Raff and his art



The score of Welt-Ende
The score of Welt-Ende _ Gericht - Neue Welt

Raff as author

Raff had a ready pen. As a schoolboy he was a polymath with a particular aptitude for languages. This stood him in good stead once he gave up his teaching post and had to survive as a freelance in the musical world. Always ready, indeed eager, to stir up controversy, he soon began earning modest amounts writing criticism for musical journals. In his four wandering years which followed his meeting with Liszt in 1845, he worked in a piano shop in Cologne and for a publisher in Hamburg. During that time, musical journalism remained one of his regular sources of income and continued to be so for over twenty years.

In 1846 he became a regular contributor to the prestigious Mainz musical journal Cäcelia but a particularly contentious article for the competing Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung of Vienna so incensed his Cologne hosts that he was compelled to leave the city altogether. When he eventually settled in Weimar under Liszt's patronage, one of his duties was to help the master prepare his own writings for publication. He also had time to write his own articles - Die Stellung der Deutschen in der Geshichte der Music: kunsthistorische Skizze (German stars in the history of music: art-historical sketches) appeared in the Weimar Journal of German Language, Literature and Art in 1854, the same year as his notorious booklet on Wagner's Lohengrin, Die Wagnerfrage.

Although his writings were never again as controversial as that, he carried on contributing to Germany's musical press well into the 1870s, when his appointment as Director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt curtailed his critical activity. As well as more pieces in the Weimar-based Journal, his criticism and historical analysis was published in the Leipzig Illustrated News, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and the Signale für die musikalische Welt. He was the regular music critic for a newspaper in his home city of Wiesbaden, the Nassauische Zeitung.

Raff's most significant activity as a writer, however, was in providing texts for his compositions. His first essay in this field was also his most extensive. He wrote the libretto to his second opera "Samson" in 1851-2 during his early days in Weimar. It formed part of an abortive doctoral dissertation, which included not only the music (written 1853-7) but also a book discussing the literary and musical sources of the Samson story. The grandest of all his dramatic works, the five act "Samson" twice teetered on the brink of performance but remains unheard to this day.

Raff seems to have written his final two operas purely for his own intellectual enjoyment, without any realistic hope of performance. This may be part of the reason why he wrote their librettos himself, though whether he regarded his literary skills the equal of his musical ones is unrecorded. In each case he wrote the libretto well in advance of the music and in both the penultimate Benedetto Marcello and the final Die Eifersüchtigen the scores are endorsed "Text by the composer".

For the earlier Die Parole of 1868 Raff had also written the libretto. With the work still unperformed, Raff hid behind the pseudonym of Arnold Börner when the text was published separately in 1873. At around the same time he credited Börner with authorship of the text of two other vocal works: Im Kahn op.171 No.1, for mixed choir and orchestra (published 1872) and Lullaby op.186b, for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra (published 1874). His final use of the name was as author of a poem, stanzas from which which preface each movement of the Violin Concerto No.2 of 1877.

Raff was happy to claim credit in his own name for his arrangement of texts from the Revelation of St. John for his final great work, the Oratorio Welt-Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt of 1879-81.

Interestingly, in his final years Raff set several of his daughter Helene's youthful literary efforts: the major works for chorus and orchestra Die Tageszeiten op.209 of 1877 and Die Sterne WoO.53 of 1880 and the song cycle Blondel de Nesle of the same year. In each case she used the pseudonym Helge Heldt. After Raff's death, despite an ambition to be a painter, she eventually became a respected writer.

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