Our Berlin Correspondent telegraphed last night:-
"Joachim Raff, the celebrated composer and pianist, died this morning in Frankfort. He was born in 1822 and was a scholar of Liszt, with whom he resided at Weimar for some time. His first operas, Alfred, Dame Kobold and Samson, were not very successful, but his symphonies, his quartettes, and his numerous compositions for the piano have made him famous in the musical world. Joachim Raff was, together with Clara Schumann, for some years a teacher at the Conservatory of Dr. Hoch at Frankfort."
This brief report was followed by a much fuller summary of Raff's life and assessment of his standing in the musical world in the next day's obituary column. There are some inaccuracies: for example he was born in 1822, not 1824 and Bernhard von Weimar is incidental music rather than an opera. Overall, though, this obituary is interesting because it demonstrates how his reputation, so high in England in the 1870s, was already on the wane. Here the generally disdainful tone is clear and the familiar charge of being too prolific to have been capable of producing works of the first rank was already influencing his posthumous reputation, just two days after his death.
"Joachim Raff, whose death at Frankfort-on-the-Main was announced yesterday, was one of the most prolific composers of modern times. His published works exceed 200, besides many others issued without opus number, and several operas which have been performed but never printed. They comprise all classes of instrumental and vocal compositions, from the pièce de salon to the symphony, from the song to the opera in five acts. It was perhaps this unchecked fertility which prevented Raff from taking rank with composers of the first class, although he was certainly prominent among those of the second.
"The artistic tendency of his compositions was in great measure determined by outward circumstances. At an early age Raff attracted the attention of Mendelssohn who introduced his first works to the great publishing house of Breitkopf and Härtel, and later on invited him to Leipsic, for the purpose of supervising his musical education. The influence of the great master of classical form would, no doubt, have been of vital importance for the artistic development of the young and impressionable artist. But Mendelssohn's death intervened, and Raff's subsequent acquaintance with Liszt made him an ardent partisan of the new school, which he advocated in an able pamphlet, "Die Wagnerfrage," published nearly 30 years ago, but still worth reading. With Liszt he stayed at Weimar for several years as one of a group of gifted young musicians who gathered round the great virtuoso, and here his first opera, King Alfred, saw the light of the stage in 1850. Its success, however, was not very encouraging, and the same remark applies to Raff's other operas, Bernhard von Weimar and Dame Kobold, the latter performed at Weimar in 1870.
"More important are Raff's contributions to symphonic music, ten in number, mostly of the nature of symphonic poems or pictures, in so far as they are intended to illustrate by musical means the beauties of nature or the works of poets. Among the former the symphony (No.3), entitled Im Walde (In the Forest), among the latter that written to Bürger's Leonora (No.5) are the most successful. The Leonora symphony may be called Raff's masterpiece, in which melodic invention, masterly instrumentation, and descriptive power of a rare order are combined to produce an effect of singular weirdness and beauty. Both have been heard and well received at the Crystal Palace.
"Some of his pieces for chamber music, including a beautiful quintet (Op. 107), and two trios (op. 102, 112), are in the répertoire of the Monday Popular Concerts. As a song-writer Raff has achieved great popularity in Germany, although he can scarcely be said to rank among the leading representatives of the " Lied." In this, as, indeed, in all other branches of music, he lacks the individuality without which genius, properly so-called, cannot exist. Raff is essentially an eclectic; he has no style of his own. Although strongly influenced by Wagner and Liszt, he by no means despises a downright, not to say vulgar, tune, and his music throughout shows a kind of compromise between high aspiration and the desire of immediate popular success.
"The external incidents of Raff's career may be summed up in few words. Born May 27, 1824, at Lachen, in Switzerland, he received his general education at the Jesuit Lyceum in Canton Schwyz. His love for music, shown at an early age, was stronger than the narrow circumstances which compelled him to earn his bread as a schoolmaster. The encouragement his first compositions received from Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt induced him to adopt music as a profession. In 1856 he settled at Wiesbaden, where his wife, the well-known actress, Doris Genast, had an engagement at the Court Theatre. In 1877 ho was appointed Principal of the Conservatoire founded by Dr. Hoch at Frankfort."
[From The Times, London, 27 June 1882 p.10]