Advent Calendar Day 4: Rorate Caeli – Rheinberger

Our survey of Rorate Caeli settings now enters the swoonily romantic (not to say sentimental) territory of the 19th century, with this pensive and occasionally dramatic setting by Josef Rheinberger.  Rheinberger was born in Liechtenstein and spent most of his working life in Germany.  And it shows – you can see that he would have gotten along very well, musically speaking, with the likes of Brahms and Brückner.

To me, this particular setting has a pervasive sadness and wistfulness to it – there’s a real feeling of looking back toward a happier past, now irretrievably gone.  The sense of loss reminds me, on some emotional level, of the sort of music written by composers during and just after the Great War – in fact, I looked up Rheinberger’s biography to see if he had actually lived through to the war, but in fact he died in 1901.  I did learn, however, that Rheinberger wrote this piece in 1893, less than a year after the death of his wife, Fanny, a poet who had written the lyrics for many of his vocal compositions. A year later, ill health forced him to give up his post as Court Music Director due to poor health.

So perhaps the sadness isn’t just my imagination…

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