The Symphony No.2 in C op 140, together with his other early symphonies, amply explains Raff's reputation in the 1860s and 70s as the leading symphonist of the age. Although this contemporary acclaim has been derided in the twentieth century the craftsmanship, melodic inventiveness, skill in orchestration and poetic appeal of this symphony go a long way towards supporting the high opinion then held of Raff as a symphonic composer. This work was premiered in 1867 - a time when there were few symphonists of stature.
By the time that Brahms' 1st. Symphony appeared in 1876 the public and critics had heard the first seven of Raff's symphonic cycle. He was of an earlier generation - sandwiched between Schumann and Mendelssohn whose last symphonies were written in the 1840s and the later romantics such as Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky whose major works did not appear until the 1870s and later. His near contemporay Bruckner was at the time generally unknown. Viewed from the perspective of the 1870s rather than the 2000s, the reasons for Raff's fame are easy to see.
Though later overshadowed by his 3rd. and 5th. Symphonies, Raff's 2nd. must have done much to consolidate his reputation when it first appeared. It was written in Wiesbaden in 1866, some five years after its predecessor and three years after the 1st.'s triumph in the Vienna competition. It is dedicated to the Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and was premiered in Wiesbaden in 1867, with a second performance in the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Raff's baton a couple of years later. With the 4th. Symphony, it shares the distinction in Raff's canon of being untitled.
The 2nd. is an open-air, sunny work - not lacking in gravitas but with a pervading confident and pastoral feel. Raff scored for his usual modestly sized orchestra and the work opens, as was often his practice, with a straightforward statement of the Allegro's principle theme - initially heard on the clarinets and violas and then the horns. The confident and happy mood of this movement is maintained through the transition to the second subject which continues the outdoor atmosphere. The extended movement ends in a forceful reprise of the opening theme.
The slow movement Andante con moto is rather religious in character, but contemplative rather than tragic. The two main themes are treated contrapuntally in the central section before the second theme returns in an enhanced and more dramatic treatment. The movement ends with the opening melody gently dying away.
Movement: Allegro Vivace [the closing of the trio and the end
of the movement - 2:17]
The third movement is a delicately scored Scherzo enveloping a Trio which, whilst the material is contrasting and rather more lightly scored than the outer sections, nonetheless is less of a contrast than this traditional structure might imply. Though Mendelssohn appears to have been the inspiration for this movement, the scoring is rather more robust than his gossamer textures - perhaps scampering woodland creatures were in Raff's mind, rather than Mendelssohnian fairies.
The final movement opens with an extended and rather grand Andante Maestoso lasting almost 3 minutes before a short transition to the Allegro con spirito itself. This main section of the movement introduces the first theme proper which is indeed "spirited" and characterises the rest of this boisterous and satisfying finale. The work closes with a whirlwind restatement of the principal theme, suitably augmented and embellished.
All audio excerpts from Marco Polo 8.223630.
An extensive essay on this work by Prof Matthias Wiegandt is available in the Analysis section.
The full score, study score and orchestral parts for this work are available in a modern edition from Edition Nordstern.