JOs. Raff: Always Pleasant
Raff's brother Kaspar's op.16:
Always Pleasant for piano

The Raff family

There is a steady trickle of Raffs who contact this site with genealogical questions about their family. To help them, this page summarises all that is known about the antecedents of Joachim Raff. The only definitive source for his life is the biography written by his daughter Helene, published in Germany in 1922 and from which these notes are taken. Helen's autobiography mentions none of her Raff relatives. Raff itself remains a common name in south west Germany.

Family trees summarise the information given here.

Raff's grandfather was Anton Raff (1763-1848) - a weaver and farmer in the village of Wiesenstetten. The nearest town was Empfingen in the Black Forest not far from Stuttgart, the capital of the south west German duchy of Württemberg. Anton married Helene Lohmiller (b.1764)and their first child was Michael, followed by Raff's father Franz Josef (1789-1861) on 2 February 1789. During the Napoleonic wars, Württemberg was annexed by the French and all young men were conscripted into the army. Michael was the first in the family to be called up and was never heard of again by any of them. To avoid the same fate Franz Josef, with the help of his father, absconded and ended up in Switzerland working as a school teacher in Lachen, a town about 50 kilometers along the lake from Zürich.

Although Raff's father had eight siblings only one another brother is recorded. This is Mätthaus Raff (1793-1864), four years his junior, with whom his composer nephew stayed in the mid-1830s whilst studying at the Gymnasium in Rottweil, Württemberg. Mätthaus had entered the priesthood in 1828 and became parish priest of Oberkirchberg near Wiblingen. By the time of his death in 1864 he was dean of the Ellwangen Chapter in Röhlingen near Ellwangen.

In Lachen in 1819 Franz Josef Raff married a local woman - 19 year old Katharina Schmid (1800-1874). Her father was Franz Joachim Schmid (1781-1839), who was the Kantonal Stattholder - chairman of the local assembly. Joachim was the eldest of their six surviving children - the others being Kaspar, Maria Antonia, Aloysia, Selina and Peter. Though Raff's siblings aren't mentioned again in Helene Raff's biography, she does record that the "family" moved from Switzerland to Ravensburg in Württemberg in 1851 on Franz Joseph's retirement.

Each of the three Raff brothers was christened with Joseph as his first name, followed by their more familiar given name (Joachim, Kaspar and Peter). In 1855, Kaspar (1831-1893), the middle brother, married Eliza Pfisterer (1838-1878) and they immediately sailed for the USA, settling initially in New York before moving on to Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 1858, by now having Americanised his name to Joseph C. Raff, Kaspar moved to Owego, New York, a small town near Binghamton. The American Raff family eventually grew to one son (another Joseph) and six daughters before Eliza died at the early age of 40. Described in a history of Owego written a few years after his death as "a good violinist, but a better pianist", Kaspar established himself as a music teacher, acquired the title of professor and became well known in the community as conductor of a succession of cornet bands. A local newspaper reports his contribution to a wedding: "Prof. Raff's orchestra was present and their sweet music added much to the enjoyment of the occasion. During the evening Prof. Raff played a new piece dedicated to the bride, entitled 'Wedding Pleasures.'" He was the composer of many light piano pieces, some of which in the first half of the 1860s celebrated Union successes in the Civil War. In 1888 he moved from Owego to nearby Binghamton and in 1890 sailed to Germany, possibly his first visit in 40 years to see his family in Europe. When Kaspar Raff died, his obituary in the New York Times of 15 July 1893 read: "Professor Joseph C Raff, an eminent composer and professor of music died at his home in Binghamton, NY Thursday evening. He was sixty two years of age. He was well known in his professional capacity throughout the state."

Piano music by Raff's brother Joseph Kaspar:

Listen to an extract Joseph Kaspar Raff's Grand Marche Militaire:
"The Second Fall of Sumter" of 1863

Listen to an extract Joseph Kaspar Raff's "The Fall of Richmond:
A descriptive piece" of 1865 [06:36]

Beyond a footnote listing their names, Helene Raff makes no mention of Raff's other brother and sisters in her biography of him and nothing is presently known of their lives. There is little information either about the Raff family which remained in Wiesenstetten. An old LP booklet shows a 1930 photo of the Raff family house in Wiesenstetten which was demolished in 1936. In front are standing on the left Joachim Raff, a " descendent" of the composer and who died in WWII. As Raff's only child had no children herself, this "descendent" Joachim is therefor more likely a descendent of Raff's uncles or of his brother Peter. Also in the picture on the right is an older man, Anton Raff, who is described as a farmer and a great-nephew of the composer, presumably a grandson of Peter.

Raff himself married Doris Genast (1826-1902) in Wiesbaden in 1859 and their only child was Helene Raff (1865-1942). After Raff's death in 1882, they eventually resettled in Munich and here Helene built herself a reputation as a painter and author. She died childless and unmarried.

© 1999-2017 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.