Raff in later years

Obituary: Musical Times
The Musical Times of London was one of several musical periodicals published in London in Victorian times. It's monthly columns attested to the vigorous musical life which the British capital then enjoyed. For a decade or so after von Bülow played the Piano Concerto at the Crystal Palace, Raff's music was extremely popular in England. Lenore had made great sensation on its first appearance and after that most of his major orchestral and chamber works were played frequently to wildly appreciative audiences. By the time of Raff's death in June 1882, however, his reputation amongst critics was beginning to suffer, as this sometimes inaccurate obituary demonstrates.

The death is announced, at Frankfort-on-Main, on the 25th ult., of Herr Raff, the well-known composer. Joseph Joachim Raff was born, May 22, 1822, at Lachen, in the canton of Schwyz, where his parents temporarily resided. He was Swiss, however, only as far as the accident of birth in Switzerland made him; remaining all his life a good German and worthy subject of the King of Wurtemberg. Through a family reverse his stay at the university soon ended, and in order to get a living he devoted himself to teaching. Not till that period of the young man's career did a special taste for music develop itself in a commanding way. Raff had already studied the pianoforte, violin, and organ; but these things no longer contented him, and he tried his hand at composition, sending, in 1843, some of his works to Mendelssohn for the benefit of that master's opinion upon them. Mendelssohn seems to have thought well of his talents, and, with characteristic kindness, introduced him to Breitkopf and Härtel, the Leipzig publishers. This encouragement determined Raff's future. Thenceforth he devoted his life to music, regretting, but at the same time disregarding, the opposition of his parents. For some time Raff's experience was hard and bitter; yet he struggled on, abating nothing of heart or hope, and at last secured a friend in Liszt, who engaged him as accompanist on his concert tours. While thus occupied he found himself at Cologne, and being left there by Liszt, who returned to Paris, made the personal acquaintance of Mendelssohn, under whom he proposed to prosecute his studies in composition.

The master's lamented death in 1847 of course put an end to the arrangement, and Raff remained in Cologne, earning his bread in part by contributing to the journal Caecilia, then edited by Dehn and published by Schott. It is said that his writings were so mature as to make Dehn fancy him a man of forty, and his surprise was great to discover, on a personal introduction, that he was only a young fellow of twenty-five. From Cologne Raff started for Vienna, recommended by Liszt to the publisher Mechetti, who, however, died before an interview could be obtained. Disappointed as to Vienna the composer went to Stuttgart, where Lindpaintner was chapelmaster and musical king. Lindpaintner's classicism would have nothing to do with Raff's romanticism, but happily the young man fell in with Hans von Bülow, whose tendencies were in the opposite direction, and who at once consented to produce a work from his pen. At this time Raff began an opera, on the subject of King Alfred, for Reissiger at Dresden, and looked forward anxiously to its performance as his real début. The tempest of revolution swept over Germany, and blew away the composer's hopes, so he followed Liszt to Weimar, where that virtuoso had settled down. There he settled down also, finished his opera, and saw it produced under the direction of his powerful friend. A number of other works followed, including a pamphlet in which he defended Wagner's theory of the lyric drama. In 1855 he left Weimar for Wiesbaden, and there fixed his residence as professor of the pianoforte. In 1859 he married Mdlle. Dora [sic] Genast, an actress, and thenceforth quietly devoted his life to teaching and composition, either at Wiesbaden or at Frankfort.

Raff was a most prolific composer in nearly every branch of musical art. He wrote three operas, ten symphonies, several suites, overtures, &c. ; a mass of vocal pieces, including thirty choruses for four voices; three concertos for various instruments and orchestra; about fifty concerted compositions for the chamber, and almost innumerable pieces for the pianoforte. Some of these, it can hardly be doubted, will live; but many others show more technical ability than genius. Raff, in point of fact, was too prolific. In the truest sense he would have done more had he accomplished less. His death, however, removes an able and accomplished artist whom music at the present day can ill afford to lose.

[From The Musical Times, London, 1 July 1882 pp.392-3]

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