An Articulated Art – Lenten Concert 2017, Part III

A slightly younger contemporary of Anton Bruckner, Josef Rheinberger was nearly as prolific, composing operas, symphonies, chamber music, choral works and a host of organ sonatas. He held several important positions including conductor of the Royal Choir and a professorship at the music conservatory in Munich. He was a composer who often turned his back on popular styles of the day, relying largely on craft and technique to create some of the most masterful pieces of the late nineteenth century.

Rheinberger’s Stabat Mater, Opus 138 was composed in 1890 and is a liturgical follow-up to his concert version of the same text that was composed in1864. Its size and restraint (it’s all of 15 minutes) shows that it was intended for use within the liturgy and is representative of how Rheinberger approached the church music idiom. Eschewing the flamboyant church music of the day (think of Gounod, for example), Rheinberger sought to create works that reflected, in part, notions of the Caecilian movement; a return to the sixteenth century polyphonic ideals as seen in the works of Palestrina. For his part, Rheinberger participated in a liturgical reform that (once again) sought to simplify and purify music meant for the liturgical space.

Opus 138 is scored for strings, organ and chorus; there are no sections for soloists. Despite the economy of means, the work is clearly not lacking in the emotional turmoil seen in the poetic text. In fact, Rheinberger’s work coveys a wealth of emotional styles–from its dramatic opening theme sounded by the men of the choir and lower strings (Stabat mater), to the beautiful duet sections of the Eja mater, to the majestic fugue that ends the work (Quando corpus morietur). Without question, Rheinberger’s Stabat mater is a brief, but brilliant foray into this deeply moving text. Here is the work in full: