Joachim Raff was born at
Lachen, near Zürich in Switzerland, in 1822. With the encouragement
of first Mendelssohn and later Liszt, he decided upon a career
as a composer and teacher. Liszt in fact secured him various
appointments in major German cities, before in 1850 Raff moved
to Weimar, where he worked directly with Liszt, who had
recently become Kapellmeister there. It was around this time
that Liszt developed his interest in orchestral music, most
particularly realised in his series of symphonic poems, and
Raff gave him major assistance in copying parts and in orchestration.
experience proved invaluable, and in 1856 Raff moved to Wiesbaden in order to be able to devote more time to his own creative
work. Moreover, for the remainder of his life he was astonishingly
prolific, writing music in all the main genres, including for
instance no fewer than eleven symphonies. In 1877 he became
director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, and he held this post until his death in 1882.
music reflects various stylistic influences, chief among them
Mendelssohn and Liszt, not surprisingly. He was concerned to
take a position in the historical continuum, fusing together
the old with the new, in particular through the contrasts between
romantic programme music and the classical tradition. During
his lifetime he was regarded alongside Wagner and Brahms as
a leading master of modern music, although the judgement of
posterity has tended to be somewhat harsher.
the light of all this the appearance on CPO of Volume One in
a series of string quartet recordings is most welcome. The project
will not cover the topic chronologically, as the contents (Nos.
6 and 7) of this disc readily testify, but there is no reason
why it should do so.
the subtitle ‘Suite in the Old Style’, the C minor Quartet exudes
a particular personality. Like its companion in D major, it
has a cogency and natural sense of quartet style that communicates
directly on first acquaintance. In his somewhat wordy note,
Matthias Wiegandt comments that the music represents ‘indecision
between constructive strictness and laissez-faire, so typical
of Raff’. This is true, and it is at once the music’s strength
and its weakness. For the line of development is always fluent
as it is logical. What is less striking is the sheer personality
of the ideas themselves. Perhaps this is why this piece is hardly
Quartet No. 7 in D major is a companion piece, released as part
of the same opus. Again there is a subtitle, The Fair Maid of
the Mill (Die schöne Müllerin), with its obvious links to Schubert.
But in Raff’s Quartet the link is generalised rather than specific;
nor is it any the worse for that.
helps that the first movement opens strongly, at least in this
fine performance by the Mannheim Quartet, captured in ambient
sound by the talented CPO engineers. Across a sequence of six
movements the music charts the progress of the story’s romantic
feeling, moving from movement to movement without undue pause
and with concern for poetic feeling.
was an expert orchestrator and his talents extend to quartet
textures also. The playing of the Mannheim Quartet is exemplary
and does due credit to all this, with a sensitive response to
nuance and phasing; always with convincing interpretations of
tempo. These performances confirm that Raff is a talented and
wholly convincing composer of string quartets, able to adapt
the principles of the classical inheritance to his own romantic
ends. The next volume in the series can be eagerly awaited.