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SYMPHONY No.4 IN G Minor Op.167

By Alan H. Krueck

This article formed part of Alan Krueck's projected book: "Joachim Raff: A biographical documentation and study of his works." The original is a draft and so minor changes have been made to the grammar to produce a finished piece. The text has been preserved in full, including its references to musical examples, which could not be included as they were not found in Dr Krueck's surviving papers. Several passages exist in alternative text and in these cases what appears to be Dr Krueck’s latest version has been used..

During the production of the Im Walde Raff also worked on his comic opera Dame Kobold based on Calderon's play of the same name, making the two works his major efforts for the year. The opera was a success when performed and contains orchestral music which could be extracted to form a short concert suite - the delectable overture and the ballet music Dance Divertissement in Hungarian Style both of which exhibit the high level of inspiration already noted in the Im Walde Symphony. Whether the opera in itself is stage-worthy today cannot be answered unless a contemporary production is enacted. In the two years which followed this opera and symphony, Raff produced two large scale suites for piano, two piano trios and the truly unjustly neglected Violin Concerto No.1 in B minor which, with the later Piano Concerto, is the best of all his music in concerto form. In the spring of 1871 Raff commenced work on his Fourth Symphony in G minor, completing it in late summer of the same year. It was given its first performance under Wilhelm Jahn's direction in Wiesbaden 8 February 1872 and the second performance, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus conducted by Raff himself, followed on October 31st the same year.

In Raff's symphonic output the Symphony No.4 in G minor occupies a unique position. It is the shortest of all his symphonies - barely a half hour in performance - and utilizes the smallest orchestra of the symphonies, eliminating trombones and, as in the C major symphony, limiting the percussion to tympani alone. Except for four horns instead of two the orchestra is the same as late Haydn and Mozart. The brevity of the work and its limited orchestration no doubt contributed to its success and numerous performances but these alone become extraneous observation when one examines the score. The G minor Symphony of Raff is a masterpiece from start to finish. If it doesn't have the extraordinary coloristic elements of the Im Walde or the voluptuous melodic contours of the Lenore it holds its own very nicely in a perfect balance of materials and development; a perfect specimen of form and content, of discipline and emotion.

The lack of a title no doubt helped to launch the G minor Symphony in circles adverse to program music - and any title was automatically accepted as indicative of such. Actually the G minor Symphony is far more modern than any of its predecessors in the developmental processes involved, for it is truly neo-classical in its disassociation from title and the employment of genuine thematic metamorphosis in linking the movement; characteristic intervals and thematic recall (present in the Vaterland Symphony) are primitive in comparison with what Raff achieves in the Fourth Symphony as far as the unity-in-diversity principle is concerned. The Fourth Symphony remains the single most accomplished and sophisticated of Raff's entire series in this respect. From their very first encounter von Bülow, Rheinberger and Vieuxtemps (among others) greeted the work with understandable enthusiasm, Even when Raff's star began to pass from the scene the G minor Symphony received almost as much attention as the Lenore and Im Walde. In his introduction to the Forest Symphony Theodor Müller-Reuter could write in 1894: "To more general recognition are, with the exception of the already mentioned Fourth, really only the Third Im Walde and Fifth Lenore to be reckoned." As late as 1926 Wilhelm Altmann could write: "But the Fourth is the best of all."

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