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Anton Urspruch as a young man
Anton Urspruch

Raff's pupil Anton Urspruch

The rapid decline of Raff's reputation after his death can easily obscure the fact that he was a highly influential musician during the 1870s and 80s, and particularly so once he had been appointed the Director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in 1877. Amongst his many pupils, the most famous now is the American Edward Macdowell, but more prominent in Raff's own lifetime was the German piano virtuoso, teacher and composer Anton Urspruch (1850-1907), whom Raff first got to know in Wiesbaden before he took up his Frankfurt post.

Urspruch's connection to the man who can fairly be described as his mentor shaped his career, even after Raff's death.

The Frankfurt-born Urspruch came from a cultured and artistic family and was 28 years Raff's junior. He had previously been a pupil of the pedagogue Martin Wallenstein and of the rather more well known composer Ignaz Lachner (1807-1895), who at the time was the chief conductor in Frankfurt. Raff took on Urspruch in the late 1860s as a private piano pupil in Wiesbaden. It was clearly a cordial and mutually respectful relationship. Raff had a high opinion of Urspruch's ability as a virtuoso and seems to have actively promoted him as a soloist for concerts in and around Wiesbaden. Eventually he arranged for the young man to meet his own mentor, Franz Liszt, and thereby lost him as a pupil, if not as a friend.

Urspruch studied with Liszt during the 1870s and had achieved such a reputation for himself that in 1878 Raff appointed him to the teaching staff of his new Frankfurt Conservatory. Under the leadership of the renowned Clara Schumann, Urspruch joined the equally young Carl Fälten and the Wagner acolyte Josef Rubinstein as a teacher of piano. In Urspruch's case, though, his skills as a composer were already sufficiently impressive for Raff to give him the added responsibility of assisting him in the teaching of musical theory.

Urspuch's time at the Hoch Conservatory under Raff's leadership were to see his flowering as a composer. As well as several well regarded works for piano, he composed his Piano Trio, which has a distinctly Raffian cast to it, and his only Symphony and Piano Concerto. The latter work was dedicated to his mentor Raff.

After Raff's death on 24/25 June 1882, Urspruch took over his composition class but, despite the continued support of Clara Schumann and his own reputation as a composer, he was forced to give up the responsibility by the conservatory's new director, Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916). This bitter blow prompted his decision to leave the Hoch Conservatory in September 1883 for a rival music school which had been established in Frankfurt only five months before.

Four of his former colleagues, Max Schwarz (1856-1923), Maximilian Fleisch (1847-1913), Gotthold Kunkel and Bertrand Roth (1855-1938) had been similarly disaffected by Scholz' new regime and had left under Fleisch's leadership to open the Raff Conservatory in April 1883. Urspruch was clearly happier there, as he continued to work at the conservatory until his death. He continued to compose too, his interests taking him more and more towards vocal music.

When the second, larger memorial to Raff was dedicated in a ceremony at his graveside in Frankfurt's Friedhof, the Kyrie from Urspuch's unfinished Mass Lux et Origo was sung in the ceremony. It was a fitting gesture for a man whose musical life had been so heavily influenced by Raff. His own life was to end soon, and in a fashion similar to Raff's. He too died from a sudden heart attack, in January 1907.

[For more information about the life and music of Anton Urspruch, the German language web site of the Anton Urspruch Society is an excellent source. The use of some material in preparing this article is gratefully acknowledged]

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