In the autumn of 1849 Raff left the disappointments of Stuttgart behind him and headed north. He was attracted by the idea of trying his luck in the great northern port city of Hamburg, home of the music publisher Julius Schuberth (1804-75), whom he had met in Berlin the previous year. On the way he detoured via Cologne, his home before Stuttgart, and made a pilgrimage to gaze at the window of the room in which he had last met Mendelssohn, who had since died.
Towards the end of his time in Stuttgart he had once again made his peace with Liszt, who was intending to take a holiday in Helgoland, an island off Germany's North Sea coast. Raff thought that he would travel through Hamburg to meet his mentor in Helgoland, and then return to the city to establish himself there. A son of the Alps, he found the great plain of the north "big and desolate", but he was impressed with Hamburg. He called it "a marvelous sight". He stayed initially at the Hotel de Saxe on the Altsterbassin and met Schuberth as soon as he arrived. The publisher told him that Liszt would soon arrive in Hamburg itself, and so Raff gave up his plan of traveling on to Helgoland. He was made very welcome in the Hansastadt, although Schuberth told him fairly that he wasn't able to publish any more of Raff's music for the time being. He still had twelve unpublished Raff manuscripts, but he returned four piano pieces to their author who was able to get them published by Cranz & Jovien, who paid eight Thalers for his arrangement of "The Last Rose of Summer" alone.
In September 1849, Raff and Liszt met, but the first meeting was a disappointment to the young man, because their previous acrimony tainted the atmosphere. It was also the first time that he encountered Princess Carolyne Sayn von Wittgenstein, Liszt's companion, who was there with her children. Later, though, his rancour vanished when he heard Liszt at the piano. "He still plays like a God", wrote Raff.
Liszt had recommended Raff to Schuberth as a "fluent and qualified worker" and he was soon making arrangements for piano of established works in other mediums. He beavered away in the publisher's house from 8 am to 9 pm each day, being paid seven Thalers for each of the arrangements. This, he complained, was "too much for a copier, too little for a composer". Schuberth had got his arranger's rate pitched at just about the right level, it would seem!
Within his eleven hour day he found half an hour to teach Messy (Mary), the daughter of the house. Although he was adequately paid, Raff found Hamburg's prices high and so, to help him, Schuberth allowed him to share with his accountant a room in his home, which was near the Jungfernsteig, "one of the best sections of the town". He was comfortable: "I developed an unseemly liking for family life", he wrote at the time.
He had little time for composition and no major works were completed during his months in Hamburg. Encouragingly, though, Schuberth bought the rights to some of his earlier piano arrangements of popular melodies from operas, previously published by another house, with the intention of creating a series called "The opera in the Salon". They were published in 1850.
Raff made efforts to be involved in his new home's musical life and got to know Theodor Hagen (1823-71), a composer and author. Hagen praised Raff extravagantly: "There are men who interest us with their first encounter, in such a way has Raff engaged one ... I like intelligence and Raff is an intelligent man. He didn't live with the Jesuits in vain; he didn't transplant the opera to the salon in vain ... he did not enjoy the trust of Julius Schuberth for nothing. Ah, Raff is a total man, a man of the times ... Do you think I'm joking? I assure you, this rosy-cheeked blond youth with the prominent glasses will make a career in the twinkling of an eye."
Under a pseudonym, Raff poured out arrangements for Schuberth. So hard did he work that he complained that he "had not been able to breath fresh air for 14 days". So pleased was Schuberth with him, that he offered him a permanent position as a music dealer in the Hamburg shop, and Raff was attracted by the prospect of staying there for three or four years and putting-by some savings. His employer even dangled before him the prospect of joining the American arm of the business in New York, once he'd gained more experience and improved his English. Raff was content with his lot for now and saw Hamburg as a good base. After three months there, he wrote: "It seems that I am in the right place gradually to make an independent career ... I have certainty of work and certainty of food, which is found neither on the Rhine nor the Neckar".
Liszt, chose that moment to make at last a firm offer of employment with him in Weimar, asking that Raff join him in Bad Eilsen. Raff was loth to leave Hamburg and disliked being summoned to the spa, but he nonetheless wrote to Liszt that "in order to make my decision immediately, it is enough for me to know that I can be useful to you there. I am making my way to you with the firm intention of serving you". Schuberth was sorry to see him go and wrote to Liszt: "Raff has handled himself very well here with me, and I feel it my duty, in case he should return from you again, to stand by him in all ways".
Raff left Hamburg on 24 November 1849 "with a feeling of caring; well equipped with a good reputation, with money and, what's more, with a certainty of being able to turn back to good friends."