Violin Sonata No.1 in e minor, Op.73
It seems virtually unimaginable that a composer whose talent was recognized and whose music was admired by Mendelssohn and Liszt, could become a mere footnote, yet this is what became of Raff and his music for most of the 20th century. Only now is he being rediscovered to the delight of those fortunate enough to hear his music. From 1860 to 1900 the name of Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was regularly mentioned in the same breath as Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms as one of Germany's leading composers. All of the critical commentaries which appeared during those years spoke of him as an equal to such masters as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. Incredibly, by the 1920's his music had all but disappeared from the concert stage.
Raff was born near Zurich and his family had hoped he would be come a school teacher, but music was his first love. Basically self-taught, Raff sent some of his early compositions to Mendelssohn who immediately recognized his talent and arranged for their publication. Unfortunately, Mendelssohn died before he could help Raff much more. The young composer then approached Liszt who also took an interest in him. Unfortunately was unable to secure a position with a steady income and was forced to crank out compositions for the commercial market (works that would sell but were of little intrinsic or artistic merit), one after another as fast as he could. Sadly, this was later to tarnish his legacy. After his reputation had faded, he was regarded merely as a composer of parlor pieces, despite the magnificent symphonic and chamber works he left behind. Anyone who has had the time to hear these great works quickly realizes that Raff could be an impeccable craftsman when he had the luxury of time and was not forced to write for the home music-making marketplace. His five violin sonatas are an important addition to the repertoire and are as fine as any from the period they date.
Raff's first violin sonata, quite justifiably entitled "Grand Sonata" dates from 1854. The opening movement, Bewegt, mit elegischem Pathos (moderato with elegiac pathos), begins with a long-lined melody a little reminiscent of Mendelssohn. The mood Raff creates with the main theme is exactly described by the movement's title. The second theme, livelier but no more happy, has a heroic quality, while a third melody is lyrical and reflective. The brilliant second movement, Sehr rascht und fein (very quick & elegant), is a playful but graceful scherzo. The second subject is a Schmannesque melody. An impressive slow movement, Nicht zu langsam (not too slow) comes next. The opening theme definitely has a tragic quality created by the heavy drag of the unusual rhythm which gains in effect by its repetition. The development is quite chromatic and also has a funereal aura. The second melody, in the violin's high register, creates a valedictory mood. The powerful finale, Bewegt, sehr bestimmt (with movement, very determined), begins with a strong theme in the violin over the restless, rustling passages in the piano, which create an uneasy sense of turbulence.
This is a magnificent work. Highly acclaimed when premiered by famous violinist Ferdinand Laub. For long years in the repertoire, we hope it will take its place there once again now that we have reprinted it after many years of unavailability.