was born in Lachen, close to Zurich. Initially a schoolteacher,
he worked at his music in private. Largely self-taught, Leipzig
publishers started to issue some of Raff’s piano pieces in 1844.
The following year the 23 year old composer met Mendelssohn
in Leipzig, and agreed to give him lessons. After Mendelssohn’s
unexpected death in 1847, Raff went on to work as an assistant
to Liszt in Weimar.
was so trusted by Liszt that he soon was making orchestrations
of Liszt’s orchestral pieces, as well as serving as secretary,
and copyist. Consequently his experience of the orchestra grew.
Whether he was as important to Liszt as he made out 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
announced that the orchestration of Prometheus was his
(for the most part) as was that of the symphonic poem, Tasso.
The violinist, Joachim, was later to repeat these claims on
Raff's behalf. Clearly Liszt needed assistance, which Raff could
provide. Tasso, for example, had been written in 1849
and had been originally scored by August Conradi. Liszt was
dissatisfied with Conradi’s input and he handed the music to
Raff to complete instead. Such is the quality of Raff’s background.
What do we make of Raff’s little
known music? Here, the orchestration is certainly to a good
standard and has interesting veneers and harmonic undercurrents
but melodic inspiration is somewhat lean. The Shakespeare overtures
are industrious and atmospheric yet share a certain homogeneity.
I decided I would work out which overture was which by listening
to them rather than looking at the track-notes. Apart from the
first overture, which contained violent storm characteristics
clearly attributable to either The Tempest or Macbeth, I found that I was right in my choice. Othello proved to be the most difficult tone poem to follow, yet after reading
its production note I could associate with Raff’s construction
of the piece. The Romeo
and Juliet overture falls appealingly on the ear with its gentle romanticism
given by lightly textured wind passages.
Of the works represented, the finest is the Fest-Ouverture.
This long, stirring piece is quite wonderful and illuminates
with a sparkling energy that makes it a memorable listening
experience. Little about it is given in the notes apart from
telling us that it was planned as a tribute to King Karl von
Wurtemberg. To me, its allegro is quite stunning.
The orchestra (established
in 1949) plays with competence and warmth. Hans Stadlmair is
no stranger to this music having been educated in Vienna. Stuttgart
has been his home for forty years as artistic director to the
Munchener Kammerorchester. The pace he sets for this Raff disc
is appropriately energetic and he usefully picks up some of
the nuances of the score that might otherwise be missed.
The notes in German,
English and French are adequate, but little is said in the two
short paragraphs on the Elegie and Fest-Ouverture. Incidentally, we learn that Raff composed six operas all of which are
unknown - the last three not even published.