In the biography of her father, Helene Raff claims that Raff's String Quartet No. 7 in D major, Op. 192 No. 2 Die Schöne Müllerin was his most popular work in the genre. That may or may not be true. Since the quartet is the only one with a literary title, it is certainly easier to recall than works with only a key signature or opus number as identification. Die schöne Müllerin also boasts a movement, The Mill, which, with the Cavatina from the Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 85, and the March from the Lenore Symphony (No. 5, Op. 177), made Raff's name a household citation in family music albums the world over.
It was the stupefying popularity of precisely those three pieces at the turn of the century which, though representative of Raff's powers in a positive manner, sowed the seeds of disdain for Raff's general output and ironically became the examples that helped remove Raff from a rank beside Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms to a level shared by Drdla, Godard, and Toselli--from celebrated symphonist to foppish saloniste. From the standpoint of the actual numbers of performances of the complete Schöne Müllerin quartet vis-à-vis other quartets of Raff, Helene Raff may be in error, since both the First (Op. 77 in d) and Second (Op. 90 in A) string quartets had become firmly ensconced in late 19th century chamber music repertoire, thanks to champions such as Joseph Joachim, Josef Hellmesberger, and Hugo Heermann, and appeared with regularity on chamber music concerts well into the early 1920s.
Movement: Erklärung (Declaration) - Andantino quasi allegretto [The
extract is the end of the movement - 1:39]
6th Movement: Zum Polterabend (Festivities on the Eve of the Wedding) - Vivace [The extract is the very end of the work - 2:00]
The Schöne Müllerin Quartet has a number of peculiarities worth noting. First, it belongs to a set of three quartets bearing a single opus number, Op. 192: it was the first time in his catalog that Raff did this with large-scale works. Second, all three quartets have movements more than the standard four, a concept that makes understandable the titles of the quartets flanking Die schöne Müllerin: String Quartet No. 6, "Suite in Older Form" featuring movements with Baroque association (and as such, an early example of neo-classicism) and String Quartet No. 8, "Suite in Canon Form." Although not expressly designated as such, Die schöne Müllerin also fits the category of "suite" but it also has an additional title: Cycklische Tondichtung or, "cyclical tone poem." That makes Raff's Schöne Müllerin Quartet historically the first tone poem in the realm of chamber music, preceding by a good quarter of a century the more frequently cited "first tone poem in chamber music," Arnold Schönberg's string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Admittedly, Raff does not provide any more of a program than suggestive titles for movements while Schönberg cites a lengthy poem by Georg Dehmel as the inspiration for his musical portrait. Raff's program is implicit, not explicit, but it doesn't take much associative imagination to follow the story line through the movements: (1) The Youth comes across (2) The Mill, encounters (3) The Miller Maiden, is (4) Disquieted by love's emotions, (5) Declares his love and, (6) in the end, The Wedding Will Follow--very naïve, very simple, very chaste, and very appealing.
|1. Der Jüngling||1. Das Wandern|
|2. Die Mühle||3. Halt!|
|3. Die Müllerin||4. Danksagung an den Bach|
|4. Unruhe||7. Ungeduld|
|5. Erklärung||8. Morgengruß|
A further reason for considering the Schöne Müllerin Quartet as a suite like its companions of Opus 192 comes with the understanding that, with the term cyclical, Raff is not indicating any formal maneuvers in the piece. Ordinarily the term "cyclical" indicates some attempt at unity-in-diversity within the overall structure of a composition, a melody or motif which recurs among the movements or thematic material developed throughout a work, even as simple a link as a characteristic interval for the leading themes of all the movements. But that is not the case, with the Schöne Müllerin, for throughout, Raff holds to the classical concept of movements in contrast, with no attempts at linking the sections thematically. As such, "cyclical" in Raff's designation may logically be regarded as synonymous with "suite."
A final question concerning Raff's title, Die schöne Müllerin, is inevitable. Is Raff's string quartet in any way related to Schubert's famous song-cycle on texts of Wilhelm Müller bearing the same title? There is nothing among Raff's known writings that suggests intentional parallels and there is certainly no quoting of Schubert melodies by Raff. One might indulge oneself and seek textual parallels in the song-cycle that fit with the movemental titles in the string quartet, and find a certain extent of matching (inset at left). Where Raff's characters are destined for union, Schubert's are destined to part. There is nothing in Müller's poems that even suggests a Polterabend, or night's romp, before the wedding day.
Professor Alan Krueck
These notes are adapted after those prepared by Prof. Alan Krueck for a performance of the quartet by the Willow Pond Quartet and are reproduced with the kind permission of Robert Rej.