Military Fantasy on Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots Op.36 12:26
In the late 1840s, as he traipsed from one unsatisfactory position to another in Cologne, Stuttgart and Hamburg, Raff's pressing need was for money and to keep the wolf from the door he composed many fantasies, transcriptions and arrangements of airs from well known operas. The Fantaisie militaire sur des motifs de l'opéra "Les Huguenots" de Meyerbeer was written in Stuttgart in 1847 and is an entertaining and intelligently put together piece, belying its workaday origin. Meyerbeer's famous tunes, then so popular with audiences throughout Europe, together with the grand Lutheran chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (which Raff later used himself for his eponymous Overture), are attractively spun together in a dazzling 12 minute fantasy which varies in mood from the coquettish to strutting pomposity.
The mp3 streaming track is the complete work.
Orchestration of Liszt's Prometheus Unbound Wo0.14A 2:42
Shortly after Raff arrived in Weimar in 1850, his mentor Liszt sketched out an Overture and choruses to Herder's "Prometheus Unbound". The Overture itself was a substantial work but Liszt's sketches for it were fragmentary and out of sequence, generally having only the vaguest indications of instrumentation and dynamics. He left Raff to prepare it for performance and the young man managed to combine the sketches into a coherent composition and orchestrate it. Although Liszt added many dynamic and tempo indications, Raff's instrumentation was left intact in this original version of the work, which was performed in August 1850. Liszt subsequently radically revised and reorchestrated the work, producing the Symphonic Poem we know today. The original version nonetheless displays Raff's early mastery of orchestration and remains an effective concert piece in its own right.
The example is from about a third of the way into the work, a section abandoned by Liszt in his final version.
Reminiscences of Mozart's Don Juan op.45 02:11
Around 30 of Raff's piano works from the first half of his career are arrangements of popular operas. They range from the faithful large scale transcriptions of Wagner's Die Meistersingers to potpourri fantasies on well known melodies from popular operas. One such is Raff's op.45 Reminiscenzen aus Mozart's Don Juan, which was written during his unhappy time in Stuttgart in 1848 and published the same year. Its ten minutes are split into three continuously played sections: Donna Anna & Ottavio, Zerlina & Don Giovanni and Une fête champetre. Beginning in a disarmingly simple fashion, the pianistic fireworks mount as the work progresses. For a work which could easily be dismissed as a potboiler, it is put together with an ingenuity and care which demonstrate the depth of Raff's craft at the early age of 26. It must have been a daunting prospect for an amateur salon performer. In 1876 the work gained new currency as the sixth volume of Schuberth's 12 part set of Raff opera arrangements published under the title Die Oper im Salon (The opera in the salon).
The example is from the middle middle and end of Zerlina & Don Giovanni and the start of Une fête champtere [2:11]. From Hänssler Classic CD 98.231 [review].
Transcription of Beethoven's Romance for Violin & Orchestra No.1 WoO.11 02:06
In contrast to his freer arrangements and fantasias on themes from well known operas, Raff did produce some more straightforward transcriptions for the piano of popular works by other composers. In 1849, whilst working in Hamburg for the music publisher Julius Schuberth, Raff created faithful transcriptions of Beethoven's two Romances for Violin and Orchestra opp.40 & 50. Although giving him little opportunity to showcase his own compositional skill, they do demonstrate his profound understanding at the age of 27 of the idiosyncrasies of the piano and in particular his skill at replicating not only the sonorities of the orchestra, but also the infinitely sustainable violin note on the piano, with its built-in decay.
The example is the final third of the transcription. From Hänssler Classic CD 98.286 [review].
Duos on motifs from Wagner's operas op.63 01:53
These three pieces for violin and piano (on The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin respectively) illustrate Raff's musical misgivings about Wagner. They are no mere pot pourris of tunes from the operas - rather Raff takes a few motifs and then applies all his classical and polyphonic craft to them, melding them into satisfying pieces which not only capture the essence of each opera but also outgrow the origin of their melodic material, working their magic as independent compositions. They appeared in 1853 at a time when Raff had become dismayed at what he regarded as Wagner's un-classical approach to music and just before publication of his rabidly critical booklet "The Wagner Question".
The example is from the middle of the second, Tannhäuser, duo. From CPO 999 767 [review].
Orchestral arrangement of Liszt's Domine Salvum Fac Regem WoO.15B 01:58
Whilst he was living in Weimar as part of Liszt's circle, Raff was from time to time called upon by Liszt to orchestrate his ideas. Only rarely, however, did Raff's work represent the final version of the work. This short arrangement by Raff's mentor of Psalm XX for tenor and male chorus originally had an organ accompaniment, but an orchestral accompaniment was required for the piece's performance at the coronation of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1853, at which Raff's own Te Deum was premiered. His simple but effective orchestration eschews strings and was published (with him acknowledged as arranger) in 1936.
The extract is the first half of the work. From Hungaroton HCD 32217.
Trovatore et Traviata: Deux
Paraphrases de Salon d'aprés Verdi op.70 03:07
Verdi's success was Europe-wide and in 1857, shortly after Raff had moved from Weimar to Wiesbaden, his ready pen turned out for his publisher Peters a pair of pieces based on the Italian's huge successes Il Trovatore and La Traviata, both of which had only premiered in Italy four years before. It is surprising just how much Raff managed to pack into these short works, each of which lasts less than four minutes. Not only do they feature snatches of several well known melodies from the operas in a brilliantly pianistic way, but Raff also manages to convey something of each opera's character: Il Trovatore's drama and passion and La Traviata's melodrama and pathos.
The audio example is the first of the paraphrases, that to Il Trovatore.
Sonatilles op.99 01:38
In 1861, Raff composed the Three Sonatilles. These mini-piano sonatas of three, four and three movements apiece were subsequently arranged by him for piano four hands and then, in 1880, for violin and piano. Confusingly, when this latter arrangement was published it was as the Ten Sonatilles. Whatever their title, these are delightful miniatures. Raff's arrangement is masterful - the writing doesn't betray their solo piano origin. Interspersed amongst the set are meltingly lovely slow pieces, fleet scherzos and even a theme and variations. Although superficially similar to the more famous Six Morceaux in their mix of melodic abundance, pathos and virtuoso display, the Sonatilles somehow convey a seriousness which sets them apart from conventional salon music.
This extract is from the start of the Sonatille No.1 Allegro agitato [1:40]. From Tudor 7109 [review].
arrangement of Bach's Chaconne in d minor WoO.23 01:38
In 1865 Raff prepared a set of 18 piano transcriptions from JS Bach's unaccompanied Violin Sonata, including one of the towering d minor Chaconne. This preserves the baroque nature of the work, whilst amplifying the counterpoint and polyphony in an essentially romantic vein. It is interesting to contrast this with the Brahms' much sparer transcription for the left hand of a few years later.
The example is the beginning of the work. From Pavane ADW 7255 [review].
Concert Paraphrase on Robert Schumann's Abendlied WoO.24 08:08
Schumann's op.85, Zwolf Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder (Twelve Piano Pieces for Young and Older Children) is for piano four hands and was written in 1849. The most famous number from the set is this touching poignant Abendlied (Evening Song), which Raff arranged for piano soloist in 1865. It was published by his fried Julius Schuberth the next year and was sufficiently in demand for a simplified version by Heinrich Maylath (1827–1883) to be published by Schuberth in 1871. Raff's paraphrase carefully preserves the wistful, regret-tinged atmosphere of the original, whilst expanding it very substantially to create a moving piece of symphonic proportions.
This performance is from a piano roll of the complete work made by the celebrated Leo Ornstein.
of Die Meistersingers in C major WoO.26 02:26
Raff was a great admirer of Wagner's music, though as he got to know Wagner through his mentor Liszt, Raff came to dislike Wagner's beliefs and writings. Over the years, as a means of keeping his financial head above water, Raff wrote many paraphrases, fantasies and transcriptions for piano of popular operas by a great variety of composers - Wagner included. Most were written during the 1840s and 50s but this work, his last such, dates from the Summer of 1867. It is a substantial transcription of passages from Die Meistersingers von Nürnberg and was published in four volumes the following year. In it Raff faithfully transfers to the piano the splendours of Wagner's orchestral writing and in the process he demonstrates his profound skill at writing for the instrument.
The extract is from the end of the last of the set of four works - the Procession of the Guilds, here depicted by Raff in all its grandeur. From Sony SK58973.
of Bach's six Cello Suites WoO.30
The 1st. movement Prelude of the Suite No.1 02.36
The 3rd. movement Courante & Menuett of the Suite No.2 1:35
Raff was in the forefront of the revival of interest in the music of earlier times - especially the baroque. He made several transcriptions of J.S. Bach's music to make it accessible and thus better appreciated by audiences and musicians of his time, by whom it was generally regarded as "difficult". He arranged for piano all six of the solo Cello Suites in 1868. In most cases, they are fairly literal transcriptions, although in some, such as the 1st. movement Prelude of the Suite No.1, Raff interweaves "romantic" counter melodies of his own. Throughout, the arrangements are thoroughly pianistic but playable by the competant amateur, whilst remaining faithful to the atmosphere of the original works. The six suites were published in two volumes in 1869 and 1871.
The first example is from Ars FCD 368 388.
An extensive essay on these works by Volker Tosta available in the Analysis section.
of Wagner's Huldigungsmarsch 02:24
Wagner wrote his Huldigungsmarsch (Homage March) in 1865 as a tribute to his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was originally composed for wind band but Wagner always intended to arrange this short work for full orchestra to give it wider currency. Not finding the time himself to carry out the task, in 1871 he somehow prevailed upon Raff to do it for him, after which it was published and usually performed with no mention of Raff's contribution. It is a workmanlike job which includes a very prominent triangle amongst the timpani, but both Wagner's composition and Raff's orchestration seem to find their authors below their best form. It is of straightforward construction with a solemn chorale-like introduction leading to the main march section of the work.
The extract is the first half of the work.
of Bach's Chaconne in d minor WoO.39 02:11
The Chaconne in d minor from the Suite for solo Violin had already been rendered for piano by Raff in 1865. It was regarded as being so difficult to play that it was almost the sole preserve of the great virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Because of its extensive polyphony and implied counterpoint Raff also shared the common conviction that the original piece was itself a "reduction" made by Bach from an orchestrated original. He orchestrated it in 1873 to both bring out the work's complexities and to bring it to a wider playing and listening public.
The extract is from the central section. From Chandos CHAN 9835 [review].
of Bach's "English Suite" WoO.41 01:40
The second of Raff's orchestral transcriptions of music by J.S. Bach is this 1874 arrangement of the so called "English" Suite No.3 in g minor BWV 808. The five movements are Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gavotte. The work is orchestrated with all the sensitivity which Raff first displayed the previous year on the Chaconne. Unlike that famous arrangement, this piece of Raff's remained unpublished in his lifetime and the manuscript was one of those handed over to publishers by his widow Doris in the hope that publication would boost her fragile income.
This extract is the start of the final Gavotte. From Naxos 8.550244.