Joseph Joachim Raff - Encyclopedia

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JOSEPH JOACHIM RAFF (1822-1882), German composer and orchestral conductor, was born near Zurich, Switzerland, on the 27th of May 1822, and educated chiefly at Schwyz. Here, under the care of the Jesuit fathers, he soon became an excellent classical and mathematical scholar, but received scarcely any instruction in his favourite art of music, in which, nevertheless, he made extraordinary progress through sheer force of natural genius, developed by persevering study which no external obstacles could induce him to discontinue. So successful were his unaided efforts that, when in 1843 he sent some MSS. to Mendelssohn, that warm encourager of youthful talent felt justified in at once recommending him to Breitkopf & Hartel, the Leipzig publishers, who brought out a large selection of his early works. Soon after this he became acquainted with Liszt, who gave him much generous encouragement. He first became personally acquainted with Mendelssohn at Cologne in 1846, and gave up all his other engagements for the purpose of following him to Leipzig, but his intention was frustrated by the great composer's death in 1847. After this disappointment he remained for some time at Cologne, where his attention was alternately devoted to composition and to the preparation of critiques for the periodical Cdcilia. Thus far he was a selftaught artist; but he felt the need of systematic instruction so deeply that, retiring for a time from public life, he entered at Stuttgart upon a long course of severe and uninterrupted study, and with so much success that in 1850 he appeared before the world in the character of an accomplished and highly cultivated musician. Raff now settled for a time in Weimar in order to be near Liszt. Hans von Billow had already brought him into notice by playing his Concertstiick for pianoforte and orchestra in public, and the favour with which this fine work was everywhere received encouraged him to attempt a greater one. During his stay in Stuttgart he had begun the composition of an opera entitled Konig Alfred, and had good hope of securing its performance at Dresden; but the political troubles with which Germany was then overwhelmed rendered its production in the Saxon capital impossible. At Weimar he was more fortunate. In due time Kanig Alfred was produced there under Liszt's able direction at the court theatre with complete success; and later, in 1870, he wrote his second opera, Dame Kobold, for performance at the same theatre. A third opera, Samson, remained unstaged.

Raff lived at Weimar until 1856, when he obtained a large clientele at Wiesbaden as a teacher of the pianoforte. In 18J9 he married Doris Genast, an actress of high repute, and thenceforward devoted himself with renewed energy to the work of composition, displaying an inexhaustible fertility of invention tempered by great technical skill. He resided chiefly at Wiesbaden till 1877, when he was appointed director of the HochConservatorium at Frankfort, an office which he retained until his death on the 25th of June 1882.

More than 200 of Raff's compositions have been published, including ten symphonies - undoubtedly his finest works - quartets, concertos, sonatas, songs, and examples of nearly every known variety of style; yet he never repeats himself. Notwithstanding his strong love for the romantic school, he is never guilty of extravagance, and, if in his minor works he is sometimes a little commonplace, he never descends to vulgarity. His symphonies Lenore and Im Walde are wonderful examples of musical painting.

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