De Profundis op.141 is a setting for soprano, eight-part choir and orchestra of Psalm 130 "Out of the depths, Oh Lord, have I cried unto thee". By the time he came to write it in 1867, Raff was hardly an inexperienced choral composer. He had composed several earlier pieces of which the two best known were the Epic Fairy Tale "Sleeping Beauty" WoO.19 of 1855 (essentially a Cantata) and the patriotic "Germany's Resurrection" op.100 for men's chorus and orchestra premiered in 1865. Published in Leipzig by Schuberth in August 1868, De Profundis was nonetheless clearly regarded both by Raff and his contemporaries as a milestone in his development.
The circumstances of its composition are unclear except that it seems to have played a role in Raff's reconciliation with Liszt, following an acrimonious break between them after Raff left Weimar for Wiesbaden in 1856.
At last acclaimed by the musical establishment after the success of his "Fatherland" symphony in Vienna, Raff apparently decided to put an end to this ill feeling and the artistic result of this rapprochement appears to have been "De Profundis". His daughter Helene Raff, explained in her biography of the composer:
"Raff's first large-scale work after the Prussian/Austrian war of 1866, De Profundis, was for eight-voice choir with accompaniment of large orchestra. It is "worshipfully dedicated to Franz Liszt". Since Vienna (1862) Raff overcame his nature, his distrustful bitterness that had grown in him ... Liszt with his familiar personality is supposed to have made certain remarks regarding Raff in 1856 or 1857 which Raff discovered."
"Possibly Liszt had spoken sharp words of displeasure over Raff's separation from him at that time; after six years the story teller himself can hardly still remember correctly, but certainly Liszt like Raff had an unhappy memory of it. Because Raff thought that he was now met everywhere with resistance by the Liszt party, it is greatly to Hans von Bülow's credit, that he confronted every such suspicion of his friend (Raff), tirelessly mediating between between him and Liszt. Through the dedication of the De Profundis, Raff showed that the old personal devotion survived despite everyday disagreements; and at the same time, he granted a wish of Liszt's, who had always urged him to write more spiritual music. Liszt took pleasure in the dedication and in the work; in a letter to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (Liszt's long-time companion) he mentions it as an important work, that is only developed a little too much. In particular the movement 'A custodia matutina' had his applause; usually the final chorus 'Et Ipse Redimet', with the much-admired great double fugue, served music lovers as the primary feature of the De Profundis."
The piece became a favourite at music festivals and, according to Helene Raff, was played for the last time for many years in the city church of Weimar after Raff's death. The setting consists of a short orchestral introduction and five vocal numbers. It is a good illustration of Raff's conflicting influences and styles. Deeply romantic in places with dramatically flowing melodies, it is also steeped in counterpoint and fugal writing. This is also unashamedly a religious piece - a fact underlined perhaps by Raff's use of the Latin text rather than a German translation as he was later to employ in his Welt-Ende Oratorio.
No.1: Introduction [the
excerpt is the first half - 0:58]
This short g minor orchestral Andante is a solemn and rather noble prelude to the work and leads without a break into the first choral section.
the middle of the section - 1:15]
The succeeding Andante con moto continues in g minor. The full choir intones "De profundis clamavi ad te" in this 10 minute section, which is the longest in the work and seems almost complete in itself. Raff repeatedly builds up the yearning tension and then releases it with increasingly passionate lyrical episodes. As with the rest of the work, the orchestra plays a prominent part.
near the end of the section (altos added in this recording) - 1:06]
This short Andantino in d minor begins with a very short purely orchestral section. The double canon and chorus is purely for mens voices and is the dramatic core of the work. Raff increases the pace and excitement with successive crescendos towards the end of the section before closing on almost spoken hushed repetitions of the word "quis".
apud te [the
example is the closing pages - 1:54]
The contrast with the previous section is highly effective with this lovely romantic aria for the soprano, accompanied solely by women's voices. "Quia apud te propitiatio est" is marked Allegretto and Raff at last moves into major key - in this case, B flat major.
No.5: A custodia [the
extract is the start of the section - 1:46]
This Andante con moto in C major is another highly romantic section beginning from a simple rocking motif which Raff builds up into an undulating and ultimately soaring climax.
ipse redimet [the
extract is the end of the work - 1:44]
Raff returns to the baroque in this concluding G major Allegro in which the full choir launch straight away into a great double fugue on "Et ipse redimet Israel", based on an ascending six note motif. After reaching a dazzling climax and a short pause Raff begins an extended sequence of "Amens" in which the motif continues to feature prominently, bringing the work to a grand affirmative conclusion.