Josef Rheinberger

Josef Rheinberger
Born(1839-03-17)17 March 1839
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Died25 November 1901(1901-11-25) (aged 62)
Munich, Bavaria
EducationMunich Conservatorium
  • Organist
  • Composer

Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (17 March 1839 – 25 November 1901) was organist and composer from Liechtenstein, residing in Bavaria for most of his life. As court conductor in Munich, he was responsible for the music in the royal chapel. He is known for sacred music, works for organ and vocal works, such as masses, a Christmas cantata and the motet Abendlied; he also composed two operas and three singspiele, incidental music, secular choral music, two symphonies and other instrumental works, chamber music, and works for organ.

Life and career

Josef Gabriel Rheinberger was born in Vaduz; his father was the treasurer for Aloys II, Prince of Liechtenstein. The boy showed exceptional musical talent at an early age.

When only seven years old, he was already serving as organist of the Vaduz parish church, and his first composition was performed the following year. In 1849, he studied with composer Philipp M. Schmutzer (31 December 1821 – 17 November 1898) in Feldkirch, Vorarlberg.

In 1851, his father, who had initially opposed his son's desire to embark on the life of a professional musician, relented and allowed him to enter the Munich Conservatorium. Not long after graduating, he became professor of piano and of composition at the same institution. When this first version of the Munich Conservatorium was dissolved, he was appointed répétiteur at the Court Theatre, from which he resigned in 1867.

Josef and Fanny shortly after their marriage

Rheinberger married his former pupil, the poet and socialite Franziska "Fanny" von Hoffnaass (eight years his senior) in 1867. The couple remained childless, but the marriage was happy. Franziska wrote the texts for much of her husband's vocal work.

The stylistic influences on Rheinberger ranged from contemporaries such as Brahms to composers from earlier times, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert and, above all, Bach. He was also an enthusiast for painting and literature (especially English and German).

In 1877, he was appointed court conductor, responsible for the music in the royal chapel. He was subsequently awarded an honorary doctorate by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. A distinguished teacher, he numbered many Americans among his pupils, including Horatio Parker, William Berwald, George Whitefield Chadwick, Bruno Klein, Sidney Homer and Henry Holden Huss. Other students of his included important figures from Europe: Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Serbian composer Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, and German composers Engelbert Humperdinck and Richard Strauss and the conductor (and composer) Wilhelm Furtwängler. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Josef Rheinberger. When the second (and present) Munich Conservatorium was founded, Rheinberger was appointed Royal Professor of organ and composition, a post he held for the rest of his life.

On 31 December 1892 his wife died, after suffering a long illness. Two years later, poor health led him to give up the post of Court Music Director.

Rheinberger in his later years

Rheinberger was a prolific composer. His religious works include twelve masses (one for double chorus, three for four voices a cappella, three for women's voices and organ, two for men's voices and one with orchestra), a Requiem and a Stabat Mater. His other works include several operas, symphonies, chamber music, and choral works.

Today Rheinberger is remembered above all for his elaborate and challenging organ compositions; these include two concertos, 20 sonatas in 20 different keys (of a projected set of 24 sonatas in all the keys), 22 trios, and 36 solo pieces. His organ sonatas were once declared to be

undoubtedly the most valuable addition to organ music since the time of Mendelssohn. They are characterized by a happy blending of the modern Romantic spirit with masterly counterpoint and dignified organ style.

— J. Weston Nicholl, Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1908 edition), v. 4, 85

Rheinberger died in 1901 in Munich, and was buried in the Alter Südfriedhof. His grave was destroyed during World War II, and his remains were moved to his home town of Vaduz in 1950.


This list only mentions works that were assigned an opus number by Rheinberger himself.

  • Sacred vocal works
  • Dramatic works
  • Secular choral music
    • Choir ballads
    • Choral pieces with and without accompaniment
    • Works for mixed choir
      • e.g., Waldblumen (Op. 124) – eight songs after texts by Franz Alfred Muth [de]
    • Works for female and male choirs
  • 12 lieder for Voice and Piano
  • Orchestral music
    • 2 symphonies
    • 3 overtures
    • Piano concerto in A-flat, Op. 94 (1877)
    • 3 other concertos for instruments with orchestra (including two concertos for organ and orchestra)
  • Chamber music
    • String quartets, string quintets, piano trios, sonatas for solo instruments and piano
      • e.g., Clarinet Sonata, Op. 105 in A major
    • 4 piano sonatas
  • Works for organ
    • 2 organ concertos
    • 20 organ sonatas
    • 12 Fughettas, Op. 123
    • 12 Monologues, Op. 162
    • 12 Meditations, Op. 167
    • Preludes, trios, character pieces
    • Works for solo instruments (violin and oboe) with organ


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