Raff wrote a substantial amount of vocal music - some 16 works for voice and piano of which almost half were written in a short time during his early years in Stuttgart. The remaining works feature several large scale collections of songs - such as the 11 song Maria Stuart cycle of 1872 and the Blondel de Nesle cycle - also of 11 numbers - from nine years later. Perhaps his most popular collection in its day, and certainly the largest was Raff's Sanges-Frühling op.98 - the "Spring Songs".
These 30 individual pieces vary in mood and scale and were written between 1855 and 1863 during an increasingly happy and successful time for Raff during which he also moved from Weimar to Wiesbaden, married, achieved financial security and secured recognition for himself as a composer. They were published in three volumes a year after completion. "Sanges Frühling" is not a song-cycle, but rather a collection of songs linked, sometimes very loosely, by common themes of love or the Spring. The poems are by various poets such as Geibel and Ernst and include such well known pieces as Heinrich Heine's "Lorelei". During the second half of the 19th. Century several of the songs became very well known indeed throughout Germany. Although the songs vary greatly in mood and style, all display what Matthias Wiegandt has described as Raff's "transparent tonality, succinct rhythm and unobtrusive melody".
A sad and regretful song, "Farewell" is a setting of a poem by Stolterfoth. The opening line sets the tone of the lied: "To feel no sadness in (the) heart is the bitterest of all ills".
No.8: Betrogen [1:03]
One of the most famous of the early romantic poets was Geibel and Raff made several settings of his works. Here, Raff's short setting of his "Deceived" is an outburst of anger at the singer's betrayal by her love.
No.10: Kein Sorg' um den Weg [1:05]
Ernst's "No worry along the way" is a joyful assertion that, when there are two travellers through life, "no ditch (is) too wide, no wall too high". Raff's brief, happy song became in its day a great favourite in Germany.
No.26: Lorelei [2:10]
Heine's Lorelei was set by many composers in addition to Raff and the legend which it records, the siren on Lorelei rock in the Rhine, was also the subject of an opera by Bruch. This excerpt is from the middle of the song and illustrates the poetic piano writing and glowing melody which Raff uses to describe the maiden combing her golden hair in the evening sunshine..
[All recordings from the December 1998 Joachim Raff Society recital given by Barbara Ostertag (mezzo soprano) and Matthias Theimal (piano)]