Two Settings for Voice & Piano of Tennyson's Tears, Idle Tears WoO.52A
Although not in any sense lost, these two songs are not listed in Schäfer's Verzeichnis, nor are they mentioned in Helene Raff's biography or in any other of the usual reference sources. Consequently they were unknown to Raff scholars until March 2012.
The settings were written for inclusion in the book "Songs from the Published Writings of Alfred Tennyson set to Music by Various Composers", published in London by C. Kegan Paul and Co in 1879 and in New York by Harper & Brothers the following year. This sumptuous volume was dedicated to Queen Victoria and edited by the Master of the Queen's Musick, William Cusins (1833-1893), who wrote in his foreword "Of the forty-five songs here printed, thirty-five are new and original works, composed expressly for this volume. Herr Joachim Raff was good enough to send two distinct settings of 'Tears, Idle Tears,' both of which have been inserted in the collection." This evidence implies that the songs were written expressly for Cusins' collection and so were unlikely to have been composed earlier than 1878 and could not have been composed later than 1879. Accordingly they have been allocated the number WoO.52A.
Download the score of both settings of Tears, Idle Tears WoO.52A (PDF: 852Kb)
The British periodical The Musical Times published a glowing extended review of the volume in its issues for January and February 1880, although the reviewer's assessment of at least one of Raff's settings is rather less fulsome: "Next in order come two settings of 'Tears, idle tears,' by Herr Joachim Raff, that prolific composer, when asked for one, having characteristically sent double the number. We cannot recognise either as the ideal of music for such words; but we much prefer the second to the first, wherein Herr Raff indulges to the full his passion for queer harmonies and queerer progressions. Students of composition might profitably examine this work for hints as to what they should avoid. The companion piece is far more musicianly, and infinitely more true to the poet's thought. Indeed, this song contains some remarkably fine passages, worthy of Raff at his best."
The Musical Times later published, in its October 1882 edition, an affecting letter which is interesting to read in view of the earlier reviewer's doubts about the quality of Raff's settings:
The record of a short conversation which I held with Raff in April last may, I think, be interesting to English readers, now that the great musician has passed away. I had visited him to ask his opinion as to which of his songs he considered most worthy of translation into English, and observed en passant that, in going through his songs myself, I was struck by the beauty of the texts of almost all of them. He smiled and remarked that perhaps the most beautiful text did not need translation into English, and, approaching a shelf, took down two English songs by Tennyson, put to music by him and published in the volume of Tennyson's Songs edited by Mr. Cusins.
"Yet," he added, "I doubt if, from a musical point of view, they belong to my best work."
"Why?" I ventured to ask.
"Because," was his characteristic reply, "your Tennyson is too great a poet to permit of such subordination to the composer as is necessary in a song put to music. In other words, he is too thought-heavy. I composed this songlet of his ('Tears, idle tears') in two versions, neither of which satisfied me."
"I grew thought-heavy myself in making them." With these words he presented me with the songs in question, and we parted with a hearty good-bye, and "Auf Wiederschen" when I should return from Genoa, whither I was then bound.
Alas! like too many an "Auf Wiederschen" uttered at parting, it was destined never to be fulfilled. As all the world now knows, Raff was found dead in his bed on Sunday morning, June 25, having died quite suddenly in the night.
The correspondent was Eleonore D’Esterre-Keeling (1856-1939 - L'Esterre is evidently a misprint), an English concert pianist and author.