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Joachim Raff

Is there any information regarding if Tchaikovsky has ever met fellow composer Joachim Raff? Or even been familiar with his music? Thanks!

Craig Sayer

03/10/2011 01:54

Dear Mr Sayer

Tchaikovsky was indeed familiar with Joachim Raff's music, as is evidenced by his review of Nikolai Rubinstein's performance of the Im Walde Symphony at the Russian Musical Society's fifth symphony concert in Moscow on 13 December 1872:

"The most important work on this concert's programme was Raff's Im Walde Symphony. I have already had occasion to point out the significance of this composer with regard to a string quartet of his which was performed at one of the Russian Musical Society's chamber music concerts, and now, with regard to his new symphony, which has attracted the attention of the whole musical world and is performed successfully in all the major music centres, I would like to discuss his career in more detail.

"Ever since death, with such untimely haste, struck down Mendelssohn and Schumann ... no creative talent has appeared yet in the field of symphonic music of whom one could say that he had begun a new artistic era ... among the now living composers there is not a single one who .. is not an imitator of one or the other—and often of both at the same time—of these two great symphonists of the modern age. ... There are only two symphonic composers in our times whom I could point to as standing out quite vividly against the greyish backcloth of modern music-making: they are Anton Rubinstein and Raff.

"The latter is considerably inferior to Rubinstein in terms of the strength and originality of his talent, but he does surpass him in technical craftsmanship, in the ability to achieve a wholeness of form and the working out of the constituent details. Raff has attained his high position amongst contemporary composers and secured success for his music through assiduous hard work and by vigorously fighting against his natural shortcomings, in particular the poverty of his inventive faculty. But what is there that cannot be achieved by earnest hard work?! Raff, by gradually perfecting his naturally limited gifts, has obtained brilliant results, and I am hardly mistaken in calling his latest symphony the finest of all the symphonies that have been written in the past decade. It is considerably better than another symphony by the same composer, entitled An das Vaterland, which is remarkable in some of its episodes but is altogether too long and uneven in form.

"In the first movement of his new symphony, which is meant to give a musical illustration of the various impressions one may have when walking through woodland, Raff attempts to convey the feelings that the quiet of a forest at midday can awaken in the wanderer. Both of the main themes of this Allegro are indeed pervaded by a sense of quiet, serene enjoyment of a peaceful forest landscape. The quietness is but fleetingly interrupted by the rustling of leaves as a gentle breeze sweeps through; from afar we vaguely hear the call of a shepherd's horn which is answered by some other distant calls from elsewhere, and then we are back again in the imperturbable quiet of the forest thicket… For the benefit of the specialists, I should like to point out the charming detail of how an orchestral pedal note effect is repeated several times in the treble clef, in both the tonic and the dominant, whereby the strings, gradually becoming quieter, modulate across various keys and finally fade away in the tonic triad.

"The second movement (Andante) is the best one in the whole symphony. It is based on a delightful cantilena which is splendidly harmonized and adorned with an incredibly felicitous instrumentation. A particularly enchanting effect is produced when the main melody appears for the last time in the violas and cellos, accompanied by the violins con sordino. This movement fully manages to convey the vague, sweet emotions which one feels at dusk amidst the darkness of a forest. The Scherzo is meant to illustrate a fantastic Dance of the Dryads. This movement went down especially well with the audience thanks to the spicy instrumentation that successfully camouflaged the rather wishy-washy themes, which were not at all original and even lacked the fantastic aura required of the composer for a scene of this kind.

"In the loud and striking Finale we are shown a wild hunt galloping through the forest with brilliant fanfares and cries of frenetic high spirits. The themes are not particularly novel, but characteristic all the same. Their development is most interesting, and the orchestration is colourful and accomplished. Then the hunting party vanishes in the distance, quietness descends again on the forest, and the rays of the rising sun drive away the darkness of night. The symphony closes with a triumphantly radiant theme, which is quite appropriately played by the four French horns and leaves the listeners with an impression of the mighty beauty of the bright daylight that is shining on eternally beautiful Nature."

This is high praise indeed, considering Tchaikovsky's rather jaundiced view of his German contemporaries. I haven't been able to find this review on the Tchaikovsky Research site, so I've quoted it here in case you haven't seen it. It doesn't answer your enquiry as to whether the two composers actually met, of course.

Michael Porter

03/10/2011 13:31

The above extracts are taken  from Tchaikovsky's article Fifth Symphony Concert. The Italian Opera (TH 271), published in the Russian Register of 8 December 1872, and translated slightly differently here on our website.

Brett Langston

03/10/2011 17:54

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