Most modern references to him are in conjunction with Franz Liszt. He visited Liszt in Wiemar in 1845 and became friends with pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow. From 1850 to 1853 he was Liszt's assistant in Weimar. He helped Liszt in learning orchestration and Raff claiomed to have orchestrated some of Liszt's early tone poems. By 1878 he divided his time between composition and being the Director of the music conservatory in Frankfurt. He was especially known for his craftsmanship and orchestration.
Raff wrote pieces in most every genre, including salon music for the piano. von Bülow had this to say about his friend's music:
Raff ...combined the most diverse styles and yet preserved the purity of all of them : the salon style in the best sense, and the strict style. Raff never aspired to appear more than he was, but to be what he was. How few are able to say that about themselves !In 1873 Raff composed his only piano concerto. The premiere occured the same year with Raff conducting and his friend von Bülow at the keyboard. The Piano Concerto In C Minor is in three movements:
I. Allegro - After a short introduction that pits the orchestra versus the piano, the first of three themes appears. It is repeated immediately in a different guise before the second lyrical theme is played by the piano. The third theme, more heroic in nature, is played by the orchestra while the piano adds decoration. The third theme is repeated, this time it is the piano that plays it while the orchestra decorates. The development section expands on the first theme. The recapitulation brings back the three themes, and before the close of the work Raff weaves all three themes together to be played simultaneously. A cadenza for soloist leads to the powerful ending of this movement in sonata form.
II. Andante, quasi larghetto - The slowly unwinding first theme is first played by the oboe. The low strings repeat the theme while the piano decorates it. The second theme is similar to the first and isplayed by the piano. There is a sense of tension as the themes grow more complex until a lush climax is reached as the orchestra and piano alternate. The first theme is given a full blown treatment, and the music returns to the idyllic mood of the beginning.
III. Allegro - The finale begins straight away with a referemnce to the first theme of the first movement. A theme in march time pushs aside this short reference. A second theme of a contrasting nature appears after the march. Raff takes full advantage of the contrast of these themes in the middle section ofthe movement. As the end approaches, the piano becomes more animated. Fragments of the march theme appear, and ushers in the ending.