RAFF: Symphony No. 1, 'To the Fatherland' (Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra/ Rudolf Hohlweg/ Samuel Friedmann) (Naxos: 8.555411)
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Joachim Raff (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 1 in D major \An das Vaterland", Op.96
 Scherzo: Allegro molto vivace
 Allegro dramatico
 Larghetto sostenuto Allegro deciso, trionfante
Musical reputations are fragile. Joachim Raff is now remembered principally as the composer of a Cavatina, a salon piece, and as an assistant to Liszt in Weimar, little more than a footnote in the history of the symphonic poem. In his own time he enjoyed a very considerable renown, justified, it seemed, by a prolific talent and by his distinction as a teacher.
Four of Raff's six operas remained unperformed, but he proved very much more successful with his orchestral works, chamber music and with an exceptionally large number of piano pieces. The quantity of his work prompted Wagner's cynical remark to a correspondent that now he was composing like Raff or Brahms, - in other words copiously, since his views on the compositions of the latter, at least, were well known. Raff belongs in one way to the Neo-German school of Wagner and Liszt, at least in the overt programmatic element in eight of his eleven numbered symphonies. In other ways he may seem more academic in his approach, making full use of most available forms and of a strong element of counterpoint in works that are admirably orchestrated for a body of less than Wagnerian proportions. Charges of superficiality and eclecticism can now be rebutted by renewed attention to music that has much to say and is remarkable, if in no other way, for the clear influence it exercised on composers like Richard Strauss.
The Symphony No. 1 in D major, Opus 96, carries the title "An das Vaterland" and was started in 1859, after the Peace of Villafranca and completed in 1861. It received an award from the Vienna Philharmonic Society with a prize jury that included Hiller, Reinecke, Ambros, Volkmann and Vincenz Lachner. In the first movement Raff sets out to depict various aspects of the German character, from the opening optimism to depth of thought, decency and triumphant endurance. Opening with an energetic sweep of Wagnerian sound, the first movement develops in more formal terms, with a strongly contrapuntal element. The Scherzo allows the horns to suggest the German forest and those that work there, with the folk-song of girls and young men in the meadows of the countryside. The slow movement starts with a strongly felt theme, moving to music that is more gently lyrical in feeling, suggesting the family and the home and developed contrapuntally and dramatically, with due reference to material from the preceding movements. The declared drama of the fourth movement makes use of a well-known patriotic song, a setting by Reichardt of words by the ardent nationalist Ernst Moritz Arndt, Was ist des deutschen Vaterland?, in a plea for national unity, an emphatically patriotic statement, before the sombre ending. In the final Larghetto sostenuto Raff at first expresses something of the sadness felt at the troubles of the whole of Germany, moving forward to a new hope, and culminating in a spirit of national triumph. In spite of its considerable length and apparent digressions, the symphony is, all in all, remarkably unified in structure, in thematic material and in general intention.