Between 1870 and the turn of the century Raff was one of the giants of the musical world. Not only were his compositions played everywhere, they were written about and analysed in detail. Even from the outset critical opinion wasn't uniformly positive, any more than it was for even his most august contemporaries, but it is clear that he was regarded as a very important composer. The seriousness with which Raff's works were analysed, and the speed with which critics and musicologists rushed into print with detailed descriptions and interpretations of them, attests to his standing in serious musical circles in the second half of the 19th. century.
Some of this contemporary musical description is reprinted here:
Raff in The Times
From the 1870s Britain’s most prestigious newspaper, The Times, carried frequent reports of concerts which featured Raff’s music. Prominent among them were the subscription concerts organised by London’s Philharmonic Society and the very popular Saturday concerts held in the capital’s Crystal Palace under the impresario and conductor August Manns (1825-1907).
Established in 1855, the Crystal Palace concerts continued for the rest of the century and in many ways were the precursor of the modern Proms, combining popular programming with a willingness to showcase new music. During their last 23 years since Raff’s Fifth Symphony Lenore was first heard there in on 14 November 1874, it was programmed a further five times and eight of the other symphonies were also performed. The Symphony No.3 Im Walde featured in several Crystal Palace concerts over the years. The Times itself carried no report of Raff’s sensational Crystal Palace debut and from the start of its reporting in 1877 its critics were at best equivocal about Raff’s muse, often referring to his allegedly “eclectic style” and repeating charges of unselfcritical over production.
Another major concert series was the Leeds Festival and the very extensive report on its English premiere of the Oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt under Arthur Sullivan's baton is interesting, not just for its description of the event and its judgment on the work, but also for its revelation that Raff had intended to attend the Festival himself.
- Symphony No.3 Im Walde: Crystal Palace premiere. Reported on 9 December 1878.
- Symphony No.8 Frühlingsklänge: Crystal Palace premiere. Reported on 18 November 1879.
- Symphony No.9 Im Sommer: Crystal Palace premiere. Reported on 12 October 1880.
- Symphonies No.2 & 6: Crystal Palace premieres. Reported on 23 May 1881 and 31 October 1882.
- Oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt: Leeds Festival premiere. Reported on 11 October 1883.
- Symphony No.10 Zur Herbstzeit: Crystal Palace premiere. Reported on 22 October 1883.
- Other reports: Shorter reports published between 1877 and 1908 of Crystal Palace and Philharmonic Society performances of the Symphonies No.3 Im Walde and No.5 Lenore, the Violin Concerto No.1, the Suite for Violin & Orchestra and the Piano Concerto.
Symphonies Nos.1-4 and 6
Ebenezer Prout (1835-1909) was a British composer and highly respected writer on music. He taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music and was Professor of Music at Trinity Colege, Dublin in 1894. Between 1874 and 1879 he was music critic of The Academy, a London weekly journal of science and the arts which on 10 April 1875 published a long article reviewing Raff as a symphonist and looking at five of his first six symphonies.
Read Ebenezer Prout's article in Adobe Acrobat format.
Symphonies Nos.3, 5 and 11
Philip Henry Goepp (1864-1936) was a Philadelphia teacher and composer. Published at the turn of the 20th. century, his three volumes "Symphonies and Their Meanings" were widely read at the time. In them he describes and analyses the most significant symphonies then in the American concert repertoire. Goepp devotes forty pages of the Second Series to three of Raff's symphonies:
- Symphony No.3 Im Walde: Read Goepp's description
- Symphony No.5 Lenore: Read Goepp's description
- Symphony No.11 Der Winter: Read Goepp's description
Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt
The British premiere of Raff's oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt op.212 under the baton of Sir Arthur Sullivan at the Leeds Music Festival in October 1883 aroused great interest. In anticipation of the event, the prestigious journal The Musical Times published in April 1883 a very lengthy anonymous review of the work which featured copious examples from the piano score. This was followed up with a much shorter review of the actual performance. It is interesting to compare this latter report with that published in The Times newspaper. The following year, the New York journal Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine published, as part of its series "Sacred Musicians of the 19th. Century", a description of the work which followed by an obituary of Raff:
- Oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt: Review and analysis. Published in The Musical Times on 1 April 1883
- Oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt: Leeds Festival premiere. Published in The Musical Times on 1 November 1883.
- Oratorio Welt Ende - Gericht - Neue Welt: Description and obituary. Published in Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine in July 1884.
La Fileuse op.157 no.2
To complement an 1882 American Edition of one of Raff's most beloved piano pieces, the editor, A R Parsons, wrote an extensive "explanatory preface". It could easily be dismissed for its arch, flowery language and analysis ad absurdium of what is only a short, four-minute piece. Nonetheless, that such a small work was worth so much endeavour is a testament to Raff's standing at the time.
Four Raff works reviewed in The Monthly Musical Record
The Monthly Musical Record was an influential English periodical which paid a great deal of attention to Raff's music in the 1870s. His new scores were regularly, and often favourably, reviewed in its columns. Four short reviews, of the Piano Suite in E minor, the Suite for Solo Violin & Orchestra, the Six Songs for Three Female Voices and the Erinnerungen an Venedig (Memories of Venice) for Piano, were published in two editions in 1874 and are reproduced here.
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