The Elegie for Orchestra WoO.48 was originally written in 1879 as the third movement of Raff's Symphony No.10 "To the Autumntime" which was premiered at a symphony concert in Wiesbaden's Kurhaus on 12 November 1880 and repeated a couple of days later. Having heard the piece performed, however, Raff began to have doubts about it and in this he was spurred on by his wife Doris. The Elegie is a rare case of Raff having second thoughts.
He was often accused in his lifetime of being too uncritical of his own work and his was certainly not a soul often tortured by its muse, prey to agonies of self doubt. His method of working was characterised by great care and much hard work, producing finished pieces which rarely needed revision, in his view, because of all the effort which had gone into their creation. Nonetheless there are some examples of Raff revising his works. Late in his life he completely rewrote six of his early piano works, including the Piano Sonata. Earlier, the Album Lyrique had been virtually replaced just a few years after it was written. His great opera Samson was re-orchestrated and he even destroyed a number of his early piano and chamber pieces in a fit of self-criticism. In this case, however, Raff's change of heart over the movement was not because of any worry about the piece's quality, but rather because its tone was out of keeping with the rest of the symphony.
The musicologist Albert Schäfer, who catalogued Raff's output shortly after his death, recorded: "Raff found...that the Elegie through its broad, dramatic construction bears too much of an independent character and therefore doesn't fit in the framework of the whole [symphony]".
In her biography of Raff, his daughter Helene amplified her mother's role: "At the premiere the third movement Elegie in its original form made a strong emotional impression on Raff's wife; her husband rightly relied somewhat on her judgement, being in the habit of saying 'You embody the educated section of the public for me'. In the Elegie he had wanted to portray the intensely coloured splendour of the Autumn combining with the last ardent flaring up of the soul. The thought, however, that maybe it played deliberately on the emotions tortured him and so in the meantime he replaced the Elegie with another, which flows with subdued sounds; the original composition later appeared as an independent orchestral piece."
At under eight minutes long, this original Elegie was one of Raff's
shortest symphonic movements. The Raffs' post-premiere doubts were correct
- the replacement movement (one of his loveliest) integrates much better
into the symphony, but the original Elegie is also a fine work. As Doris
Raff felt, it is indeed one of Raff's most dramatically emotional pieces
- not the serenely elegiac study which its title might suggest, but rather
a passionate celebration of beauty and of angst at beauty's passing.
It was eventually published separately by Ebenda, but seems to have had
no performances after its symphonic premiere.
Close: This example is from the end of the impassioned central section to near the close of the piece 2:19
The work opens with a gentle, hesitant melody from the woodwind to a string accompaniment - perhaps describing a stroll through the "intensely coloured splendour" of the autumnal countryside. A contrasting theme leads to a brief emotional climax featuring braying brass, before Raff returns to the opening melody. The pace then quickens, building up to the climactic central section - an open hearted outpouring of unbridled joy based on a descending four note motif which is perhaps "the last ardent flaring up of the soul". The music subsides after this fortissimo passage to a sombre version of the opening material, before a threatening climax based on the first one, but featuring repeated trumpet calls full of foreboding, leads to a quiet, faintly despairing close.An extensive essay on this work by Prof Matthias Wiegandt is available in the Analysis section.