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Bernhard Molique

The Stuttgart years

When he finally left Cologne in January 1848, Raff decided that he would head for Vienna to meet the publisher Pietro Mechetti, who had shown enough interest in the young man's works to publish a few of them.

Before traveling to Austria, however, he made his way to the Prussian capital Berlin to meet the celebrated pedagogue Siegfried Dehn. After an amiable meeting with the great man, he traveled south to Saxony and in Leipzig made contact with his first publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, as well as their competitor Schuberth and the influential editor of the Signale journal, Bartolf Senff, also a publisher. These meetings were to bear fruit in his later years, as all three eventually published Raff scores.

Moving on to nearby Dresden, he struck up an especially happy friendship with the then prominent composer Carl Reissiger, the court kappelmeister. So warm was their relationship that they addressed each other as "papa" and "son".

Despite the welcome, his stay there was short and he decided to head straight for Vienna, rather than detour via Weimar in the hope of Liszt's promised arrival there, as had been his original intention.

On the way south, however, news reached him of Mechetti's death, destroying his hopes of advancement under the publisher's patronage. This bitter disappointment rendered his plan futile and so Raff decided to return to his father's homeland of Württemberg in south west Germany, where he had spent several years as a schoolboy.

He had no great hopes for Stuttgart, the kingdom's capital, especially after the Serenade WoO.5, which he had dedicated to the crown prince at a court official's suggestion, failed to achieve a performance. He later destroyed the work, as he did several other piano pieces at this time. The Stuttgart sojourn seems to have been intended as a breathing space during which he would decide his future. Take up Mendelssohn's offer to study with him in Leipzig, or join Liszt in Weimar as his factotum? The news of Mendelssohn's death in November 1847 came as a crushing blow to Raff and robbed him of his choice.


It seemed that he was destined to return to Liszt's circle in Weimar, where the virtuoso had finally settled at the beginning of 1848, but Raff chose that moment to have his first serious falling out with his erstwhile patron. Just what he wrote to Liszt is lost, but Liszt's reply "In spite of all my patience and good temper, it would be impossible for me to endure any longer such impertinence", leaves little doubt that his protogée had seriously overstepped the mark. For the time being, he had to eke out a living in Stuttgart.

He resumed his writing and took on some piano pupils, but his financial situation remained precarious. He had the great luck to be introduced to Kunigunde Heinrich, a widowed former music teacher, who took the penurious Raff under her wing and mothered him so thoroughly that he called her "Mama" Heinrich for the rest of her life. His behaviour towards her was often boorish and inconsiderate, but she recognised his real worth and wasn't shy of berating him if he offended her. Above all, she gave him the confidence and support to continue both composing and studying composition.

Through Mama Heinrich, Raff came into contact with a lad with whom he would share a lifelong friendship - the 18 year old Hans von Bülow. For him he wrote his Fantasia on themes from Kücken's Opera "Der Prätendent" WoO.7, with which Bülow debuted at a concert on New Year's Day 1848, held under the direction of the eminent composer Lindpaintner. Bülow made a great impression, but Raff's opera confection clearly displeased its composer, as he subsequently destroyed the work.

Raff also made the acquaintance of the poets Otto Inkermann, J G Fischer and Henrik Glogau, and this spurred him on to begin lieder composition in earnest, setting their poems. His earliest surviving songs date from the brief Stuttgart period.

He was starting to think on a bigger scale too, and began his first large scale work, a setting of Psalm 121 for Soprano, Alto, Choir & Orchestra (WoO.8). This was followed by a very ambitious enterprise - a four act grand opera on King Alfred, to a libretto by Glogau. Raff had no dramatic experience and, being an entirely self taught composer, this was quite consciously a learning exercise.

In his self confidence, he tried to interest the Stuttgart authorities in committing to staging the work, even though it was in a fragmentary state. Lindpaintner would not entertain it. The kapellmeister Bernhard Molique, a well known composer who had befriended Raff, was unwilling to support him and no doubt the increasingly hectoring tone of Raff's campaign didn't help. Giving up on Stuttgart, he tried to interest "papa" Reissiger in Dresden in the opera but, although full of praise for the piece, the older composer concluded that "there would be few directors who would not be scared away from this daring and difficult work".

Surprisingly, Raff was as undeterred by this rejection as he was by the drudgery of his mundane daytime jobs, his continuing debts and by his inability to get anything but his opera potpourris published. He broadened his compositional horizons and wrote a Piano Trio (in G minor, since lost), and began a String Quartet (also lost).He wrote smaller works for cello and piano and violin and piano. The summer of 1848 saw him happily exploring the nearby area of his father's youth in Swabia, but political unrest was spreading throughout Germany and Stuttgart did not go untouched.

It was a difficult time, and there was no prospect of it getting any easier. In May 1849 Raff wrote to Liszt a letter which Bülow described as "an excellent letter of apology", and Liszt responded by offering to try and arrange a staging of King Alfred in Weimar, describing it as "finely worked out". Thus encouraged, Raff decided to leave Stuttgart and, relying on his earlier connection with Julius Schuberth, move to Hamburg, where the publisher was based.

His debts unpaid awaiting better times, he left Stuttgart suddenly and without saying goodbye to his many acquaintances, provoking Mama Heinrich to scold him that he should "never again leave a city in such a way".

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

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