Joachim Raff’s Psalm 130: De Profundis

Notes by TŌN horn player Emily Buehler

De Profundis
Written for soprano, small choir, and orchestra, Joachim Raff’s 1868 De Profundis, Op. 141 is a setting of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths, Oh Lord, have I cried unto thee.” Raff had multiple notable compositions including the patriotic Germany’s Resurrection and his version of Sleeping Beauty, which was, in the opinion of Franz Liszt, some of his best musical writing.

Raff’s Relationship with Liszt
Raff left Weimar for Wiesbaden in 1856, creating a somewhat bitter rift between him and Liszt, amidst an already complicated relationship. The two composers had blurred lines between roles of apprentice and partner. Raff was unclear of his position with Liszt, while Liszt was clear on the idea that Raff was his protégé. After spending time working with Liszt, Raff decided to leave and successfully established his own career as a composer. Even after the split, Liszt always approached discussions of Raff with supportive, fatherly intent. De Profundis seems to have played a role in mild reconciliation between the two composers, highlighting a change in Raff after the war—a tip of the hat to Liszt’s wish for him to explore and write in a more religious style. In the words of his daughter, Helene Raff:

It is “worshipfully dedicated to Franz Liszt.” Since Vienna (1862) Raff overcame his nature, his distrustful bitterness that had grown in him . . . Liszt with his familiar personality is supposed to have made certain remarks regarding Raff in 1856 or 1857 which Raff discovered . . . Through the dedication of the De Profundis, Raff showed that the old personal devotion survived despite everyday disagreements . . . Liszt took pleasure in the dedication and in the work; in a letter to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (Liszt’s long-time companion) he mentions it as an important work.

A Re-discovery
Once popular among festivals and orchestras, Raff’s De Profundis is no longer widely performed. According to Helene, one of the last performances of its time was after Raff’s death, at the city church of Weimar. This piece has since been performed in Europe, but today will be the U.S premiere.