Biography - Wiesbaden 1856-1866

1855-57 - Becoming established

Elegant Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden in 1856 was an elegant and prosperous medium-sized city. Capital of the still-independent Duchy of Nassau, its cultural life revolved around its famous Kurhaus spa and the ducal court. For Raff the greatest advantage of his move was no doubt that he could be close to his fiancée Doris Genast, an actress at the court theatre, but it also enabled him to capitalise on the reputation which he had already gained there through the support of the court conductor, Hagen. Although nowhere near as significant musically as Weimar, the city also had the benefit of being free of Liszt's, or any other resident composer's, overbearing presence. Raff could be his own man at last. The income from his compositions was hardly sufficient to live on, so he set himself up as a music and piano teacher and also returned to journalism. Over the next few years he built up a portfolio of part-time jobs which enabled him to keep the wolf from the door, holding salaried positions as a music teacher at Wiesbaden's two largest girls' schools and also taking on private pupils in harmony, piano and singing. Raff quickly became the music critic for the city's newspaper, the Nassauischen Zeitung, and over time this work expanded to take in editorial work and theatrical criticism, the latter no doubt with reluctance as, despite his fiancées profession, he was not fond of the theatre. Almost as soon as he had arrived, his opera König Alfred opened on 28 August 1856. Both the production and its reception were as good as the work had received a few years before in Weimar but unfortunately the result was also the same: it failed to stay in the theatre's repertoire. To this disappointment was added the knowledge that his move to Wiesbaden had soured relations with his former colleagues back in Weimar. "We younger ones believed you had insulted Liszt" Peter Cornelius later wrote to Raff and Liszt himself changed his greeting from "Dear Friend" to "Honoured Sir and Friend" when writing to his protégée. Despite this, Raff arranged for some of Liszt's symphonic poems to be played at Kurhaus concerts and for Liszt to be invited. He didn't come but was grateful for the gesture and tried to use his influence to secure for Raff the post of conductor in Stuttgart, left vacant by Lindtpaintner's death. Although Raff hoped that it might even be possible for Doris to secure a position at the court theatre there, his old friend Kunigunde Heinrich soon disabused him, writing "There's no hope for you my friend, because Gall (the director) won't forget that you once wrote to him, as he declared, an incredibly vulgar letter at one time and told Stoffregen and others that you were not to be permitted any visits with him".

Although he found time to compose a couple of pot-boiler opera arrangements, opp.68 and 70, most of Raff's spare time in 1856 and early the next year was taken up with work on revising his opera Samson. A diversion, though, was the composition of his first Piano Suite Op.69, a ground-breaking work of five short movements taking the baroque suite as a model. He took it with him on his visit to Weimar in April and May 1857. Liszt played two movements "at sight and in a manner worthy of astonishment," finding "much in them that was to his taste regarding gesture and expression". It was published at the end of year. Buoyed with the Suite's success Raff swiftly composed two more, opp.71 & 72, which were published the following year. He had found his mentor frustrated by the artistic opposition building up against him in Weimar. On 1 May Liszt asked Raff for a substantial favour. Firstly, to write a book analysing his symphonic poems and secondly to carry out other work very reminiscent of Raff's old duties as his amanuensis. This put Raff in a quandary. He needed the money which Liszt was offering for the work, but felt that accepting it would prejudice his independence so newly achieved. He wrote to Doris: "If I want to leave this affair honourably, I shouldn't allow payment for it. My intent, therefore is this: I'll tell Liszt I want to fulfil his request. I can’t do it right away because I want to finish my opera most of all." In the event the book went unwritten, the other tasks unperformed. Having begun the work of orchestrating Samson in the Spring of 1857, Raff's creative urges soon turned towards other major projects, the results of which were the String Quartet No.2 Op.90 and the Konzertstück for piano and orchestra Ode au Printemps Op.76. The latter, although finished during 1857, was not premièred until 1860 but the String Quartet only had to wait a year for its own first performance, which took place on 29 March 1858 in Wiesbaden. Samson having been finished in the Summer, Raff interested the Darmstadt court theatre in the work and also showed the first three acts to Liszt when he again visited Weimar in September. Liszt was enthusiastic and the following January sent an urgent request for the full score as an opportunity to perform it had arisen. The prospect of a Darmstadt première fell through because of the lack of a suitable Delilah, so Raff committed himself to Weimar, even though he had also by then interested Hagen at Wiesbaden in the piece. There were delays, however. The staging was first put back to the Autumn and then even later as the only available heldentenor declared that the part of Samson was too high for him. At the end of the year the faction opposed to Liszt caused such a furore at the premier of his disciple Cornelius' Der Barbier von Baghdad that Liszt's involvement in the opera at Weimar had to cease, and with it ended Raff's hope of seeing Samson staged there.

Consolidation and marriage

Compared with previous years, 1858 appears to have been a quiet year, during which Raff no doubt concentrated on his teaching and journalistic work, establishing enough financial stability to enable him and Doris to wed. Only one major work was completed, but he did compose several short piano works amongst which were two which proved to be very popular: the Cachoucha-Caprice Op.79 and Am Gießbach Op.88 became firm favourites when they were published in the early 1860s. The year's magnum opus was a setting for male chorus and orchestra of Geibel's verse Wachet Auf! (Awake!). Although not at all narrowly nationalistic himself, Raff had obviously chosen his subject adroitly for the work scored an immediate success, chiming as it did with the patriotic sentiments of the time fuelling renewed calls for German unity. Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, the great Wagnerian tenor, later wrote to Raff that "Wachet Auf is so beautifully, so fundamentally German; simple and - may I say - timely in the best sense that I will bring it out for presentation at the first opportunity."

Six Morceaux score
Score of Six Morceaux
Op.85 for violin & piano

Towards the end of the year work began on three more substantial compositions, all of which were finished during 1859. The Second Violin Sonata Op.78, a large scale four movement work, was first of all tried out by Raff and his friend the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, the rift between them provoked by Raff's departure from Weimer having been newly healed. Liszt himself, and the violinist Ludwig Straus played through the new work at Bülow's house during February. It's first public performance by the dedicatee Joseph Hellmesberger was in Vienna the following year. The other two works were a sets of piano pieces, each with a dozen numbers. The Suite de Morceaux pour petites mains Op.75 (Suite of Pieces for Small Hands) was written with his piano pupils in mind and each is dedicated to a different young lady. Some of the numbers from this set eventually became very popular, particularly No.1 Fleurette and No.2 Fabliau. "Raff, Op.75, numbers 1-4, excellent!" von Bülow wrote to Louis Koehler. The other set was Douze Morceaux pour Pianoforte à quatre main Op.82 and once again Raff's mademoiselles were in the forefront of his mind. This set of delicious numbers for piano four hands also had great success in Raff's lifetime.

Raff and Doris Genast were at last married at a very simple Catholic ceremony in Wiesbaden on 15 March 1859. None of their relatives were present and after the ceremony they celebrated by eating a picnic in the nearby gardens of the ducal palace at Biebrich, where they knew the gardener. On seeing the happy couple, he presented Doris with a huge bouquet, hurriedly culled from the borders under his care. Although Raff's clutch of positions and his wife's acting post provided them with a regular income, it was a far from easy existence for them because for a further nine years they had the added burden of having to pay off Raff's debts stretching back to his days in Zürich. It seems to have been a very happy marriage, although Doris quickly learned that she would have to manage their finances as Raff from the beginning proved to be completely impractical in money matters. In their first year together they had the misfortune of Doris suffering a miscarriage. Raff briefly feared for her life, later telling her that, had she died, he would never have married again but would have sought to enter a religious order. The remainder of 1859 saw the completion of several new works, three of which further enhanced his slowly rising reputation. The D minor Piano Suite Op.91 was immediately recognised as a major work. Dedicated to von Bülow's new wife, Liszt's daughter Cosima, the work was on a much grander scale than any previous piano composition attempted by Raff. Schnorr wrote of the "unending joy" he derived from it and von Bülow called the work a masterpiece which was "everywhere inspired and grateful." The song Ständchen WoO.21 became a firm favourite in parlours throughout Germany and, in English translation, in Britain and the USA too. The third piece was the Cavatine, the fourth of his Six Morceaux pour Violin et Piano Op.85. The wild popularity of this perfectly formed little work, which was published in 1862, was phenomenal. Of all its creator's huge output, it alone survived the calamitous collapse in his reputation and, helped by arrangements for almost every conceivable ensemble, it lived on into the 20th century on the edges of the repertoire. By the end of 1859, Raff could look back on his first four years in Wiesbaden with satisfaction. Although he had been unsuccessful in getting Samson staged and he was still far from comfortably off, he had at last married his beloved Doris, he had distanced himself from Liszt without losing his support and his major new works were at last attracting favourable attention and getting his name known beyond Weimar and Wiesbaden. Further, as the new decade dawned, he had begun work on the piece which would catapult him to musical fame throughout Germany.


Raff had begun work on his Symphony An das Vaterland (To the Fatherland) in the late Summer of 1859 and most of his compositional effort in the following year was devoted to it. Like his 1854 E minor symphony, An das Vaterland had five movements but it was an altogether more ambitious piece. Lasting well over an hour, it was written to a programme of Raff's devising. This illustrated various aspects of the German character linked with the then current aspiration for national unity and was underpinned by thematic links between some of the movements. Its gargantuan scale, patriotic programme and cutting edge harmonic and thematic content put it at the forefront of symphonic thinking at the time. Although An das Vaterland does not appear to have been written as a "prize" symphony, Raff took advantage of a competition organised by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna in Summer 1861 and submitted his unperformed symphony. Along with those of 31 other hopefuls, it was submitted to the judgment of such musical luminaries as Hiller, Ignaz Lachner, Reinecke and Volkmann and was awarded First Prize. Brahms and Cornelius attended the rehearsals for its first performance and the première itself at Vienna's Musikvereinsaal on 22 February 1862 was an enormous success, aided by the publication of the symphony's programme in the newspapers the day before. The applause continued throughout the performance and, as Raff wrote home to his wife Doris, after the finale there was "again a storm of applause: and barely had my name been declared, when a friendly tumult began and couldn't be controlled until I finally made my appearance." During the rest of his stay in the Austrian capital he was fêted: he was greeted with "with long applause" when he attended a rehearsal at the Singakademie and was treated to a soirée given over to his chamber music in the Haslingersaal "to honour the presence of the composer", where he was again applauded profusely. It was no doubt a source of great regret for Raff that his father Joseph, who had always been so critical of his son's musical career, did not live to see it fully blossom. He had died in 1861 in his native Württemberg, whence he and the his remaining family had returned from Switzerland upon his retirement.

Symphony No.1 score
Score of Symphony No.1
Op.95 An das Vaterland

Although Raff's reputation had gradually been growing since his break from Liszt and move to Wiesbaden, it was the winning of the Vienna prize in 1862 which propelled him to prominence and, once there, he began to produce a series of works for the next decade and a half which would confirm his suddenly acquired status as one of Germany's foremost composers. In 1861, before the prize was awarded, he had already written another of his most popular works: the Piano Trio No.1. Although it had to wait another four years before it was published, it then rapidly became a public favourite, to the extent that Raff later bewailed the fate of his other three trios, saying that he "felt sorrow for my three neglected 'trio children' because the number one is performed again and again". He continued to write piano pieces for the salon, most of which gained popularity but the Trois Sonatilles were proof of his experimental streak. These three mini piano sonatas of three, four and three movements respectively were so well received that Raff was encouraged enough by their reception subsequently to arrange them both for piano four hands and for violin and piano. The excitements of 1862 meant that his compositional activity was restricted. He finished the Concert Overture, the first of a series of celebratory orchestral works which he was to write over the next few years. Dedicated to various German rulers they are dismissed by Helene Raff in her biography "since they add little to the artistic physiognomy of their creator", but they are all solidly constructed, well orchestrated and melodically interesting. They demonstrate that Raff, even in his "occasional" pieces, was in a different compositional league to the legion of well trained kapellmeisters who dutifully churned out such works. The major work finished in 1862 was the Piano Quintet, which he found a difficult creation, writing to his wife: “Permit me to say, that my powers themselves are growing with this undertaking and that is necessary, for it is more difficult to compose than a symphony or a string quartet and I understand well why even Beethoven didn’t put a hand to it and why nothing has been accomplished in this form since the Schumann quintet”. He had to wait until his old employer Schuberth published it in 1864 and it didn't receive its first recorded performance until the following year but, once it became known, its popularity was assured. Hans von Bülow wrote: "I cannot but admit that your quintet is your best, and the most remarkable work in the field of chamber music since Beethoven" and Raff himself always thought it amongst the best of his compositions. For a few months during 1862 Joachim and Doris Raff played host, guide and nursemaid to Richard Wagner, who was staying in the Wiesbaden suburb of Biebrich to be near his publisher Schott, who was based in the city of Mainz, just across the Rhine. Both Helene Raff's record of the visit, and Wagner's self-serving account in his autobiography make it clear that for the Raffs there was as much awkwardness and inconvenience as pleasure in the experience. Raff only ever met Wagner once again.

The great event of 1863 came early in the year. The Leipzig publishing house Kahnt had announced in November 1862 a contest for a choral work and Raff's response was to compose over the next two months Deutschlands Auferstehung (Germany's Resurrection), described as a Festival Cantata for men's voices and orchestra celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the victory of the German people in the battle of Leipzig (against Napoleon). Kahnt published the work in 1864. This tremendous success not only further embellished Raff's reputation but it also seems to have given him the confidence to devote more time to composition, 1863 was to prove a much more productive year than either of its predecessors. Throughout the final couple of years in Weimar and his early years in Wiesbaden he had been working on a series of part songs for men's choirs - the Liedertafel and Männergesangverein which proliferated throughout Germany during the the nineteenth century. By 1863 he had composed twenty songs and grouped them into two sets of ten ready for publication. Despite his burgeoning reputation, he still had to wait another two years for the first set of Ten Songs for Men's Choir Op.97 to be published by Kahnt in 1865. They were followed by the second set, Op.122, in 1867. Another maturing song collection, completed in 1863, had a much greater impact. The collection of 30 songs comprising Sanges-Frühling (Springtime of Song) had also been built up since 1855. They were not in any sense a song cycle and stretched in style from the simple, joyfully short Kein Sorg' um den Weg (No worries along the Way) to his atmospheric setting of Heine's Lorelei and the lengthy dramatic scene Hochzeitsnacht (Wedding Night - a setting of Eichendorff’s ballad), but all had some relevance to Spring. Once they were published, in 1864 by Schuberth, the collection enjoyed huge popularity and, as the critic Franz Gehring wrote, it "deserves notice for its wealth of fine melodies, some of which have become national property". Raff was still not financially secure enough that he could afford to eschew the market for piano pieces for the salon and this year saw a further four flow from his ready pen, but a much more significant work was his Second Piano Trio, written before publication of the first and ultimately proving almost as popular. It is symptomatic of Raff's growing confidence that he chose to ignore his usual caution and went ahead and wrote a second work before the first was even performed, let alone published. The G major Trio was published shortly after its predecessor in 1865.

Joy, disappointment and war

During the next three years, Raff's fame continued to spread and he found himself increasingly busy, making it difficult for him to juggle his portfolio of day to day work in Wiesbaden with the demands made on him by his widening fame outside the city. He continued to feed the ready market for his salon pieces for piano, they remained popular with the public and for the time being at least this ceaseless activity did little to undermine his growing reputation as a composer of major works. Amongst the seventeen piano opuses produced during this time four merit special mention: in 1864 he completed a substantial set of four transcriptions from Meyerbeer's final opera, the Illustrations de L’Africaine Op.121 which he dedicated to the composer's young daughter Cornelie, who had been a piano pupil of his. Raff had always had a fascination with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which manifested itself as early as 1850 when his friend Joseph Joachim had inspired him to start arranging pieces from Bach's violin partitas. He produced eight such arrangements during his stay in Weimar, which he revised and added ten more to them in 1865. They were published by Rieter-Biedermann in seven volumes between 1867 and 1869 under the title Ausgewählte Stücke (Selected Pieces) aus den Violin-Sonaten von Joh. Seb. Bach WoO.23, the first of several such pioneering Bach arrangements. In 1866 he completed two substantial sets of piano pieces: Vom Rhein (From the Rhein) Op.134 was finished in the summer and had been requested by the publisher Kistner to capitalise on the success of Raff's Suite de Morceaux pour petites mains Op.75. It's six pieces illustrated various aspects of a visit to the river, whilst the twelve numbers of Blätter und Blüten (Leaves and Blossoms) Op.135 were inspired by the then-popular notion of the "Language of Flowers".

Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Raff's only child, his daughter Helene, was born on 31st March 1865 but, amidst this joy and his burgeoning success, Raff suffered a profound disappointment during the year. He had developed great admiration for the young Wagnerian tenor Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld. The two men became firm friends, corresponded enthusiastically, and naturally Raff showed Schnorr the score of his Samson (which had remained unperformed since its completion) thinking him the ideal interpreter of the eponymous hero. Schnorr was filled with admiration for the work and was determined to take the lead role in the première of the opera, which he and Raff began to plan. Before then, however, he was committed to another première, that of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Along with the rest of Germany's musical elite, Raff had arranged to attend the performance, but it was delayed by Schnorr's illness and he was unable to go to the rearranged first performance. That disappointment was as nothing compared with the blow that followed shortly afterwards; the 29 year old Schnorr suddenly died on 21st July 1865. Raff felt the loss very profoundly. For him, the end of this friend and great singer also meant the end of the hopes he had had for Samson. Doubtless Schnorr was not the only person who had asked him to complete the work; von Bülow in particular had urged him repeatedly to do so, both then and later on, saying: “Don’t just drop Samson. I’m certain it’ll be a hit!” But Raff had lost his enthusiasm for the opera: he locked the score in his desk even though it only need a few cuts and never considered bringing it out again, particularly when Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila was published. In the autumn of 1865 the much-revised overture Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott reached its final form; it was always one of the favourites of musicians, especially Hans von Bülow to whom it is dedicated. It was given its first performance in Karlsruhe on Palm Sunday, 25th March 1866, conducted by Wilhelm Kalliwoda. Raff finished his String Quartet No.3 during the year, but the work completed that year which made more impact was his Violin Sonata in D major Op.128, his third. Like it's predecessors it was in the conventional four movements and was well received once it was published. He dedicated it to the famous teacher and colleague of Mendelssohn Ferdinand David, who wrote that it was "a piece by a true colleague, for which God can't fail to reward you". The Fourth Sonata in G minor was more unusual. Called the Chromatische (Chromatic) Sonata Op.129, it followed after a short interval early the next year and, with the first, was probably the most played of Raff's five violin sonatas.

Raff finished his non-programmatic Second Symphony (in C major, Op.140) in 1866. Perhaps because it had the misfortune to come after the prize-winning First Symphony and before the tremendously successful Third, Im Walde, it did not establish itself as firmly in the repertoire, but it was given a great reception at its first performance during a Court Theatre concert in Wiesbaden on 1st March 1867 and also at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig two years later under Raff’s baton. For Raff and his family, however, it was two major non-musical events events which dominated 1866. Firstly the Austro-Prussian war early in the year saw the Duchy of Nassau, of which Wiesbaden was the capital, side with Austria. When Prussia gained victory after only seven weeks, the Duchy was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. Secondly, Doris Raff's widowed father, Eduard Genast, who had welcomed Raff into his household in Weimar in 1850 and had been a second father to him since then, died from a stroke in August whilst visiting the family in Wiesbaden.

The next episode in Raff's story: Wiesbaden 1867-77.

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