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8.223321 - RAFF: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 10
Joachim Raff (1822-1882)
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 Häertel, who issued sets of his piano pieces in 1844, the year in which the young composer resolved to try his luck in Zürich.
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 Concertstück 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.
The third of Raff's eleven symphonies, which bears the title Im Walde (In the Forest), was written in 1869 and won its composer considerable success. In Wiesbaden, where he had settled after leaving Weimar, he was eventually free of immediate material worries and could devote himself largely to his work as a composer. The Wald-Symphonie was one of the most significant results of this period of his life and was regarded for long as his masterpiece. The work is in four movernents, included in three parts. The first part, Am Tage (By Day), like the tenth symphony, gives impressions and feelings aroused by the forest. The second part, which includes a slow movernent and the counterpart of a Scherzo, moves to evening twilight, In der Dämmerung, with Träumerei (Dreams) and a following Tanz der Dryaden (Dance of the Dryads), in the spirit of Mendelssohn. The third part, Nachts (At Night), has a more explicit programme. The stillness of the night is followed by the wild hunt of Teutonic mythology, led by Wotan (Odin) and the wintry Frau Holle. Dawn breaks and the symphony ends in triumph.
The tenth of the symphonies, Zur Herbstzeit (In Autumn), was written in 1879, after Raff's removal to Frankfurt and at a time when he was occupied with a number of larger scale works. Following tradition in its structure, the symphony declares its programme in its general title and in the descriplive titles of the movements. It forms one of a final group of symphonies depicting the four seasons of the year, No. 8, Frühlingsklänge (Sounds of Spring), No. 9, Im Sommer (In Summer), the present work, and his last symphony, No. 11, Der Winter (Winter). The first movement of Symphony No. 10 sets the mood, with its evocalion of a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Phantom drums and double basses introduce the ghostly dance of the second movement, a mysterious waltz dispelled momentarily by a chorale. There follows a sustained elegy for the passing year and a final seasonal hunt, appropiately introduced, but allowing occasional rest from the chase.
Czecho-Slovak State Phllharmonic
For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The orchestra has contributed several successful volumes to the complete compact disc Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.
In 1962 Urs Schneider founded the Camerata Helvetica, of which he continued to be conductor and director until 1984. From 1976 to 1983 he was music director of the Camerata Stuttgart and in 1982 was appointed music director of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra. He has enjoyed a successful international career, with engagements throughout Europe, in Asia, Russia, North and South America, and Australia.
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