Fairy Tale Epic in Four Parts : Dornröschen WoO.19 2:08
Raff had already composed two religious works for chorus and orchestra before attempting his first secular choral piece in 1855. The Fairy tale Epic (effectively a cantata) Dornröschen (Briar Rose) is a version of the Sleeping Beauty story set to a text by Wilhelm Genast, the brother of Raff's fiancée. It is written on a large scale for seven soloists, chorus and orchestra, its four parts prefaced by a substantial Prelude. Although composed in Wiesbaden, just after Raff had moved there from Weimar, it was in the latter city that Dornröschen premiered in 1856 in a performance conducted by the composer and featuring his fiancée's sister, Emilie Genast, in the title role. It was subsequently extravagantly praised by Liszt but despite this it had only one further full performance, 28 years later in Jena in 1884, almost two years after Raff's death.
The extract is the central climax of the Prelude. From Sterling CDS-1085 [review].
130 De Profundis op.141 1:54
Raff was an experienced choral composer by the time he came to write this extensive work in 1867. He had also at last achieved fame and was eager to reconcile himself with Liszt, with whom he had fallen out after his departure from Weimar. Consequently, he dedicated this impressive piece to his old friend and mentor. Raff set the latin text for eight part mixed choir, soprano soloist and large orchestra. Splitting the psalm into five sections preceded by a short orchestral introduction, the result is a fascinating mix of Raff's various styles - lyric or dramatic romanticism in some of the movements and punctilius counterpoint in others, all culminating in a grand double fugal finale. Throughout the writing is noble and memorable.
The extract is the end of the third section, Quia apud te for soprano and women's voices.
This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with 6 audio extracts.
Vier Marian Antiphonen WoO.27 3:56
Although he wrote many a capella choral works (there are forty secular songs spread across four sets for male or mixed choirs) Raff wrote only seven sacred motets, all of them in the late 1860s. Although he was devout catholic, his specific motivation for writing the Four Marian Antiphons after the Cantus Firmus of the Catholic Church is not known. The manuscript, which was composed in 1868, bears the (subsequently re-allocated) opus number 142 and shows signs that the songs may have been performed, but there is no record of a public performance and they remained unpublished until 1999. The brief pieces in the set, comprising an Alma redemptoris mater, Ave regina coelorum, Regina coeli and a Salve regina, written for between five and eight parts, are composed in a spare, almost late 16th century, polyphonic style reminiscent of Palestrina, far removed from that of Raff's secular part songs. They all exhibit an ethereal beauty and refinement quite at odds with the excesses of the romantic age.
The example is a complete performance of the Alma redemptoris mater.
Pater Noster WoO.32 1:39
Another of the a capella religious motets which Raff wrote at the end of the 1860s is this sumptuous Pater Noster ("Our Father" - The Lord's Prayer) which he composed in 1869, originally as his op.143. Although equally as polyphonic, this piece for eight-part choir is much less severe in overall style than the Vier Marian Antiphonen which preceded it and has a harmonic daring and melodic memorability which clearly show it to be music of the romantic era. Structurally, it is in three contrasting sections, each beginning "Pater noster, qui es in coelis" and, at around eight minutes duration, it is significantly longer than each of the Marian Antiphonen. It remained unpublished until 2004.
This example is the start of the work.
Morgenlied & Einer Entschlafenen 2:01
As well as his larger scale works for chorus and orchestra, Raff composed two pairs of shorter works. Im Kahn (In the Rowing Boat) and Der Tanz (The Dance) comprised op.171 of 1871, and the rather more serious Morgenlied (Morning Song) and Einer Entschlafenen (To a Woman who has Passed Away) made up op.186, which Raff wrote in Spring 1873. Both around seven minutes long, these two short works find Raff at his most lyrical. Morgenlied (to a well known poem by Johann Georg Jacobi) is a rapturous outpouring of welcome to a new day, full of joyous climaxes and pastoral burblings. The text of the understandably more sombre, but ultimately uplifting, Einer Entschlafenen is by Raff himself, using his customary literary pseudonym of Arnold Börner. It features a soaring part for solo soprano, which he also sanctioned to be sung by a group of sopranos from the choir. The two songs were published separately in 1874.
This example is from Morgenlied. From Sterling CDS-1089 [review].
Concertante: Die Tageszeiten op.209 2:47
During the last five years of his life Raff concentrated on writing large scale vocal works, of which this revolutionary piece for choir, piano and orchestra is the most unusual. Based on poems written by his daughter Helene under the pseudonym of Helga Heldt, Die Tageszeiten (The Times of Day) is an amalgam of choral symphony and piano concerto, the three forces having equal prominence. Lasting around 40 minutes, it is one of Raff's most joyful and exuberant works. The long first movement, which is a rustic celebration of daytime, begins with an extended piano solo, progresses to a concertante section and is halfway through before the choir enters. The slow second movement is a gentle evocation of the evening, whilst the much faster third illustrates the fears imagined in the dead of night. The dawning of a new day is the theme of the powerful finale, which climaxes in an extended choral fugue, praising the creator, who "winds around life a ribbon of ever-varying colours." Die Tageszeiten was finished in 1878 and published two years alter.
This example is from near the end of Die Tageszeiten's first movement, showing the integration of choir, piano and orchestra. From Sterling CDS-1089 [review].This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with five audio extracts. A detailed analysis of Die Tageszeiten by Dr. Avrohom Leichtling is also available.
Cantata: Die Sterne WoO.53 2:31
In 1880 Raff completed this five movement cantata to verses written, reluctantly, by his teenage daughter Helene. Entitled "The Stars", its 25 minutes feature some of the most serene music Raff ever wrote. The first movement is the longest. Beginning with a wonderfully atmospheric orchestral evocation of the night sky, it develops into a choral meditation on the majesty and mystery of the stars. The very short second movement is like a folk song, describing the feelings of sailors and astronomers. The faster third movement describes the happiness and fear which stars can inspire in man. The fourth movement has perhaps Die Sterne's finest music, featuring a magnificent extended solo from the French horn which lasts more than half its length, before a comparatively brief but lovely choral episode is overtaken by a return to a purely orchestral epilogue. The fast fugal finale reminds the listener that even the stars are subject to a higher power. Written in 1880, Die Sterne was unperformed and unpublished in Raff's lifetime.
This example is from the second half of the fourth movement, showcasing the glorious melody on which Raff bases the movement. From Sterling CDS-1089 [review].
This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with five audio extracts.
Oratorio: "World's End-Judgement-New
World" in E op.212 1:55
Raff was no stranger to writing large scale choral works when he began composition of his only Oratorio in the late 1870s. The biblical story of the apocalypse uses a text adapted by Raff himself from the Book of Revelation and the 100 minute piece is written for baritone, mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra. The baritone narrator St. John tells the story in extensive recitative passages, linked by a series of purely orchestral mini-tone poems and choral passages. The mezzo-soprano's contribution is only a small one.
The section "Pleas and Thanksgivings of the Martyrs" is from the "World's End" part of the work and is mainly given over to the chorus which describes the Christian martyrs praying for the forgiveness of mankind's sins. This excerpt is the end of the first of the two choruses. From LPs produced by Empfingen Town Council.
This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with 10 audio extracts.
Zehn Gesänge für gemischten Chor op.198 2:34
The Ten Songs for Mixed Choir were Raff's only set of secular part songs for SATB choir and were his last set of a capella songs to be published. As with most of his larger collections, the songs have no common theme and were composed over a substantial period of time, in this case between 1860 and 1874, but the set is unusual in having a common author, the Hessen priest/poet Franz Alfred Muth (1839-90). Raff's op.198 was published by Seitz of Leipzig in 1875.
This amateur performance is of an English translation of op.198 No.1 Frühlingsjubel (Spring Cheer), and has an added piano accompaniment.
Sanges-Frühling op.98 1:03
The largest of Raff's collections of songs, and certainly the most well known in his lifetime, was Sanges-Frühling (Songs of Spring). The common theme, sometimes rather a loose link, is that all are about love or the Spring. The texts are by various poets, some of whom are relatively unknown, but well known poems such as Heinrich Heine's Lorelei are also treated to settings of sensitivity and imagination. In all there are 30 songs in the collection and they were composed fitfully between 1855 and 1863.
The example is No.8 Betrogen (Deceived), a setting of Geibel's angry outburst of betrayal.
This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with six audio extracts.
Maria Stuart Lieder op.172 1:24
One of Raff's more successful song collections were the Maria Stuart Lieder op.172. Composed in 1872, when Raff was at the height of his creativity and artistic success, the twelve songs tell the story of Mary, Queen of Scots through German translations by Gisbert, Freiherr von Vincke of her poems, and of those of her associates. As befits the tale, these are generally sad, dark settings, but Raff brings to them a calm serenity and dignity.
The example is the last of three verses of the tenth song, Chidiock Tychbourne's "On the way to the scaffold". From Hungaroton HCD 32256 [review].
This work is discussed in much more detail in the Works in detail section, with four audio extracts.
Songs op.173 1:51
Raff produced both song cycles such as "Maria Stuart"and "Blondel de Nestle" and more varied collections of songs sharing a single opus number like Sanges Frühling and these eight songs of op.173. They were written for voice and piano accompaniment over the three years 1868-70 and are settings of a varied collection of three poems by Thomas Moore and five German poets - including Raff's favourite, Giebel. They were published in two editions in Raff's lifetime.
This example is the first half of No.8 "Sei still" ("Be still") - a setting of Nordheim's maudlin poem of comfort to the bereaved. It is in E flat major and marked Larghetto con motto. This historic performance is by the contralto Ernestine Schumann-Hienk and was recorded in 1906. Raff's piano accompaniment has been arranged for orchestra. From Delos DE 5503.
Cycle: Blondel de
Nesle op.211 1:30
One of Raff's last compositions, and his last lieder work, is this cycle of 11 poems set for baritone and piano and composed at the beginning of 1880 - they were published in December that year by Breitkopf and Härtel. The poems themselves, unusually printed in the score in English as well as German, were by Helge Heldt - a nom de plume of Raff's 14 year old daughter Helene. They tell the tale of the eponymous medieval troubadour and rescuer of England's crusading King Richard the Lionheart.
The example is from the start of song No.5 "Unter den Palmen" ("Beneath the palms") in which suitably balmy piano figurations underscore a beguilingly rhapsodic vocal line. From EMI 7243 5 67349-2.
A flat major WoO.21 2:23
This "Serenade" based on a poem by Sternau was once a particular parlour favourite and the reason is easy to hear. The mawkish text is set to a suitably sentimental melody which is nonetheless instantly memorable. The piece, which Raff directed should be played "simply and deeply", was written in 1859 and published in a collection of songs by various composers two years later.
This syrupy historic performance by the renowned tenor John McCormack dates from 1916 and is in an arrangement for violin and piano accompaniment by Rosier. From Pearl GEMM CD 9315.