Detailed biography




Bad Eilsen Kurhaus
Bad Eilsen Kurhaus





Princess Carolyne & her daughter Marie
Princess Carolyne & her daughter Marie

The idyll in Bad Eilsen

Raff left Hamburg on 24 November 1849 in the company of his erstwhile employer, the publisher Schuberth. They traveled by way of Bückeburg to meet Liszt at the small spa resort of Bad Eilsen in north central Germany, where he was staying prior to a permanent move to Weimar. The meeting was an affectionate one and Raff approved of the rooms which had been provided for him at the house of Herr Rinne. Liszt himself was living in the Baron's house nearby.

In Schuberth's presence, he was offered by Liszt an annual salary of 600 thalers a year and full lodging in return for "join[ing] my career to his for a few years", as he later reported. Liszt demanded his "cooperation in his forthcoming numerous works" and advised Raff that he intended to "prepare himself in all stillness for the career of a composer" (a reference to his recent appointment as kapellmeister in Weimar, the home of Goethe and Schiller). This imprecision over his actual duties was to cause Raff much frustration in the years to come, but for the time being he was content and decided "to stay with my old friend Liszt". Schuberth left them on 4 December, but not before he assured Raff that he wanted to know how things worked out for him.

A routine was established. Liszt would visit the young man in his room at 10 every morning and they would discuss the day's work. He was quickly employed on the instrumentation of Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1 and the symphonic poems Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne and Die vier Elemente. He translated an article on John Field's Nocturnes from French into German and listed in a letter a further dozen or so projects lined up for him by Liszt, including the 2nd. Piano Concerto, the Totentanz, an opera Sardanapal and a book about Chopin.

The prospect of their planned transfer to Weimar held out the hope of some free time, however, and also the prospect of hearing some of his own music performed. Liszt promised to play Raff's projected Concert Overture in c minor (described by its composer at the time as the first of three). "I am very eager finally to hear myself have my fling in the orchestra", wrote Raff.

In addition to his hosts, the Rinne family, his circle consisted of Liszt and his companion Princess Carolyne Sayn von Wittgenstein, her daughter Marie and the governess Mistress Anderson, a chambermaid and a general servant. It was a happy time for Raff. He had a small piano in his room and as well as plenty of intellectual stimulation there were full scores, books, newspapers, cards, beer and wine freely available to him. He did, however, regret the absence of a church: "Although I am a completely hopeless Christian, I still miss the bells...".

There was only one problem. From the very start his relationship with the princess seems to have been a prickly one.

No musician herself, she nonetheless called Raff "an unfeeling man who pursued art as an intellectual thing, not from the standpoint of its inner poetry". His habit of suppressing natural exuberance and instead expressing himself only after calculating what he should say seemed to support her view. He also showed little respect for the princess' spirituality and was probably still exhibiting the rudeness about which his Stuttgart friend Kunigunde Heinrich had complained when he had left that city suddenly. Indeed, when she wrote to him in Bad Eilsen in December 1849 her welcome letter counseled him to "learn how to behave amongst people".

Christmas 1849 was spent in idyllic circumstances, gilding nuts for the Christmas tree with Rinne's young daughters. On New Years Day 1850 Raff went out sledging with Rinne but in the evening, upon his return, he found that Liszt and the princess had been reading his journal, left open on the desk. Although they laughed at his naive piety, which came as a surprise because Liszt had earlier described Raff to Carolyne as an enlightened "Spinoza-ist", the discovery sparked a conversation between the two men about the nature of the Catholic chorale. It moved Liszt so much that he kissed Raff.

It was decided that he would go to Weimar at the beginning of 1850 in advance of the rest of the Liszt household. Shortly before his departure he was "seized by a strange, restless and breathless manner" which made writing difficult for him - perhaps the first sign of the heart complaint which would eventually kill him? He left Bad Eilsen for Weimar early in the morning, having had a midnight visit from his mentor. The little spa was later remembered by Raff as a "friendly place where I spent some of the most memorable months of my life". After an exhausting two day journey he finally arrived at Weimar, which was to prove his home for the next five years.

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

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