Opening Voluntary: Trio No. 6 – Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901)
At the Communion: Trio No. 1 – Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901)
Closing Voluntary: Excerpt from Prelude on Lasst uns erfreuen – David Johnson (1922-1987)
Both the opening voluntary and the music at the communion are compositions of German organist and composer, Josef Rheinberger. Rheinberger was born in Vaduz, the capital of the Principality of Liechtenstein, in 1839 and was the son of the treasurer to the prince. A child prodigy, he became organist of his parish church in Vaduz at the age of only 7 and performed the first of his own compositions the following year. In 1851, at the age of 14, he entered the Munich conservatory where he was afterwards professor of composition and piano. Although the original conservatory was later dissolved, at the new Munich conservatory, he became professor of organ and composition, a post he retained until his death in 1901. Rheinberger composed in multiple genres to include symphonies, operas, chamber music and multiple choral works, but is chiefly remembered today for his organ compositions. The anonymous writer of his Wikipedia entry rightly terms his organ works “elaborate and challenging,” and his major organ compositions remain to this day some of the most technically difficult pieces ever written for the organ.
The trios performed at St. Mary’s today are, in contrast to his very complex works, simple in form and not of profound difficulty, but nevertheless individual gems of organ composition. Both are from his Opus 49, Zehn Trios für die Orgel, and as the title suggests, comprise two of the ten trios in this collection. The Number 6 trio, played as the opening voluntary, is designated for a single manual and pedal and to be registered for “Volles werk,” or “Full Organ” as we would translate into English. Although the composition is in three parts, the effect is more akin to that of a fugue and harkens back to compositions for organ of the Baroque era. The Number 1 trio, played today at the communion, is designated for 2 manuals and pedal and to played with a “Sanfte register” or “gentle registration.” The trio in this piece is realized as a delicate melody in the soprano line that moves back and forth seamlessly from major to minor mode and is accompanied by a moving eighth note pattern in the lower register. Both are grounded over a simple, slower bass line completing to the chordal structure suggested by the patterns of the upper voices.