Biography - Wandering 1845-1849

On Tour with Liszt

Once Raff left Switzerland in Liszt's entourage in 1844, the virtuoso's influence over him was profound. He was thrust into the very heart of the musical world of which he had longed to be part, helping with his patron's concert arrangements as the maestro toured Europe. He was present at the unveiling of the Beethoven monument in Bonn on 11 August 1845 and began to make useful contacts, such as Franz Schott (1811-74), the Mainz music publisher. Having been under the influence of Mendelssohn's music, Raff now immersed himself in Liszt's style and showed him all his previous compositions, which resulted in the destruction of those not meeting with the master's approval. He accompanied Liszt to Hungary, but his pressing need for money remained. He had to have regular employment. Through his contacts, Liszt arranged for Raff to work for the firm of Eck and Lefebvre, the Cologne piano makers and music publishers. When they returned to Frankfurt, he took his leave of his patron and left for the Rhineland city.

Six Poèms score
Score of Six Poèms Op.15
Pianos in Cologne

His position in Josef Lefebvre's establishment in Cologne soon turned out to be a bitter disappointment. After six month's there he wrote to Liszt, complaining of his long hours of work and low pay. His duties ranged from book keeping and the collation of manuscripts, to the demonstration of newly built pianos to potential customers in a vast, cold hall. In particular, he felt slighted by Lefebvre's dismissive attitude towards him. He wrote: "Had I known in Frankfurt what I know now, I would have hurried back to you barefoot in the night". His miserable circumstances didn't prevent him from composing, however. He used his precious free time to write piano works about which he wrote frequently to Liszt, sending them to him for review and criticism. Musically, things began to look promising. At Liszt's suggestion, he sent his opp.21-26 to the prominent Viennese publisher Pietro Mechetti, who eventually did publish most of them and several others. Raff had the satisfaction of Schott's firm publishing his Six Poèms Op.15, which were dedicated to Liszt. They replaced an earlier composition which he had destroyed. Schott further advanced Raff by inviting him to write for his musical journal Cäcilia. Liszt continued his travels, but provided Raff with much support nonetheless. In April 1846 he wrote that he had "the firm resolve to promote your career, and that with God's help and your excellent talents [you] will be on a straight, respectable and brilliant path". By June he was angling for Raff to rejoin him: "my manuscripts remain disorganised until you ... take an interest in them". He dangled the bait by praising the manuscripts which Raff had sent to Mechetti and promising "I will serve you as godfather and present them to the public in full splendour. Count always and everywhere on my totally devoted friendship".

At the large male voice choir festival in Cologne in June 1846 Raff, acting as Cäcilia's correspondent, at last met Mendelssohn. He praised Raff's music, but criticised the young man's slavish following of his and Liszt's models without understanding their artistic basis. He suggested that Raff study with him in Leipzig, once Mendelssohn had returned from a trip to England. On top of this happy prospect, Raff soon heard again from Liszt that he continued to press Raff's case with Mechetti and had made contact on his behalf with another Viennese publisher, Haslinger. Nothing concrete came from this second introduction, however. The Liszt correspondence continued. Yet again he dangled in front of his impoverished protégée the prospect of a job in his household - this time once he'd returned from Constantinople. Raff carried on his drudgery of a job by day and composed by night. So many works flowed from his pen that, in October 1846, Liszt wrote to him, warning: "Your idea ... to bombard the public with the quantity of your production, is an inappropriate and useless one. ... You are weakening your talent and your name". Raff seems to have taken this advice to heart, and destroyed several of the compositions written that year. As well as writing for Schott's Cäcilia, Raff became associated with August Schmidt's Allgemeine Weiner Musikalischen Zeitung, despite, or perhaps because of, its proprietor's view that "you are sharp and go on your way without a backward glance". Writing for the Viennese journal, though, soon landed him in trouble back in Cologne. He wrote sneeringly of some Rhineland music lovers "who regard themselves as musical and critical notables". Those he had so publicly slighted immediately made it clear to Josef Lefebvre that Raff's views would adversely affect his trade. Confronted by Lefebvre and the complainants, Raff had no choice but to leave his despised job.

Once again destitute, he took up with a businessman, Peter Gaul, who gave him a roof over his head although he remained, as he later said, "breadless". He tried, without success, to get a commission from Schott to write a march, and he wrote to Liszt (then in Kiev) that he intended to leave Cologne for Stuttgart, where he might try his hand at teaching music. After a final meeting with Mendelssohn, he left Cologne in January 1847. From his unhappy time there, Raff treasured only the memory of his meetings with Mendelssohn and the friendship of the poet C.O. Sternau (a pseudonym of Otto Inkermann, 1823-1862), several of whose poems he later set to music.


Carl Reissiger
Carl Reissiger

When he finally left Cologne, Raff decided that he would head for Vienna to meet the publisher Pietro Mechetti, who had shown enough interest in the young man's works to publish a few of them. Before traveling to Austria, however, he made his way to the Prussian capital Berlin to meet the celebrated pedagogue Siegfried Dehn. After an amiable meeting with the great man, he travelled south to Saxony and in Leipzig made contact with his first publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, as well as their competitor Schuberth and the influential editor of the Signale journal, Bartolf Senff, also a publisher. These meetings were to bear fruit in his later years, as all three eventually published Raff scores. Moving on to nearby Dresden, he struck up an especially happy friendship with the then prominent composer Carl Reissiger, the court kappelmeister. So warm was their relationship that they addressed each other as "papa" and "son". Despite the welcome, his stay there was short and he decided to head straight for Vienna, rather than detour via Weimar in the hope of Liszt's promised arrival there, as had been his original intention.

On the way south, however, news reached him of Mechetti's death, destroying his hopes of advancement under the publisher's patronage. This bitter disappointment rendered his plan futile and so Raff decided to return to his father's homeland of Württemberg in south west Germany, where he had spent several years as a schoolboy. He had no great hopes for Stuttgart, the kingdom's capital, especially after the Serenade WoO.5, which he had dedicated to the crown prince at a court official's suggestion, failed to achieve a performance. He later destroyed the work, as he did several other piano pieces at this time. The Stuttgart sojourn seems to have been intended as a breathing space during which he would decide his future. Take up Mendelssohn's offer to study with him in Leipzig, or join Liszt in Weimar as his factotum?

The news of Mendelssohn's death in November 1847 came as a crushing blow to Raff and robbed him of his choice.

A Home in Stuttgart

It seemed that he was destined to return to Liszt's circle in Weimar, where the virtuoso had finally settled at the beginning of 1848, but Raff chose that moment to have his first serious falling out with his erstwhile patron. Just what he wrote to Liszt is lost, but Liszt's reply "In spite of all my patience and good temper, it would be impossible for me to endure any longer such impertinence", leaves little doubt that his protégée had seriously overstepped the mark. For the time being, he had to eke out a living in Stuttgart. He resumed his writing and took on some piano pupils, but his financial situation remained precarious. He had the great luck to be introduced to Kunigunde Heinrich, a widowed former music teacher, who took the penurious Raff under her wing and mothered him so thoroughly that he called her "Mama" Heinrich for the rest of her life. His behaviour towards her was often boorish and inconsiderate, but she recognised his real worth and wasn't shy of berating him if he offended her. Above all, she gave him the confidence and support to continue both composing and studying composition.

Through Mama Heinrich, Raff came into contact with a lad with whom he would share a lifelong friendship - the 18 year old Hans von Bülow. For him he wrote his Fantasia on themes from Kücken's Opera Der Prätendent WoO.7, with which Bülow debuted at a concert on New Year's Day 1848, held under the direction of the eminent composer Lindpaintner. Bülow made a great impression, but Raff's opera confection clearly displeased its composer, as he subsequently destroyed the work. Raff also made the acquaintance of the poets Johann Georg Fischer and Henrik Glogau, and this spurred him on to begin lieder composition in earnest, setting their poems. His earliest surviving songs date from the brief Stuttgart period. He was starting to think on a bigger scale too, and began his first large scale work, a setting of Psalm 121 for soprano, alto, choir & orchestra WoO.8. This was followed by a very ambitious enterprise - the four act grand opera König Alfred WoO.14, to a libretto by Glogau. Raff had no dramatic experience and, being an entirely self taught composer, this was quite consciously a learning exercise.

Kunigunde Heinrich
Kunigunde Heinrich

In his self confidence, he tried to interest the Stuttgart authorities in committing to staging the work, even though it was in a fragmentary state. Lindpaintner would not entertain it. The kapellmeister Bernhard Molique, a well known composer who had befriended Raff, was unwilling to support him and no doubt the increasingly hectoring tone of Raff's campaign didn't help. Giving up on Stuttgart, he tried to interest "papa" Reissiger in Dresden in the opera but, although full of praise for the piece, the older composer concluded that "there would be few directors who would not be scared away from this daring and difficult work". Surprisingly, Raff was as undeterred by this rejection as he was by the drudgery of his mundane daytime jobs, his continuing debts and by his inability to get anything but his opera potpourris published. He broadened his compositional horizons and wrote a Piano Trio in G minor WoO.9 (lost), and began a String Quartet WoO.13 (also lost).He wrote smaller works for cello and piano and violin and piano. The summer of 1848 saw him happily exploring the nearby area of his father's youth in Swabia, but political unrest was spreading throughout Germany and Stuttgart did not go untouched. It was a difficult time, and there was no prospect of it getting any easier. In May 1849 Raff wrote to Liszt a letter which Bülow described as "an excellent letter of apology", and Liszt responded by offering to try and arrange a staging of König Alfred in Weimar, describing it as "finely worked out". Thus encouraged, Raff decided to leave Stuttgart. His debts unpaid awaiting better times, he left Stuttgart suddenly and without saying goodbye to his many acquaintances, provoking Mama Heinrich to scold him that he should "never again leave a city in such a way"

A Treadmill in Hamburg

In the autumn of 1849 Raff headed north. He was attracted by the idea of trying his luck in the great northern port city of Hamburg, home of the music publisher Julius Schuberth (1804-75), whom he had met in Berlin the previous year. On the way he detoured via Cologne, his home before Stuttgart, and made a pilgrimage to gaze at the window of the room in which he had last met Mendelssohn, whose unexpected death had caused him to change his plans in 1847.

Having once again made his peace with Liszt, who was intending to take a holiday in Helgoland, an island off Germany's North Sea coast. Raff thought that he would travel through Hamburg to meet his mentor in Helgoland, and then return to the city to establish himself there. A son of the Alps, he found the great plain of the north "big and desolate", but he was impressed with Hamburg. He called it "a marvellous sight". He stayed initially at the Hotel de Saxe on the Altsterbassin and met Schuberth as soon as he arrived. The publisher told him that Liszt would soon arrive in Hamburg itself, and so Raff gave up his plan of traveling on to Helgoland. He was made very welcome in the Hansastadt, although Schuberth told him fairly that he wasn't able to publish any more of Raff's music for the time being. He still had twelve unpublished Raff manuscripts, but he returned four piano pieces to their author who was able to get them published by Cranz & Jovien, who paid eight Thalers for his arrangement of "The Last Rose of Summer" (Op.46) alone. In September 1849, Raff and Liszt met, but the first meeting was a disappointment to the young man, because their previous acrimony tainted the atmosphere. It was also the first time that he encountered Princess Carolyne zu Sayn Wittgenstein, Liszt's companion, who was there with her children. Later, though, his rancour vanished when he heard Liszt at the piano. "He still plays like a God", wrote Raff. Liszt had recommended Raff to Schuberth as a "fluent and qualified worker" and he was soon making arrangements for piano of established works in other mediums. He beavered away in the publisher's house from 8 am to 9 pm each day, being paid seven Thalers for each of the arrangements. This, he complained, was "too much for a copier, too little for a composer". Schuberth had got his arranger's rate pitched at just about the right level, it would seem!

Within his eleven hour day he found half an hour to teach Messy (Mary), the daughter of the house. Although he was adequately paid, Raff found Hamburg's prices high and so, to help him, Schuberth allowed him to share with his accountant a room in his home, which was near the Jungfernsteig, "one of the best sections of the town". He was comfortable: "I developed an unseemly liking for family life", he wrote at the time. He had little time for composition and no major works were completed during his months in Hamburg. Encouragingly, though, Schuberth bought the rights to some of his earlier piano arrangements of popular melodies from operas, previously published by another house, with the intention of creating a series called "The Opera in the Salon". They were published in 1850. Raff made efforts to be involved in his new home's musical life and got to know Theodor Hagen (1823-71), a composer and author. Hagen praised Raff extravagantly: "There are men who interest us with their first encounter, in such a way has Raff engaged one ... I like intelligence and Raff is an intelligent man. He didn't live with the Jesuits in vain; he didn't transplant the opera to the salon in vain ... he did not enjoy the trust of Julius Schuberth for nothing. Ah, Raff is a total man, a man of the times ... Do you think I'm joking? I assure you, this rosy-cheeked blond youth with the prominent glasses will make a career in the twinkling of an eye." Under a pseudonym, Raff poured out arrangements for Schuberth. So hard did he work that he complained that he "had not been able to breath fresh air for 14 days". So pleased was Schuberth with him, that he offered him a permanent position as a music dealer in the Hamburg shop, and Raff was attracted by the prospect of staying there for three or four years and putting-by some savings. His employer even dangled before him the prospect of joining the American arm of the business in New York, once he'd gained more experience and improved his English. Raff was content with his lot for now and saw Hamburg as a good base. After three months there, he wrote: "It seems that I am in the right place gradually to make an independent career ... I have certainty of work and certainty of food, which is found neither on the Rhine nor the Neckar".

Julius Schuberth
Julius Schuberth

Liszt, chose that moment to make at last a firm offer of employment with him in Weimar, asking that Raff join him in Bad Eilsen. Raff was loath to leave Hamburg and disliked being summoned to the spa, but he nonetheless wrote to Liszt that "in order to make my decision immediately, it is enough for me to know that I can be useful to you there. I am making my way to you with the firm intention of serving you". Schuberth was sorry to see him go and wrote to Liszt: "Raff has handled himself very well here with me, and I feel it my duty, in case he should return from you again, to stand by him in all ways". Raff left Hamburg on 24 November 1849 "with a feeling of caring; well equipped with a good reputation, with money and, what's more, with a certainty of being able to turn back to good friends."

A Rest in Bad Eilsen

Raff, accompanied by Schuberth, travelled by way of Bückeburg to meet Liszt at the small spa resort of Bad Eilsen in north central Germany, where he was staying prior to a permanent move to Weimar. The meeting was an affectionate one and Raff approved of the rooms which had been provided for him at the house of Herr Rinne. Liszt himself was living in the Baron's house nearby. In Schuberth's presence, he was offered by Liszt an annual salary of 600 thalers a year and full lodging in return for "join[ing] my career to his for a few years", as he later reported. Liszt demanded his "cooperation in his forthcoming numerous works" and advised Raff that he intended to "prepare himself in all stillness for the career of a composer" (a reference to his recent appointment as kapellmeister in Weimar, the home of Goethe and Schiller). This imprecision over his actual duties was to cause Raff much frustration in the years to come, but for the time being he was content and decided "to stay with my old friend Liszt".

A routine was established. Liszt would visit the young man in his room at 10 every morning and they would discuss the day's work. He was quickly employed on the instrumentation of Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1 and the symphonic poems Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne and Die vier Elemente. He translated an article on John Field's Nocturnes from French into German and listed in a letter a further dozen or so projects lined up for him by Liszt, including the 2nd. Piano Concerto, the Totentanz, an opera Sardanapal and a book about Chopin. The prospect of their planned transfer to Weimar held out the hope of some free time, however, and also the prospect of hearing some of his own music performed. Liszt promised to play Raff's projected (but subsequently abandoned) Concert Overture in C minor (described by its composer at the time as the first of three). "I am very eager finally to hear myself have my fling in the orchestra", wrote Raff. In addition to his hosts, the Rinne family, his circle consisted of Liszt and his companion Princess zu Sayn Wittgenstein, her daughter Marie and the governess Mistress Anderson, a chambermaid and a general servant. It was a happy time for Raff. He had a small piano in his room and as well as plenty of intellectual stimulation there were full scores, books, newspapers, cards, beer and wine freely available to him. He did, however, regret the absence of a church: "Although I am a completely hopeless Christian, I still miss the bells...".

There was only one problem. From the very start his relationship with the princess seems to have been a prickly one. No musician herself, she nonetheless called Raff "an unfeeling man who pursued art as an intellectual thing, not from the standpoint of its inner poetry". His habit of suppressing natural exuberance and instead expressing himself only after calculating what he should say seemed to support her view. He also showed little respect for the princess' spirituality and was probably still exhibiting the rudeness about which his Stuttgart friend Kunigunde Heinrich had complained when he had left that city suddenly. Indeed, when she wrote to him in Bad Eilsen in December 1849 her welcome letter counselled him to "learn how to behave amongst people".

Christmas 1849 was spent in idyllic circumstances, gilding nuts for the Christmas tree with Rinne's young daughters. On New Years Day 1850 Raff went out sledging with Rinne but in the evening, upon his return, he found that Liszt and the princess had been reading his journal, left open on the desk. Although they laughed at his naive piety, which came as a surprise because Liszt had earlier described Raff to Carolyne as an enlightened "Spinoza-ist", the discovery sparked a conversation between the two men about the nature of the Catholic chorale. It moved Liszt so much that he kissed Raff. It was decided that he would go to Weimar at the beginning of 1850 in advance of the rest of the Liszt household. Shortly before his departure he was "seized by a strange, restless and breathless manner" which made writing difficult for him - perhaps the first sign of the heart complaint which would eventually kill him? He left Bad Eilsen for Weimar early in the morning, having had a midnight visit from his mentor. The little spa was later remembered by Raff as a "friendly place where I spent some of the most memorable months of my life". After an exhausting two day journey he finally arrived at Weimar, which was to prove his home for the next five years.

The next episode in Raff's story: Weimar 1850-1856.

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