REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » RAFF: Symphony No. 5, 'Lenore'
Joachim Raff (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 5 in E Major, Op. 177 "Lenore"
Overture: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Op. 127
Musical reputations are fragile. Joachim Raff is still 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 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 Württemberg to avoid conscription into
the French army. Raff's early education was, however, in Württemberg, followed
by a period of training as a teacher 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 Härtel, 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 Bülow, a musician who remained a close friend in the
years that followed, and renewed his connection with Mendelssohn, accepting the
latter's offer to teach him in Leipzig. Von Bülow, meanwhile, took Raff's
Concertstück for piano and orchestra into his repertoire, something that was of
material assistance in furthering the composer's reputation. The death of
Mendelssohn in 1847 allowed Liszt a further exercise of patronage in securing
Raff work in Hamburg as an arranger for a music-publisher.
In 1850 Raff moved to Weimar, where Liszt was now installed
as Music Director Extraordinary, 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 Bülow, 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 orchestral compositions.
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 the
orchestration of Prometheus to be 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 König Alfred was
staged in Weimar in the same year, without marked success, although it was
given three performances, but the validity of Raff's claimed share of Liszt's
work is open to question.
In 1856, tired of a subordinate position at Weimar as one of
a 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 König 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 Frankfun, 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 its 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 overtly
programmatic element in nine of his eleven numbered symphonies. In other ways
he may well seem more academic in 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 first of Raff's eleven numbered symphonies, An das
Vaterland, was completed in 1861 and was awarded the Vienna Gesellschaft der
Musikfreunde prize. Symphony No. 5 in E major, Op. 177, was completed in 1872
and published the following year. Raff's division of the work into three
Abteilung (sections) does not coincide here with the four movements, two of
which form the first section of the symphony, under the title Liebesglück, the
happiness of love. The first movement Allegro is in broadly classical form, its
exuberant first subject contrasted with the more lyrical second, with
suggestions of the tragedy to come. An A flat major Andante quasi Larghetto
completes the first section. The movement is introduced by the strings, the
melody poignantly echoed by the French horn, which then pursues its own
operatic theme. A dramatic G sharp minor passage moves into the intense
lyricism of a secondary theme, now heard a semitone higher, in E major, before
the return of the opening theme, now played by the flutes.
The second part of the symphony has the title Trennung,
Parting, continuing the implied events that precede those of Burger's poem
Lenore, on which the symphony is based. The third movement opens as a C major
March, with a contrasting minor continuation. This is followed by an F major
section, the first violins doubled by the French horns in the march theme. The
return of the first march theme leads to an agitated C minor passage in which
violins and cellos plead one with the other, before the march again intervenes,
disappearing gradually into the distance, as the soldiers march away.
It is the third section of the symphony, the fourth movement
Allegro, Wiedervereinigung im Tode, Reunion in Death, that is based directly on
Bürger's Kunstballade Lenore in music that follows much of the poetic
narrative. Göttfried August Bürger was associated with the group of poets that
formed the Göttinger Hainbund and in 1773 wrote his famous poem Lenore,
published the following year in the Göttinger Musenalmanach. Based on the
Scottish ballad Sweet William's Ghost, Bürger's poem tells of the grief of
Lenore for her lover Wilhelm, killed in the Seven Years' War. The girl turns
against God in her despair, but at night the sound of a horse is heard outside
(Und außen, horch! ging's trapp trapp trapp, Ais wie von Roßeshufen) and
Wilhelm calls her down to him. She joins him and the couple ride away together
through the night, through the countryside, meeting a funeral procession now
bidden to the wedding-feast. The dead ride fast, and the figure before her asks
again if she fears the dead, but Doch lass die Toten, she replies, Let the dead
be! On they ride, past the gibbet and through a gate into the graveyard, as
dawn approaches, and suddenly the horseman's uniform drops away, piece by
piece, his head becomes a skull, his body a skeleton, with hour-glass and
scythe. The poem and the symphony end with the moral, proclaimed by the spirits
that had followed the couple, that men must be patient in adversity:
"Geduld! Geduld! Wenn's Herz auch bricht! Mit Gott im Himmel hadre
nicht!" Patience! Patience! Even if your heart breaks! Do not quarrel with
God in Heaven!
Raff's Overture Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Opus 127, was
written in 1865 and dedicated to Hans von Bülow. It is described as an Overture
for a drama of the Thirty Years War. The work opens ominously, its slow
introduction, Andante religioso, starting with a soft drum-roll, accompanied by
muted double basses, before the contrapuntal entry of the first violins,
followed by cellos, second violins and violas in turn. The familiar notes of
Martin Luther's most famous hymn appear first in the woodwind, to be joined by
other instruments of the orchestra, before the succeeding Allegro eroico,
marked non troppo vivo, ma vigoroso. This faster section, changing from the
earlier D major to D minor, with its sharply rhythmic string figure, is
punctuated by the loud intervention of the wind instruments, introducing music
in tripartite sonata-form, derived from the chorale of the title. A passage for
solo cello, accompanied only by sustained viola chords, leads to a final
Andante, where the lower strings announce again Luther's famous melody. The
Overture ends in victory with a final grandiose and triumphant Allegro.
Urs Schneider was born in St. Gall and by the age of fifteen
had established his own 70-member orchestra, the Pro Musica Orchestra, which
gave regular concerts in Switzerland until 1963. He was trained as a violinist
at Zürich Conservatory, and took lessons in conducting with Rafael Kubelik in
Lucerne, Igor Markevitch in Madrid and Otto Klemperer in London and Zürich.
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, Asia, Russia, Israel,
North and South America, Australia and South Africa. Since 1991 he has been
Principal Conductor of the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra and Artistic
Director of the "Ars et Musica" Festival in Aranno, Switzerland.
Last Albums Viewed
RAFF: Symphony No. 5, 'Lenore'