Raff and his art
The pupils

There was no "school of Raff". His distinctive musical personality, blending the romantic with the classical, did not live on in the generation of composers who had studied at the master's feet. Yet Raff was a teacher before he became a composer and he was a fine, if uncharacteristically self-effacing, one. As principal of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt he forbad the playing of his music and refrained from using his compositions as teaching aids.

Several of his pupils went on to have distinguished careers.

Amongst the first was the young Alexander Ritter (1833-96), to whom Raff, 11 years his senior, gave counterpoint lessons whilst both were in Weimar in the early 1850s as members of Liszt's circle. Raff thought highly of him and Ritter returned the regard, recommending him to others. Ritter went on to marry Wagner's niece and became a respected provincial konzertmeister and composer of operas and tone poems. In his last years he was very influential over the young Richard Strauss and continued to speak with warmth of his early lessons with Raff.

Three years older than Ritter, Edmund Singer came to Weimar as the court's chamber virtuoso in 1854. He soon befriended Raff, who took him on as a composition student. Raff's daughter Helene describes him as "prominently creative" and the composer dedicated his concert piece "La fée d'amour" to him. Although Singer's subsequent career was to be as a violinist rather than a composer, he did write the most often played arrangement for violin and orchestra of his old teacher's ever-popular Cavatine from the Six Morceaux op.85.

A third prominent Weimar pupil was Natalie von Mandelsloh, a well liked member of the court and early evidence that Raff didn't see composition as an exclusively male preserve - a policy of which he was a strong-minded pioneer 20 years later as head of the Frankfurt Conservatory. Once he moved to Weisbaden in 1856 his teaching activities concentrated on instructing ladies from the city's two principal girl's schools in piano, harmony and singing. These lessons occupied him for 10-12 hours a week and he also took some private pupils. To help some of his lady students who had only small hand spans, he wrote his famous set of Suite de Morceaux pour les petites mains (Suite of pieces for small hands) op.75 - each one dedicated to one of his lady students. By the early 1870s, his growing success as a composer allowed him to give up this work and to concentrate on composition.

Alexander Ritter - photo courtesy of Craig de Wilde
Alexander Ritter
Edmund Singer
Edmund Singer
Lazzaro Uzielli
Lazzaro Uzielli
Mary Wurm
Mary Wurm

He still yearned for a post which would give him a steady income, however, and in 1877 he was appointed as principal of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where he also took the composition classes. There were several graduates from Raff's time in Frankfurt who made significant, if not stellar, careers for themselves as academics and performers. The Florentine Lazzaro Uzielli (1861-1943) became a pianist and teacher of renown - eventually returning to the Hoch Conservatory to replace Clara Schumann. He went on to hold prestigious teaching posts in other German conservatories.

Foremost amongst the Frankfurt pupils in ability and in Raff's affection was undoubtedly Edward Macdowell, who was so highly thought of by Raff that he wanted him to join the faculty. The American's dedication to Raff's memory for the rest of his life is a testament to the regard in which the principal was held by his pupils.

Bridging the Wiesbaden and Frankfurt years was the composer and pianist Anton Urspruch (1850-1907), to whom Raff had first given private lessons in Weimar before introducing him to Liszt. Urspruch returned to join the faculty of the Hoch Conservatory under Raff's directorship, as a teacher of piano.

Despite Raff's encouragement of women students, the only one who later made a name for herself as a composer was Mary Wurm (1860-1938), writer of piano works and songs. Violinist Fritz Bassermann (1850-1926) also returned to the institution's teaching staff after a distinguished career, numbering Paul Hindemith amongst his pupils. Adolf Göttmann rose to the post of Royal Director of Music in Berlin. Other pupils well known in their day but now hardly meriting a footnote in musical lexicons include the Swiss vocal composer Gottfried Angerer (1851 - 1909), the English composer and teacher Algernon Ashton (1859-1937), the composer, arranger and pedagogue Theodor Müller-Reuter (1858-1919) and Heinrich Spangenberg (1861-1925), principal of his own conservatory in Wiesbaden.

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