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"The First Violin"
The First Violin

The First Violin

Some idea of the impact of Raff's Symphony No.5 Lenore can be gauged by it's use by the romantic novelist Jessie Fothergill (1851-91) in her decorously passionate three volume novel "The First Violin". Published in 1877 - just five years after the Symphony's premiere - it is a Victorian love story set mainly in contemporary Germany. The heroine, an English singer, continuously meets and looses the handsome, mysterious orchestra leader (first violin) glorying in the name of Eugen Courvoisier. Needless to say, his mystery is eventually unravelled and the cause of true love quite properly triumphs - see the excellent summary of the book at The Tesseract for more.

The relevance for Raff lies in Fothergill's use of the Lenore Symphony as one of the threads running through the book - an honour which Raff's Symphony shares with Schumann's music. Other composers mentioned more or less fleetingly are Wagner, Beethoven and Anton Rubinstein.

To the "theme" of the Symphony's third March movement (one can only assume the first subject, Fothergill is no more specific) is assigned the role of a sort of literary leitmotiv or idée fix - it is Eugen Courvoisier's calling card.

Fothergill introduces Eugen to the reader: "As he approached, I heard that he was humming something. I even heard the air; it has been impressed upon my memory firmly enough since, though I did not know it then - the air of the march from Raff's Fifth Symphonie, the Lenore. I heard the tune softly hummed in a mellow voice as, with face burning and glowing, I placed myself before him".

Chapter IV is headed by a few bars quoted from the Symphony's opening Allegro and in it we are told that the orchestra is rehearsing Lenore in concert with other pieces.

Courvoisier is "always humming and singing things". "But one air was particular to Eugen, who seemed to be perfectly possessed by it - that which I had heard him humming when I first met him - the March from Lenore. He whistled it and sung it; played it on the violin,'cello and piano; hummed it first thing in the morning and last thing at night; harped upon it until in despair his companion threw books and music at him, and he, dodging them, laughed, begged pardon, was silent for five minutes, and then the March da capo set in a halting kind of measure to the ballad."

During a solitary (unchaperoned?) evening with Eugen and his son, the heroine listens to him improvising: "It was wild, melancholy, sometimes sweet, but ever the ringing note of woe so piercing as to stab, recurring perpetually - such a note as comes throbbing to life now and then in the "Sonate Pathetique", or in Raff's Fifth Symphony".

When all seems lost, Lenore again is employed, this time to announce the hero's unlooked-for return: "but at this instant, in a momentary lull of the wind, almost by my side I heard a sound that I knew well, and had cause to remember - the tune of the wild march from Lenore set to the same words, sung by the same voice as of yore.

My heart stood still for a moment, then leaped on again. Then a faint, sickly kind of dread overcame me. I thought I was going out of my mind - was wandering in some delusion, which took the form of the dearest voice, and sounded with its sound in my ears.

But no! The melody did not cease...."

That Raff's work had made so much impact that Fothergill could assume knowledge of it in her American readers only a few years after it's composition in Germany says much for the fame of it and its creator.

© 1999-2017 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.