|About this Recording
8.223194 - RAFF: Aus Thuringen / Italian Suite
Musical reputations are fragile. Joachim Raff is now remembered principally as the composer of a Cavatina, a salon piece, and as an assistant to Liszt in Weimar, little more than a foot-note in the history of the symphonic poem. In his own time he enjoyed a very considerable renown, justified, it seemed, by a prolific talent and by his distinction as a teacher.
Raff was born in Lachen, near Zurich, in 1822. His father had taken refuge in Switzerland, leaving Wuerttemberg to avoid conscription into the French army. Raff's early education was at Wiesenstetten, in Wuerttemberg, followed by a period of teacher training at the Jesuit Gymnasium in Schwyz, where he won prizes in Latin, German, and Mathematics. Thereafter he took employment as a school-master, while working hard at his private studies in music. Mendelssohn, whom he had approached, recommended him to the attention of the Leipzig publishers Breitkopf and Haertel, who issued sets of his piano pieces in 1844, the year in which the young composer resolved to try his luck in Zurich.
Raff's contact with Liszt began in 1845, when he walked to Basle to hear the latter play. He then accompanied Liszt on his concert tour, and followed this, through the agency of Liszt, with work in Cologne, in part as a critic and less significantly in a music shop. He then moved to Stuttgart, where he met Hans von Buelow, who remained a close friend in the years that followed, and Mendelssohn, accepting the latter's offer to teach him in Leipzig. Von Buelow, meanwhile, took Raff's Concertstueck for piano and orchestra into his repertoire, something that was of material assistance in furthering his reputation. The death of Mendelssohn in 1847 allowed Liszt a further exercise of patronage, in securing him work in Hamburg as arranger for a music publisher.
In 1850 Raff moved to Weimar, where Liszt was now installed as Music Director Extraordinary and occupied with the provision of music for the orchestra, and above all with the remarkable series of symphonic poems in which he sought to combine the arts of literature and music. At the Villa Altenburg, where he lodged, to be joined shortly by Hans von Buelow, Raff served the master as secretary, copyist and factotum, and must, initially at least, have had a considerable hand in the orchestration of Liszt's work. Whether he was as important as he made out to his correspondents is open to question. "I have cleaned up Liszt's first Concerto symphonique for him", he claimed in an early letter from Weimar, "and now I must score and copy Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne". He declared that the orchestration of Prometheus was his, for the most part, and that he had performed the same service for the symphonic poem Tasso. The violinist Joachim was later to repeat these claims on Raff's behalf.
Clearly Liszt needed assistance, and this Raff could provide. Tasso, for example, had been written in 1849 for the centenary of the birth of Goethe and had been scored by August Conradi. Liszt was dissatisfied, and handed the music to Raff, who in 1851 produced a new version, to which Liszt made various subsequent alterations. Raff's own opera Koenig Alfred was staged in Weimar in the same year, without marked success, although it was given three performances, but the validity of his assertions at the time and later on the composition of Liszt's orchestral works must remain open to question.
In 1856, tired of a subordinate position in Weimar as one of the group of acolytes that attended on Liszt and unhappy in his relationship with Liszt's blue-stocking mistress, the Princess Caroline Sayn-Wittgenstein, Raff left for Wiesbaden, where Koenig Alfred was performed and where he was able to devote himself to composition, teaching and marriage to Doris Genast, member of a well known Weimar theatre family. The period in Wiesbaden was a productive one. It was followed, in 1877, by appointment as director of the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt, where he succeeded in engaging Clara Schumann as a piano teacher, when the institution opened in 1878, the only woman so employed. Further women were to be appointed two years later, and there was a class for women composers, the first of the kind in Germany. Raff remained in Frankfurt until his death in 1882.
Four of Raff's six operas remained unperformed, but he proved very much more successful with his orchestral works, chamber music and with an exceptionally large number of piano pieces. The quantity of his work prompted Wagner's cynical remark to a correspondent that now he was composing like Raff or Brahms, - in other words copiously, since his views on the compositions of the latter, at least, were well known. Raff belongs in one way to the Neo-German school of Wagner and Liszt, at least in the overt programmatic element in eight of his eleven numbered symphonies. In other ways he may seem more academic in his approach, making full use of most available forms and of a strong element of counterpoint in works that are admirably orchestrated for a body of less than Wagnerian proportions. Charges of superficiality and eclecticism can now be rebutted by renewed attention to music that has much to say and is remarkable, if in no other way, for the clear influence it exercised on composers like Richard Strauss.
Raft wrote his Thuringian Suite in 1877, one of those works that a recent commentator has referred to as "Raff's travelogues". The Suite shows the composer's technical command and is not without humour in the light-hearted peasant variations of the fourth movement. It opens with an introductory welcome to a region of Germany of some importance in the history of European music and proceeds through a relatively solemn second movement to a dance of gnomes and sylphs. The folk-song variations allow for oddities of orchestration, followed by a final peasant celebration.
Raff's Italian Suite was written in 1871 and takes a suitably well-crafted romantic German view of the south. A portentous Overture is followed by the gentle sway of a Barcarole, an Intermezzo, a night-piece and a final Neapolitan tarantella that provides a chance for the composer to display his contrapuntal ingenuity.
Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)
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