Joachim, Joseph


The most distinguished teacher and the greatest violinist of recent times. Was born of Jewish parents in Hungary, at Kittsee, near Presburg. His was not a musical family, as is so often the case with great musicians, but on  the contrary his father was a merchant of moderate means. He had, however, one sister, Regino, who sang, and his taste for music developed, very probably, from hearing her practise. It is said that at five years of age he learned to accompany her on the toy violin with such ability that he was sent to Serwacziniski, concertmaster at Pesth, where his family were now living. When only seven years old he appeared in public at his master's opera, playing with him Eck's double-concerto. Such talent did he show that the family moved to Vienna, that he might have better teachers. Here, with Mayseder and the violinist, Clement, for friends, he studied. His training was hard but excellent, and it was not long before he appeared at the Conservatory. While there developed his deep love for Schumann and Beethoven. In 1843 he went to Leipsic, the great music center of Germany, where he formed his beautiful friendship with Mendelssohn, who superintended the boy's work. He studied the violin with David and composition with Hauptmann, and received a good general education as well. During that first year, then but twelve years old, he appeared at one of Viardot-Garcia's concerts, and made his debut at the Gewandhaus in a concert given by Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn, with the latter of whom he played. He continued his studies at Leipsic until 1850, appearing meanwhile occasionally at concerts, and going to London in 1844 with Mendelssohn, who fondly called him " My Hungarian Boy," and proudly introduced him at Drury Lane to an audience who thoroughly appreciated and marveled at his rendering of the Othello Fantasie and the Beethoven Concerto. He again visited London in 1847 with Mendelssohn, who went to conduct the Elijah, and, after visits in 1849, 1852, 1859 and 1860, he appeared annually at England's capital at the Monday Popular concerts.

Mendelssohn's death in 1847 was a great blow to Joachim, and since, without the great master, Leipsic had no attraction for him, he accepted Liszt's offer to lead the orchestra at Weimar. He arrived there in 1850, but remained only three years, for he abhorred the principles of Liszt and the New School, though personally he was very fond of the great pianist. At Hanover, in 1863, he married the talented Amalie Weiss, who was singing in the Court Opera. In 1878 he became director of the Hochschule of the Royal Academy of Arts at Berlin, and that city henceforth became his home. There, in 1869, he founded the famous Joachim Quartet, with Schiever, de Ahna and Muller, in which many changes took place, Halir, Wirth and Hausmann being the last combination. His life at Berlin was largely taken up with his duties at the Academy, of which he became the head in 1882. Yet, he also played at concerts and many charity benefits, and traveled with his quartet, even as his age advanced. As a violinist, Joachim was remarkable for his marvelous depth and variety of tone, and is possibly the only one whose intonation was perfect, a characteristic which rendered his playing, at times, apparently discordant to the untrained  listener. Dignified and serious, never reverting to tricks of execution, he appeared quietly before his hearers, depending solely on his art to attract. He conscientiously lived up to his standard, never playing anything but the purely classical. With this somewhat limited repertory he continued to hold his audience through a long career, during which his popularity never waned. Joachim always tried to execute a composition from the view-point of its composer, and, as he was himself a composer of rare ability and delicate sensitiveness, he seems to have been able to perceive the ideals of the old masters. He was not only unrivaled as an interpreter of Bach, Beethoven and the other great masters, but recreated their compositions; made them live. Fortunately his influence will not be lost, for to the coming generations, as has been suggested, his few compositions will stand as a mirror to the playing, which they will long to have heard. Among these works the greatest is the Hungarian Concerto, which is the longest extant example of a perfect classical form, and singularly like Bach's Concerto in C minor. For the violin and piano he has written: Romance, Fantasiestück, Spring Fancy, The Murmuring of the Lindens, Evening Bells, Ballade, and Romance in C; for viola and piano, Hebrew Melodies, and Variations on an Original Theme; for violin and orchestra, andantinq and allegro scherzoso, concerto in G minor, nocturne in A, variations in E minor, five orchestral overtures to Hamlet, to Grimm's Demetrius, to Henry IV., to two comedies by Gozzi, and to Dem Audenken Kleist, which was played at Cambridge when Joachim was made Doctor of Music; for the violin three cadenzas to Beethoven's Concertos, transcriptions of Brahms' Hungarian Dances, and a concerto in G. He has also written Scena der Marfa, from Schiller's Demetrius, as a contralto solo with orchestral accompaniment; and two songs, Ich hab' in Traum geweinet, and a selection from Tennyson's King Arthur, Rain, Rain and Sun, in which he preserved the natural accent, greatly to the poet's delight; besides two marches in C and D, with trios.

Joachim's greatest influence, however, was exerted as a teacher. He thoroughly enjoyed his work at the Hochschule, and the great number of pupils in his classes testify to his excellence in this line. He took no pupils at any price who were not well grounded in the principles of music, and an artist of talent, no matter how poor, found a place with him. Joachim, as a man, was modest, and in no way sought the honors bestowed upon him. He was decorated with the badges of many orders, and held the degrees of Doc,tor of Music from Cambridge, 1877, Doctor of Civil Law from Oxford, Doctor of Law from Glasgow and Doctor of Philosophy from Gottingen. At the Hochschule, in 1889, a grand concert of Joachim's compositions was given and he was made honorary president of the Beethoven House Society, which since 1890, has given occasional festivals at Bonn. But the great jubilee was held at Berlin in 1899, when his pupils and friends from all parts of the globe assembled to welcome him. Every member of the orchestra, which Steinbach conducted, had been his pupil. The climax of the evening came, when much against his will, the beloved master was persuaded to play one of Bach's solos and the Beethoven Concerto.  Kurfurstdam, a suburb of Berlin, where he had lived for some years, saw the close of Joseph Joachim's illustrious career as violinist, composer and teacher, on August 15, 1907. He died after a lingering attack of asthma, and was buried in Berlin, where many prominent persons attended his funeral.