Violin Sonata No.2 in A Major, Op.78
Here is a recital piece par excellence! This is a big, magnificent sonata which has it all--superb part writing, original and highly effective ideas along with captivating melodies.
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.
Grand Sonata No.2, as Raff called it, and without doubt a title it deserves, was composed in 1859. It shows Raff, while adhering to classical structure, nonetheless bumping up against the edges and pushing it to its limits. Written on so grand a scale, one can easily image this work as a concerto. The narrative potential of his music is immediately noticeable in the opening Rasch mit wärme und Bewegung (quickly and with warmth), which begins with a warm and lyrical theme. Quickly, it builds to a dramatic climax, but there is little release as the development section keeps the tension as it immediately builds yet to another climax, more dramatic than the first. The second movement, Nicht zu langsam (not too slow) is an andante which for its main theme has a simple but lovely, lyrical folk melody. There is an aura of sadness. After much development, Raff surprises, changing the mood entirely with a stunning, Hungarian gypsy interlude. A scherzo, In raschem Zeitmass, doch nicht zu bewegt (In a quick tempo, but not too much so), is quite lively but dominated by its heavily accented rhythm. An unusual effect is achieved giving the violin a long-lined melody over the piano's accompaniment that features a heavily accented third beat. The finale, Rasch und feurig (quick and with fire), is full of verve. The main theme is buoyant full of forward motion. The second theme is lyrical but also energetic.
Unquestionably a masterwork of the sonata literature, it is hard to understand how it could have been out of print and unavailable for so long. Now professionals and amateurs will have a chance to make its acquaintance.