Raff and his art






Raff towards the end
of his life

Raff's Marches

It seems that Raff enjoyed composing marches. He certainly penned more than his fair share. Like Mahler after him, whom he appears to have influenced in this regard, Raff was not afraid of using "popular" musical forms and easily assimilated melodies in his "serious" works. The march is a classic example of this. Even in such important pieces as three of his symphonies and his only oratorio, marches are used by him to great effect. His craftsmanship shows in the constant variation of colour and secondary melodic material which he employs to avoid repetition and maintain interest.

Probably the best known Raff march appears instead of a scherzo movement in his Lenore Symphony, where it is used to illustrate the approach and departure of a military corps through a movement-long crescendo and diminuendo interrupted by a trio which portrays a lovers' parting. This movement was a great favourite with audiences in Victorian times.

Listen to an audio extract Symphony No.5 [the example is the end of trio section and the return of the march - 2:20]

Although the first symphony written by Raff is lost, it is known that the penultimate movement was a march and indeed this piece survived as one of the movements in his later Suite No.1 for orchestra. It is a straightforward open-hearted work.

Raff employed a very different sort of march in his Symphony No.6. Rather than replacing the scherzo, this time he uses a funeral march in the place of the slow movement. It portrays the dead artist on whom Raff based the symphony's original programme. Once again, the march is broken up by a trio.

Listen to an audio extract Symphony No.6 [the example is the end of march section leading into the trio - 1:58]

The great work of Raff's final years is his Oratorio "World's End - Judgement - New World". An innovation was the use of four mini orchestral tone-poems to illustrate the four horsemen of the apocalypse. One of these - War - is a pounding march which manages to be both exciting and hollow at the same time, much in the manner of the march in Tchaikovsky's later Pathétique Symphony. Raff was portraying militarism, not glorying in it.

One of Raff's most successful orchestral works was his Orchestral Suite No.2 "Hungarian". It was a real audience pleaser and the third of its five movements is a spectacularly orchestrated fast march entitled "Amongst a parade of the Honvéd" - the Hungarian cavalry militia.

Listen to an audio extract Hungarian Suite [the example is the start of march - 1:30]

In his early incidental music to the play Bernhard von Weimar, Raff wrote two short marches to underscore his future brother-in-law's drama about the 30 years war. The Festival March for orchestra of 1867 is one of his occasional works for festivities associated with royal patrons. It is a suitably jolly and carefree work.

Listen to an audio extract Festival March [The excerpt is trio giving way to a return of the march - 1:51]

March movements in chamber and piano works are harder to find. The first piece in the Six Morceaux for violin & piano Op.85 of 1859 is marked Marcia - but it failed to gain the popularity achieved by its famous companion piece from the same set, the Cavatina.

Listen to an audio extract Marcia from Six Morceaux [The excerpt is the start - 1:10]

The late Cyclic Tone-Poem Volker - also for violin and piano - has a march movement as the second of its nine pieces, and the eighth song in the late song cycle for baritone Blondel de Nesle is in march time.

Raff's only free-standing march for piano is the Marche brillante of 1866 but the monumental Suite in d for piano from seven years earlier is ended by as grand a march as has ever been written for the instrument.

Listen to an audio extract Piano Suite in d [the excerpt is the end - 2:25]

March rhythmn was also used in passing by Raff in many more of his compositions - just a couple of examples will suffice: the first movement of the Cello Sonata is dominated by a motif which, whilst not marked alla marcia, is unmistakably rhythmically inspired by the march, as is the closing stretta of his Overture "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott"

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