Violin Sonata No.3 in D Major, Op.128
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 (1822-1885) 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.3, as Raff called it, for it is a huge work, dates from 1865. The opening Allegro, has for its main theme a simple, an almost naive melody. Raff quickly develops it into something heroic and striving in nature. He then shifts by means of powerful chords to a second and more dainty theme. The second movement, a scherzo Allegro assai, is an example of why Raff has been called the link between Mendelssohn and Bruckner. The main theme is a syncopated devil's dance. The trio section is calm and lovely, providing an excellent contrast. A slow movement Andante quasi Larghetto, begins in an almost baroque mode but quickly moves into a heady mid 19th century romantic serenade. A powerful and stormy middle section has a Hungarian flavor to it. The finale, Allegro vivace, opens with a triumphant Schumannesque theme which is full of forward motion.
Unavailable for many years now, we hope that by making it available once again, it will find its way into recital halls and on to the music stands of violinists looking for a worthy new romantic era violin sonata.