Joseph Rheinberger, influential German composer, organist, conductor, and teacher, was the son of the Prince of Liechtenstein's treasurer Johann Peter Rheinberger. His exceptional musical gifts astounded his first teacher, Sebastian Pohli, who instructed him from the age of five. As a child, Rheinberger progressed so rapidly that by the time he was just seven, he was already an organist in his hometown of Vaduz. By 1848, he had a complete mastery
of harmony and had graduated to the piano and organ classes of Philipp Schmutzer, who introduced him to the works of J.S. Bach and the Viennese classicists. Rheinberger's father, who initially resisted his pursuing a musical career, finally submitted to persuasion from the composer Nagiller to permit the boy to study in Munich. He was allowed to settle there in 1851 and the city became his permanent home thereafter.
Rheinberger studied theory with J.H. Maier, organ with J.G. Herzog, and piano with J.E. Leonhard at the Munich Conservatory. By 1853, he was employed as organist at several city churches and supplementing his income offering private tuition. He dedicated every free moment to composition, and during the next few years wrote well over 100 apprentice works; none met with his approval, and they were never published. Rheinberger's four piano pieces, Op. 1, finally appeared in 1859, the same year he joined the staff of the conservatory to teach piano and music theory. In 1864, he also became the conductor of the Munich Oratorienverein, holding the post until 1877.
Rheinberger worked for a while as a coach at the court opera, witnessing Wagner's premiere of Tristan und Isolde. In 1867, he was appointed professor at the conservatory -- a position he would hold until his death. During the same year, he married a former pupil, Franziska von Hoffnaass. Rheinberger was increasingly prone to poor health, but continued to work, almost without interruption. 1877 saw his appointment as hofkapellmeister and in 1894 he was ennobled, receiving the title of privy councillor.
Rheinberger died in 1901, shortly after his retirement. His grave in Munich was destroyed during World War II and his remains were transferred in 1950 to his birthplace. Hans von Bülow, a great conductor and tireless advocate of Rheinberger's music, called him "a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement, and devotion to his subject; in short, one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world." Read less
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