Concert Overture in F, Op.123
Joachim Raff – Concert Overture in F, Op.123
(b. Lachen near Zürich, 27. May 1822 — d. Frankfurt, 24. Junie1882)
Born in Lachen, Switzerland, Joachim Raff was the son of a teacher and an organist who had fled from Württemburg in the face of French conscription. Raff was a child prodigy who played violin, piano and organ, and was also hugely gifted in linguistic studies; much of his musical accomplishment was achieved without any formal instruction, and as for composition, he was entirely self-taught. He initially followed his parents’ wishes for him to become a teacher, but then branched out into writing musical criticism and pursuing his true calling as a composer. He received encouragement from Mendelssohn who arranged for some of his early piano pieces to be published by Breitkopf and Härtel. Mendelssohn invited the young man to come and study with him in Leipzig, a project that was thwarted by the great composer’s premature death in 1847. Liszt had befriended Raff as early as 1845; the story of their first meeting involved Raff walking from Zurich to Basle on a pilgrimage to hear the virtuoso give a recital. The magnanimous Liszt created many important connections to boost Raff’s struggling musical career; he got him positions in a piano warehouse in Cologne, and with the publisher Schuberth in Hamburg. Eventually Raff arrived at Liszt’s musical court in Weimar in January 1850. He became one of the staunchest supporters of the Weimar School, absorbing Liszt’s thoughts about programme music and becoming an advocate of Wagner. In his turn Liszt was keen to learn from Raff about the art of instrumentation, a field in which he readily acknowledged the younger man’s greater experience; Raff would exaggerate the importance of his work for the older man, but certainly in the early stages of the Weimar phase he was a significant guide orchestrator, and musical assistant. In 1856 Raff’s association with Liszt ended. He married Doris Genast in 1859, and for some years enjoyed a successful career as a piano teacher in Wiesbaden. He became director of the Frankfurt Conservatory in 1877, where his pupils included Alexander Ritter and Edward MacDowell. Here he excelled as both teacher and administrator until his death 1882. As a composer, Raff came under the influence of Mendelssohn – as did so many mid-nineteenth-century composers – and like Schumann, his early works were all for piano (Opp. 1-46). His association with the forward-looking Weimar School led to a surge in his creativity, but while his works show sympathy with programmatic tendencies he was also keen to emphasize the preeminence of sonata form as well as incorporating a contrapuntal strand into his outpourings. His eleven programmatic symphonies on pastoral themes may have had an influence on the young Richard Strauss even if he seldom used an orchestra bigger than that of Beethoven. At his death the number of his works with opus numbers exceeded 200, and in addition, he made many arrangements both of his own and other people’s music. During his lifetime he was considered one of the leading lights of German music, placed on the same level as the more durable giants, Wagner and Brahms. Although much of his output shows a high level of craftsmanship, the perils of his productivity are not always avoided when it comes to actual inspiration. Nevertheless, his daughter, Helene, in her biography of her father maintained that Raff was so confident of his ultimate artistic destiny and his assured place in the German Pantheon of great men, that he failed to make any provision for his family in his will, convinced that they could comfortably live off his royalties!
The Konzert-Overtüre was written in 1862 and was published four years later by Siegel; it demonstrates rather neatly the various sides to Raff’s musical character. The sonata form overture starts by stating the two themes, A and B, which will hold the composition together and also that will undergo mild Lisztian transformation. A appears at the outset (page 1) and B at the poco meno mosso on page 2; this latter theme assumes the function of a ‘motto’ and as such is developed over the next 12 pages in almost sacred antiphony. The main portion of the overture starts at figure C (page 14) with a busy texture emerging out of theme A. The second group starts at figure F with a minor-tinged motif building up to a climax and then subsiding to herald a development section (figure H, page 41). A fugato on theme B forms the centrepiece of this process before the recapitulation begins at figure I (page 52). The outlines of the original exposition are clearly discernable before the music segues into an extensive coda (letter N, page 71); here theme B is declaimed heroically by the brass before theme A generates a bustling rush to the final double bar.
Alasdair Jamieson, 2019
For performance material please contact Kistner & Sigel, Brühl.
210 x 297 mm