Louis Lüstner
Louis Lüstner, conductor of the premiere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wiesbaden Kurhaus
Wiesbaden Kurhaus

Symphony No.10 Zur Herbsetzeit

The Symphony No.10 in f minor Zur Herbstzeit (To Autumn time) op.213 was Raff's last symphonic project - the 11th. Symphony actually having been written a few years earlier. The 10th. completed the cycle of the four "Seasons" symphonies and was begun in Summer 1879 and completed later that year. It had to wait a year for its premiere in Wiesbaden's Kurhaus on 12 November 1880 under Louis Lüstner. After a second performance only a couple of days later, however, Raff began to have second thoughts about two of the movements.

His wife Doris, regarded by him as embodying the audience for whom he wrote, disliked the pathos and passion of the third movement and Raff himself felt that the finale needed revision. By October 1881 he had written to his friend Lüstner with the news that he had replaced the slow movement completely and had revised the closing pages of the last movement. As before, Lüstner was the conductor for the first performance of the revised work, which was again in Wiesbaden a year after the premiere.

The altered movements still didn't appeal to audiences according to the biography of her father written by his daughter Helene, but the first two movements were successes - particularly the second movement. This achieved an independent life as a concert piece and Raff himself conducted it several times. The discarded original third movement became the Elegie WoO.48.

The revised version was finally published by Siegel of Liepzig in October 1882 and, as usual, Raff made a piano four-hand arrangement. Despite its hesitant gestation, the Autumn Symphony is one of Raff's most satisfying creations. Comparatively concise at just 35 minutes or so, the work combines beauty of melody and orchestral colour with effective structure in each of the movements, which are themselves sharply contrasted.

As one of his last works it displays the sparer, more classical style which Raff adopted, whilst remaining an archetypal romantic programme symphony. There is no detailed program, although the last movement does have five subtitles which help to flesh out Raff's picture.

Listen to an audio extract 1st. Movement: Allegro moderato "Impressions & Feelings" [the excerpt is from the middle of the movement 1:47]

This sonata-form f minor movement is suffused with poetry and displays autumnal colouring throughout. It is amongst Raff's most successful opening movements. Featuring contrasting ascending and descending lyrical motifs, which are both appropriate and memorable, with repeated horn calls at the rather subdued climaxes, the piece possesses a rather yearning quality. Raff's symphonic first movements often benefit from a propulsive pulse driving them forward. Compared with some this piece, whilst having no lack of forward motion, is altogether gentler, almost pastoral in its progress towards the quiet coda.

Listen to an audio extract 2nd. movement: Allegro "Ghostly round-dance" [the example is the end of the movement 1:34]

The structure of this short A minor movement is similar to a rondo. Raff was a master of Romantic eerie atmosphere and he used all his craft in conjuring up the spectral elements which he had learned to employ. Unlike in "Macbeth" or the finale to the 5th. Symphony, there is no ghoulish frenzy here - rather Raff paints a picture of ghosts at play. Starting with a gently threatening introduction, Raff spins out a series of dances including a waltz and a chorale, all employing his trademark chattering winds and sliding strings. After six minutes or so the ghostly revelry quietly dies away.

Listen to an audio extract 3rd. Movement: Adagio "Elegie" [the example is the middle of the movement 2:09]

Raff is at his most serene and calmly reflective in this marvellous C sharp minor rondo structure. It begins gently with a subdued and sustained melody in divided strings, repeated by the winds. A second beautiful theme appears on the cellos before being gradually enriched to a sonorous statement from the full orchestra. A third gentle theme enters in an extraordinary anticipation of the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's 5th. Symphony and this leads to an impassioned climax. A hazy transition to the opening rondo theme follows and the movement quietly spins away to an "autumnal" close interrupted occasionally by subdued tutti passages. This piece was the last symphonic movement penned by Raff and it is a fitting close to his symphonic career.

Listen to an audio extract 4th. Movement: Allegro "The Hunt of Man" [the excerpt is from the close of the movement 1:54]

Hunting pieces were popular with 19th. century audiences and Raff wrote his fair share. As is sometimes the case with Raff, this finale is not perhaps at quite so high a level of inspiration as the other movements and it does not stand comparison with his best hunting finale - in the "Forest" Symphony. There are five sections: Departure opens with extended horn calls and leads on to Rest, a quiet section replete with bird song and echoes of the opening horn motif. Gradually a persistent galloping motif in an extended passage (Hunt) leads to the Hallali (hunting calls) section which builds to an extended climax (more calls from the brass) before Rest reprises the opening material in a joyous coda.

All audio excerpts from Tudor 786. An extensive essay on this work is available in the Analysis section.

© 1999-2013 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.