Saturday, 10 October 2015


“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” - Giuseppe Verdi

Joseph Joachim Raff (May 27, 1822 – June 24 or June 25, 1882) was a German-Swiss composer, teacher and pianist. Raff was born in Lachen in Switzerland. His father, a teacher, had fled there from Württemberg in 1810 to escape forced recruitment into the military of that southwestern German state that had to fight for Napoleon in Russia.

Joachim was largely self-taught in music, studying the subject while working as a schoolmaster in Schmerikon, Schwyz and Rapperswil. He sent some of his piano compositions to Felix Mendelssohn who recommended them to Breitkopf & Härtel for publication. They were published in 1844 and received a favourable review in Robert Schumann's journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which prompted Raff to go to Zürich and take up composition full-time.

In 1845, Raff walked to Basel to hear Franz Liszt play the piano. After a period in Stuttgart where he became friends with the conductor Hans von Bülow, he worked as Liszt’s assistant at Weimar from 1850 to 1853. During this time he helped Liszt in the orchestration of several of his works, claiming to have had a major part in orchestrating the symphonic poem ‘Tasso’. In 1851, Raff's opera ‘König Alfred’ was staged in Weimar, and five years later he moved to Wiesbaden where he largely devoted himself to composition.

From 1878 he was the first Director of, and a teacher at, the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. There he employed Clara Schumann and a number of other eminent musicians as teachers, and established a class specifically for female composers. (This was at a time when women composers were not taken very seriously.) His pupils there included Edward MacDowell and Alexander Ritter. He died in Frankfurt on the night of June 24/25, 1882.

The Italienische Suite (Italian Suite) for large orchestra in E minor WoO.35 is an extensive work, lasting over half an hour. It is also one of Raff’s sunniest large-scale compositions, melding his usual grateful melodies with seductive and sumptuous orchestral textures. Like Tchaikovsky and Elgar, Raff was inspired to write a work celebrating Italy by his first visit there and this portrait of the country is an eclectic mix of dance, mood pictures and character study, with a rousing general introduction setting the mood for what follows.

Raff was a major force in reintroducing the suite as a musical form and he wrote four of them for orchestra, all in five movements. Whilst the Suite No.1 was an abstract work, the other three comprise what have been called ‘Raff's travelogues’. As well as the Italian, there are the Hungarian Suite (designated No.2, but the third to be written and a very popular work in Raff’s day) and the final From Thüringia.

His daughter Helene, explained the work’s background in her biography of Raff: “The Italian Suite (in E minor, originally called ‘From the South’) was the artistic fruit of the first, even if short, thoroughly enjoyable Italian trip that Raff could allow himself. However, he locked the work in his desk, since he intended another revision”. It was finished in Autumn 1871, but went unpublished and unperformed during his lifetime.

Presumably Raff’s continued withholding of the work until death intervened, meant that he never did get around to revising it - it was eventually premiered in Berlin under Franz Wüllner’s baton on 26 November 1883 and published the next year by Ries & Erler.

The opening Overture is a rousing, if rather German, start but it is followed by a suitably languid Barcarole, a gentle Intermezzo and a highly melodic and generally contemplative Nottorno which Raff reused six years later as an intermezzo in his opera “Benedetto Marcello”. The work ends with a rumbustious Tarantelle into which Raff nonetheless manages to weave extensive use of counterpoint.

I. Overture - 00:00
II. Barcarole - 7:22
III. Intermezzo - 14:01
IV. Notturno - 18:57
V. Tarantelle - 25:15

No comments:

Post a Comment