Raff and his art






Franz Lachner

Raff and the Suite

Raff was a prodigious writer of suites - 18 in all. Beginning with the first of his Piano Suites in 1857, he went on to pen four for orchestra, one each for piano or violin with orchestra, two for String Quartet, one for violin and piano and a further seven for piano alone. Even earlier, he had already toyed with the idea of describing as a suite his first attempt at writing a symphony. Together with the Munich-based Franz Lachner, Raff is credited by Robert Pascal (in The New Oxford History of Music) with the re-introduction of the suite as a genre in the romantic era.

With his autodidactic appreciation of the music of a hundred years before (unusual in the mid-19th. century), Raff initially wrote suites modeled closely on baroque originals. His first three Piano Suites (opp.69, 71 and 72 - all of 1857) are each in five movements. All begin with a Preludio, end with a Fuga and feature baroque movements such as a Toccatina and a Minuetto. They were no mere pastiches, however, but rather a largely successful attempt at a fusion of the old and the new - the original structures reinterpreted with romantic melody, colouring and harmonies. As his contemporaries quipped, he "poured new wine into old bottles".

Listen to an audio extract This extract is the gentle Preludio from the Piano Suite op.69 [1:56]

The next two Piano Suites (op.91 of 1859 and op.162 of 1870) depart significantly from the earlier model - they are both in four movements and written on a much larger scale. Whilst the the D minor 1859 work retains the baroque movement titles, the G minor op.162 dispenses even with these and both are more akin to collections of free-standing concert pieces. The final pair (op.163 of 1871 and op.204 of 1876) return to the baroque model, although both are expanded to feature six movements.

Listen to an audio extract The extract is from the middle section of the Rigaudon movement of the Piano Suite op.204 [1.13].

 The final suite which Raff wrote for solo piano stands outside his major canon of seven Piano Suites. It is the Suite de Morceaux pour les petit mains (Suite of pieces for small hands) op.75 which dates from 1858-9. Amongst Raff's most popular works in his day, this set of twelve piano character pieces is an early example amongst romantic music of calling a straightforward collection of otherwise unrelated pieces a suite. They are wholly romantic in concept and have no discernable baroque element to them.

The Suite for Violin and Piano op.210 was written in 1879 and closely follows Raff's baroque model. Its opening Prélude is followed by a Pavane, Chanson, Gavotte and it ends with a Tambourin. The two 1874 quartets are less straightforward. Although numbered as String Quartet Nos.6 and 8 (the first and third works in op.192) they are also designated by Raff as the Suite in Vintage Form and the Suite in Canon-Form respectively. The first follows the established pattern - five baroque movements beginning with a Präludium. The second begins with a Marsch and has seven movements, of which two are a Canon and a double Canon.

The Suite for Violin and Orchestra op.180 of 1873 was a very popular work in Raff's heyday and it adheres to the five movement model employing baroque titles. His second attempt at a concerto format, the Suite for Piano and Orchestra op.200, replaced the opening prelude with an Introduktion and Fugue but retained the five movement structure with the middle three movements having baroque titles. The piece's character, however, is highly romantic.

Listen to an audio extract the excerpt is from the Menuett of the Suite for Piano & Orchestra op.200 [2:02]

The final group of suites is the four written for orchestra between 1863 and 1877. The first, unnamed, work is op.101. It too begins with an Introduktion and Fugue and features a Menuett movement, but its baroque character is muted and it is better seen as a precursor of the many loosely constructed orchestral suites produced during the last quarter of the 19th. century. Franz Lachner had produced his first such two years earlier.

Listen to an audio extractThe excerpt is from Larghetto "On the Puszta" movement of the "Hungarian" Suite for Orchestra op.194 [1:53]

The three remaining works - the "Italian" Suite WoO.35 of 1871, the "Hungarian" Suite op.194 of 1874 and the "Thüringian" Suite WoO.45 of 1877 - are all, as their titles imply, "travelogues" illustrating in movements full of appropriate local colour the areas after which they were named. Despite their more relaxed character and lack of any structural connection with his baroque inspiration, it is interesting that Raff retained his five movement structure for each of them.

Finally, as if to emphasise the original inspiration for his determined revival of the suite, Raff the inveterate arranger made arrangements of ten of JS Bach's suites. The Six Cello Suites were arranged for piano, the English Suite No.3 in G minor was treated to an transcription for orchestra in 1874 and three of the Orchestral Suites (Nos.1-3 in C, B Flat minor and D respectively) were rewritten for piano.

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