The critics' view of Raff




Hubert Parry
Hubert Parry

Parry's opinion of Raff

The English composer Hubert Parry wrote a short critique of Raff's symphonic style in 1889 - seven year's after Raff, died but whilst his reputation was still high...

"Raff almost invariably adopted a title for his instrumental works; but those which he selected admit of the same kind of general interpretation as those of Mendelssohn, and serve rather as a means of unifying the general tone and style of the work than of pointing out the lines of actual development. The several Seasons, for instance, serve as the general idea for a symphony each. Another is called 'Im Walde'. In another several conditions in the progress of the life of a man serve as a vague basis for giving a certain consistency of character to the style of expression, in a way quite consonant with the pure type. In one case Raff comes nearer to the Berlioz ideal, namely in the Lenore Symphony, in some parts of which he clearly attempts to depict a succession of events. But even when this is most pronounced, as in the latter part of the work, there is very little that is not perfectly intelligible and appreciable as music without reference to the poem. As a matter of fact Raff is always rather free and relaxed in his form; but that is not owing to his adoption of programme, since the same characteristic is observable in works that have no name as in those that have.

The ease and speed with which he wrote, and the readiness with which he could call up a certain kind of genial, and often very attractive ideas, both interfered with the concentration necessary for developing a closely-knit and compact work of art. His ideas are clearly defined and very intelligible, and have much poetical sentiment; and these facts, together with a very notable mastery of orchestral resource and feeling for colour, have ensured his works great success; but there is too little self-restraint and concentration both in the general outline and in the statement of details, and too little self-criticism in the choice of subject-matter, to admit the works to the highest rank among symphonies.

In the broadest outlines he generally conformed to the principles of the earlier masters, distributing his allegros, slow movements, scherzos, and finales, according to precedent. And, allowing for the laxity above referred to, the models which he followed in the internal structure of the movements are the familiar types of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His finales are usually the most irregular, at times amounting almost to fantasias; but even this, as already described, is in conformity with tendencies which are noticeable even in the golden age of symphonic art.

Taken as a whole, Raff's work in the department of symphony is the best representative of a characteristic class of composition of modern times - the class in which the actual ideas and general colour and sentiment are nearly everything, while their development and the value of the artistic side of structure are reduced to a minimum".

C. Hubert Parry (1889)

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