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Karl Fälten
Karl Fälten

Raff's death

Towards the end of her biography of her father, his daughter Helene records how his years of overwork as director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt finally resulted in a heart attack early in 1882. Raff had suffered mild heart problems for many years and his friend and physician Dr Neubürger appears to have concluded after this attack that a second was not only inevitable but would also prove fatal. Because, as she writes "he considered him lost", out of kindness for his patient the doctor allowed Raff to return to work, so that his final months could be fulfilling ones. Helene Raff takes up the story...

The 24th of June was Johannistag. In the afternoon I went to the Conservatory and picked up my father from the trial of an examination concert. Heißgerber got us an open carriage. While we waited for this, Karl Fälten and his brother Rheinhold invited us to share in a small boat trip which they wanted to take. My father called from the open window which looked out onto the Main, and at which we both stood, and said "No, no, I don't want to die on the water, I prefer the land for that". They laughed and climbed into the boat.

On the trip down, father was especially tired and quiet. Once he said to me in French - which he had taken the habit of speaking with me sometimes - "Just look at the sunset, how beautiful". It was a really wonderful red evening; the whole sky swam in rose and gold. Then my father's thoughts took another direction: our coachman, a clumsy man, handled his horse coarsely and foolishly, grabbed it by the bit, hit it needlessly, so that the animal reared up. In the commotion father didn't want to go to our house with this man but rather got out and paid him off. In the small distance we both traveled on foot he stopped a couple of times, breathed heavily and his face distorted painfully. - "Is something wrong, Papa?" - "Yes, a rheumatic pain on the left side". Later I discovered that he had already complained to Heißgerber about it and had said "I believe I'll get sick on the trip". - He scarcely noticed my exhortation; I had the impression he was far from reality as if he looked only within himself.

In the evening reason returned to him. The newspaper brought news of political events in the Orient - I don't know which any longer - which excited him very much and caused a long, almost painful, discussion. He went to bed on time on the advice of my mother since he had had in our opinion a day full of heavy work.

The next morning my father slept an unusually long time. My mother allowed him the rest; when his barber came she decided to awaken him, unhappy though she was to do it. Softly she stepped into the room, called him by name - since he didn't move she leaned over him, took his hand - which was stiff and ice cold. As she raised the window shade in shaking recognition so that the light streamed in, her dead husband lay before her and we others then saw him. Peacefully laid out on a cushion, hands not clenched on the red quilt, but open: pale and noble. The head leaned very little to the side, eyes closed, on the still face a serious, peaceful expression. It was the face of one released.

Dr Neubürger came as doctor and friend. He learned from Mama that she heard at about 11:00 a light noise like a clunk from father's bedroom; she had called out to see if he were awake. However everything was quiet; so she had thought that he had only drunk from the water glass on the night table, as he often did, and had fallen asleep again. The doctor said my father, probably awakened by light indisposition, had turned over and reached for the glass of water; in that moment the heart attack took place which must have resulted from the condition of a few hours before. "The noise you heard about 11:00" he said to my mother "was his last movement in this life".

Helene Raff records that a death mask was taken by Johannes Dielmann (1819-1886), a sculptor friend of Raff. The funeral at Frankfurt Cemetery was held two days later on 27 June 1882.

[The source for this article is the last chapter of Helene Raff's 1925 biography of her father]

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