Raff & his peers




Otis B Boise
Otis B Boise

Boise's memories of Raff

Otis B Boise (1844-1912) belonged to the generation of Americans who sought professional musical training in Europe, before returning to the USA to pursue their careers. In Boise's case, he attended the famous conservatory in Leipzig and was taught by Moritz Hauptmann and Ernst Wenzel, both of whom were highly regarded pedagogues. Although he did compose, his main activity was teaching, although he was also a church organist. After working in New York in the 1870s and 80s, he returned to Germany to teach at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in the 1890s. In 1876 he spent some time in Germany and later wrote an autobiographical sketch about his encounters with Liszt and Raff. The sketch was published posthumously.

His first mention of Raff is to report that "Liszt admired many of Raff's compositions and said that he was a contrapuntal virtuoso, whose routine in the use of technical means was unparalleled. The master expressed no opinion of Brahms in my hearing."

The final part of Boise's memoir is devoted to Raff, whom he clearly liked and admired. He had Liszt to thank for persuading him to make Raff's aquaintance, something he otherwise would not have attempted to do as he had heard of Raff's often brusque manner with strangers. It had clearly given him a reputation as someone not to be called upon lightly.

"In the autumn of 1876 we migrated to Wiesbaden and my next summer's pilgrimages to Weimar were made from that lovely town. When informed of our move, Liszt asked me whether I knew Raff. Upon my answering in the negative he said, "You must know him" and at once wrote a few lines of introduction. Had they been written by any other hand I doubt whether I should have presented them, for Raff's Wiesbaden reputation was emphatically forbidding. He was looked upon as an unsociable bear. I had heard so much, that his affable manner in receiving me was a great surprise. His fellow citizens evidently misconceived his earnest, retiring nature. Liszt's endorsement may have somewhat influenced his treatment of me, but his kindliness was too hearty to have been superficial or assumed."

Raff was then at the height of his fame and was shortly to be appointed as Director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. He seems to have got on well with his young American visitor and eventually they discussed his approach to the compositional process.

"During one of my later interviews with Raff, he told me of his composition methods and if my reader find my imperfect recital of them one half as interesting as I did his statement, it will amply repay the reading. I will endeavor to give it in his words. 'Before beginning consecutive writing, I note my first, auxiliary, and second themes and special trumpet and horn motifs on bits of paper, consider well the roles they are to assume in my scheme, and then adapt my choice of instrumental forces to the character of my proposed work, always avoiding the use of extra instruments when possible. It is practical to score for such forces as are to be found in common orchestras. Works that require extra instruments are seriously handicapped. They come to performance comparatively seldom. Having prepared my material, I do not get up from my writing table until the sketch of a complete movement has been finished. Uninterrupted work can produce an immeasurably smoother musical work than will result when the threads of thought are repeatedly dropped. The contour of a piece once established, my filling and coloring may occupy weeks.'

No wonder that Raff's works, written in this way, are sustained songs! Few men have lived who could invent with such facility. Raff had his periods of absolute greatness, as in his Im Walde, Leonora [sic], and Spring symphonies, but he was not always inspired. He seems to have been impelled by mechanical rather than by spiritual forces. He was a tireless worker. He told me that since he liked to hear his compositions before they were printed, he was in the habit of copying out all the wind parts and each of the strings for his scores. He preferred doing this to correcting the mistakes of copyists. During my year in Wiesbaden, Raff received his appointment as director of the Conservatory at Frankfurt."

[An American composer Visits Liszt by Otis B Boise was published by The Musical Quarterly Vol.43 in 1957]

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