “This fugue can be compared to a noble and beautifully finished piece of architecture complete in itself, and unnecessary changes can only have a weakening and degrading effect.” Rheinberger had a great horror of the “ugly” in music; any straining after effect he strongly condemned. Another time the writer played a very modern prelude out of curiosity to see how the doctor would take it. The effect upon him was curious; he kept up an accompaniment of sighs and groans all through the performance, and, when the music (?) had finished, he turned and said: “That to me is like a man delivering an elaborate oration in an unknown tongue.” The primary consideration in music he said “is that it shall be beautiful; music that does not sound beautiful has no attraction for me.”—J. W. Nicholl, in Musical Opinion.

 

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