Joseph Joachim Raff (b. May 27, 1822, Lachen, Switzerland, died June 25, 1882, Frankfurt, Germany) was a Swiss-German composer and composition teacher. Raff was famous during his lifetime, though he became less well-known as the 20th century progressed.
Raff began his career as a schoolteacher in 1840 in Rapperswil, Switzerland, where he taught himself the piano, violin, and composition. His early works were heavily influenced by the music of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, and, in 1844, friends persuaded him to send some of his pieces to Mendelssohn, who, in turn, recommended them to his own publishers, Breitkopf & Härtel. Mendelssohn encouraged Raff to pursue composition full time, which led Raff to abandon his well-paid position in Rapperswil, cause a rift with his family, and be forced into poverty. He moved from Rapperswil to Zurich during this time, although he did not find greater financial success upon relocating.
Raff was ultimately lifted from his destitution by Franz Liszt. Raff traveled nearly 50 miles in order to see Liszt perform in Basel in 1845, and found the recital sold out upon his arrival. Liszt, impressed by the determination of this rain-soaked young musician, offered him a spot in his tour, which took them to Germany. Following the end of the tour, Raff took up a job at a piano shop on Cologne, where he continued composing and took up music criticism to supplement his income. Following the publication of a controversial review in 1847, Raff was dismissed from his writing post and traveled to Vienna, where Liszt had arranged another job for him with Mechetti, a prominent music publisher, only to learn of the proprietor’s death while en route.
Later that year, Raff returned to Württemburg, his father’s ancestral homeland, where he taught and continued composing. He then relocated to Hamburg in 1850 for a brief spell with the publisher Schuberth before accepting an offer by Liszt to join him in Weimar as his assistant. For several years, the two men worked closely together, but, eventually, the relationship soured. In 1856, Raff followed his fiancée to Wiesbaden, where he stayed for 21 years, establishing himself as a music teacher, critic, and composer. As a former protégé of both Mendelssohn and Liszt, Raff had a foot in each of the newly formed warring camps into which the musical world of Europe was dividing itself, and attempted to distance himself from both personally and professionally.
Raff achieved international recognition in 1863 when his First Symphony and the cantata Deutschlands Auferstehung won major prizes, propelling him towards become a full-time composer. For a time, Raff was considered Germany’s foremost symphonist, with his Symphony No. 3 “Im Walde” and his Symphony No. 5 “Lenore” becoming phenomenally successful.
Following the premiere of Brahms’ First Symphony in 1876, Raff’s reputation began to suffer under accusations of allowing easy of facility to compromise quality. Nevertheless, he served as the director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt from 1877, where he employed teachers from both sides of the musical divide until his death from a heart attack in 1882. Raff’s reputation suffered immensely after his passing, and his catalog of 405 works in nearly every genre –including 11 symphonies–went largely ignored. There was an increased interest in Raff’s work in the later part of the 20th century, and he has since come to become recognized for his significant contributions to the musical landscape of 19th-century Europe.