Brief Descriptions












Three Dance-Caprices score
Score of Three Dance-Caprices















Schweiserweisen score
Score of Schweizerweisen

Raff's Piano Music 2

Listen to an excerpt Trois Morceaux op.2 01:52
At the end of his career Raff completely rewrote several of his early piano works which had been first published in the early 1840s. Amongst them was this set of three charming pieces. Replacing the two Préludes and final Valse Capricieuse of the original 1842 op.2 (itself entitled Trois Pièces caractéristiques) are an slow Elegie of almost narrative-like quality, a Romance which, with its hesitancy and typically Raffian melody, is charm personified and a rather flippant and skittish fast Valse. Dating from June and July 1876, the set was one of the last works written by Raff in Wiesbaden before he left for Frankfurt to take up the job of setting up the Hoch Conservatory there.

The excerpt is the end of the Romance. From Cahoots 001.

This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with audio extracts from all three pieces.

Listen to an extract Scherzo op.5 05:06
This uncharctetristically relentless Scherzo was another of the works which Raff wrote for Breitkopf and Härtel towards the end of his career, in this case in 1881 whilst he was Director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. It was published in the same year and replaced a Scherzo, also in C minor, written in 1842 and published by Breitkopfs on Mendelssohn's recommendation. The second Scherzo is a hard-driven piece, relieved from time to time by contrastingly charming lyrical ideas which don't linger long before being overtaken by the doggedly pounding pulse of the Scherzo proper.

The recording is the complete work.

Listen to an extract Quatre Galops Caprices op.5 02:34
Another product of Raff's late 1870s collaboration with the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, in which he completely rewrote pieces originally published by them in the 1840s, is this set of these four delightful little gallops. Each only between two and three minutes long, they are typical of Raff's attention to detail and ability to produce a pleasing melody in even his minor works. The four original pieces, which date from his days as a Swiss schoolteacher, boast such descriptive titles as La Capricieuse and La Coquette but their replacements are simply untitled Allegros. These witty, upbeat numbers date from 1878 and boast some daunting difficulties for the unwary pianist. They show that their creator was still prepared to write light-hearted, playful works even after he took up the office of Director of the Hoch Conservatory.

The example is the Galop No.1 in D flat.

Listen to an extract Variations for piano op.6 09:58
One of Raff's earliest compositions was the Fantaisie et Variations brillantes op.6 which he wrote in Rapperswil in 1843, whist working as a schoolteacher there. At Mendelssohn's urging, it and several other piano works were published by Breitkopf & Härtel but the company soon lost interest in the young composer. 35 years later, Breitkopf approached the now famous Raff to write some new compositions for them to publish but instead, at his suggestion, he completely rewrote this and a number of other early works. Apart from the key of E flat and the variations format, he retained nothing of the original. The simple, almost childish theme of the new set is enhanced and transformed through a set of 17 imaginative variations in moods ranging from the contemplative to the frenetic, demanding virtuosity of a high order as they become progressively grander and more complex until Raff embarks upon the work's fugal finale. Overall, though, there remains something of the classroom about this ten minute long set, as if Raff was harking back to the days when he composed his original op.6, or maybe reflecting his new teaching role as director of the Hoch Conservatory.

The recording is the complete work.

Listen to an extract Douze Romances en Forme d'Études op.8 04:24
Amongst the earliest of Raff's compositions were these 12 charmingly naive works, written in 1843 when he was working as a school teacher in Rapperswil. They were amongst the pieces which the 21 year old sent to Mendelssohn at the encouragement of his friends the Curti brothers. Mendelssohn thought highly enough of them to recommend them to his publishers Breitkopf and Härtel, who duly produced Raff's op.8 and several other piano works in 1845. In gratitude he dedicated this set to Mendelssohn. Each piece boasts a suitably romantic Italian name: L'Abbandonata, Il Fuggitivo, Il Delirio and I Gladiatori for example. They all show that Raff''s gift for expressive melody was already present even at that earliest stage in his career.

The excerpt is No.1 L'Abbandonata.

This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with audio extracts from all twelve pieces.

Listen to an extract Album Lyrique op.17 01:38
In September 1849 Raff completely rewrote his Album Lyrique op.17 of only four years before. In the words of the new edition's title page the nine pieces (in five volumes) were "entièrement transformée par l'Auteur". The original publishers, Schubeth of Leipzig, were his employers in 1849 but they waited until the late 1870s to produce the new edition. The Ballade is the fifth of the works and is a romantic outpouring which opens with a prancing Schumannesque theme also used by Raff to close the piece, sandwiching a more dramatic central section.

The excerpt is the restatement of the opening theme and the central section of the work.

Listen to an extract Two Rhapsodies Élégiaques op.22 01:53
These two extended piano rhapsodies, which Raff composed in Cologne in 1846, represent the two main musical influences on Raff at that time. No.1 is full of openhearted Lisztian drama, whereas the pensive and calm No.2 seems to bear the stamp of Schumann. Nevertheless, both are clearly from the same pen and demonstrate Raff's growing confidence in his own piano style, whilst betraying none of the easy grace and charm of his later Wiesbaden "parlour" piano pieces. Op.22 appeared in several editions, the earliest of which was by Mechetti in 1846.

The extract is the central climax of No.1 in B, leading to the reprise of the opening material.

Listen to an extract Angelens letzter Tag im Kloster op.27 02:58
Angela's Last Day In The Convent, a set of twelve pieces, was subtitled by Raff "A cycle of epic-lyrical fragments". It is his first attempt at programme, as distinct from purely descriptive, music as it tells the sad story of Angela, a girl from Sarnen in Switzerland, who was tricked into entering a convent because of foul allegations about her sweetheart. Although she discovered that they were false, her vow was irrevocable. Never reconciled to a nun's life, she soon sickened and died. The cycle charts her final hours as she attends prayers ("Matins", "To Vespers"), thinks of the past (("Vanishing Happiness"), remembers her dedication to a holy life ("An Upward Glance") and finally expires ("The Funeral Bell"). Angela died in August 1845 and Raff heard of her story a month later. He composed Nos.1, 2 and 6 in October, intending them as his op.20, but subsequently decided to incorporate them into the larger cycle of twelve numbers telling Angela's story, which he completed by April the next year.

The example is the third piece in the cycle, An Ihn (To Him).

Listen to an extract Romanze op.41 05:23
One of Raff's early independent solo piano works is this delightful Romance in A flat, which he composed in Stuttgart in 1847 at a time when he was meeting rejection at every turn and had just been frustrated in his plan to study with Mendelssohn by the latter's unexpected death. This charming Andantino betrays none of his unhappiness, it's catchy opening subject being subjected to a variety of imaginative and attractive treatments whilst retaining it's distinctly feminine character. The piece was not published until 1853, by which time Raff was living in Wiemar as part of Liszt's household. Appropriately, he dedicated the work to Marta Sabinin, a 22 year old Russian pianist then studying with Liszt.

The example is the complete work.

Listen to an extract Three Dance-Caprices op.54 01:50
Raff's op.54 was written whilst he was living in Weimar in 1852. Each of the three pieces (No.2 is a Mazurka and No.3 a Polka) betray the influence of Chopin in their harmonic language and the melodic turn of phrase. Although clearly derivative and showing that Raff had yet to find his own voice, this wistful, gently regretful waltz is elegantly written and once again illustrates Raff's melodic expertise.

The excerpt is the second half of No.1, the Waltz in A flat.

This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with audio extracts from all three pieces.

Listen to an extract Frühlingsboten op.55 01:48
One of Raff's early successes was this set of five short pieces, Harbingers of Spring, which he composed in 1852. They are amongst the first of his compositions in which one can hear his own individuality and a reduction in the overt influences of Liszt and Chopin. It took Raff several attempts to find a publisher but, such was the set's popularity that two further editions were published in his lifetime. Each short work has thematic and harmonic links to others in the set and the successive titles of each piece (Vow, Anxiety, Drawing Closer Together) seem to describe a simple tale of spring love, although Raff does not make this explicitly clear. The twelfth and last number, Abends ( Evening), became very popular and was subjected to many arrangements.

The excerpt is from No.12 Abends. From Grand Piano GP602 [review].

Listen to an extract Schweizerwiesen op.60 - no.8 in A flat 01:58
To celebrate the country of his youth, Raff wrote this set of "Swiss Airs" in 1851 whilst acting as general factotum to Liszt in Weimar. The eighth of the nine works in the collection is a set of variations on a traditional Swiss melody which is simply stated at the start of the piece. As the music develops, Raff makes increasing demands on the pianist's technique whilst retaining the deceptively "simple" nature of the original melody.

This excerpt is from the middle of No.8. From Ex Libris EL 16 958.

Listen to an extract Capriccio op.64 02:29

This haunting piece in F sharp minor was written by Raff in April 1855, towards the end of his time in Liszt's circle in Weimar. At six minutes it is rather more substantial than many of his free-standing small-scale piano pieces and shows signs of Raff having successfully absorbed elements of Chopin's and Liszt's styles into his own. Throughout this delightful piece there is an air of the regret-filled backward glance, which is emphasised in the closing bars as the melancholy seems to descend into a stronger and more violent emotion. It had its premiere in 1857 and was published in the same year by the Leipzig company of Leuckart.

The excerpt is the middle of the work. From RILP 30-025.

Listen to an extract Three Piano Solos op.74 02:02
Despite their opus number, this set was actually written in 1852, the same year as the Chopinesque Dance Caprices, and yet they are amongst the most Lisztian of Raff's creations. Each piece in the set is written on a large scale and together they last 25 minutes. A ruminative lyrical Ballade and a particularly frenetic Scherzo precede the Metamorphosen. This last piece was premiered by Raff's friend Hans von Bülow in 1859 just after the set's publication. It is more individual than its companions, comprising evolving variations on a simple seven note theme which Raff develops organically as the work progresses.

The extract is the closing pages of No.3, the Metamorphosen.

This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with audio extracts from all three pieces.

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