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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

This week's composer is Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901), likely the best-known person from the European microstate of Liechtenstein. Born in Vaduz, Rheinberger showed immense musical talent at an early age and went to study at the Munich Conservatory at the age of 12. He remained in Munich for the rest of his life, becoming a professor of piano and composition at the Conservatory shortly after he graduated and holding the position for nearly 40 years. He was best known in his time as a pedagogue, with students including the composers Englebert Humperdinck and George Chadwick, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and interestingly, the physicist Max Planck. Rheinberger's music was popular in his time; the prominent conductor Hans von Bülow listed Rheinberger among the five living composers he believed would be remembered forever. (Bülow's other four: Joachim Raff, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.) His piano concerto, notably, was the most performed piano concerto in Europe between 1880 and 1890. Today, though, Rheinberger is one of those composers who have remained well-known only in certain musical circles: most organists know his name, as his organ sonatas and concerti are still among the most performed in the repertoire, and he has somewhat of a reputation as a choral composer, but most of his other music has fallen by the wayside.

I've always loved large chamber ensembles of mixed winds and strings, so I've wanted to feature one for a while. Rheinberger's nonet, composed in 1884-85, is one of my favorites. Like most other wind and string nonets in the repertoire, this piece combines a standard wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn) with a non-standard string quartet of violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Buoyant and serenade-like through its first three movements and displaying a fiery virtuosity in its finale, it certainly makes one wonder why so few composers have attempted to write for this combination of instruments.

Full piece:


I prefer this more up-tempo performance of the final movement:

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Andrew

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