© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

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JJ Initials

After the London Debut 

Back in Leipzig, the Wittgensteins, under prodding from Joseph’s parents, were intent upon capitalizing on his English successes. On June 17, Ferdinand David wrote to Mendelssohn “It has pleased me greatly that Joachim has made such a good impression. If Heaven gives him stamina and health, he shall become a really brilliant musician. But his relatives should be somewhat less careful and reasonable. It seems to me somewhat excessive the way they worry about what may be best for him now, and though one has said to them a hundred times that they should let him quietly continue his studies, they apparently still would rather hear that he should be sent, the sooner the better, to Paris [1] and all over the world.” [i] 

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Boating in Tharandt, ca. 1840

To help him recuperate from his London sojourn, Fanny took Joseph and her children the village of Tharandt, eight and a half miles southwest of Dresden. A tiny, 13th-century Saxon settlement, Tharandt clings to the precipitous winding banks of a swift-flowing wooded stream, the Wilde Weißeritz. With its cool forest air and its clear spring-water baths, it was an ideal recreational destination for the dog days of summer. Today, it looks much as it did then: simple, yet elegant houses line its main street, and steep walks lead to an ancient, ruined castle, abandoned since the 16th century, that, together with the Mountain Church of the Holy Cross, forms a historic and picturesque gateway to the world’s first botanical forest — the former Royal Saxon Forest Academy, established by Heinrich Cotta in 1811.

A half-century before Joseph’s visit, Tharandt had been the refuge of such literary giants as Friedrich Schiller and Heinrich von Kleist. Now, it would provide a peaceful, pleasant environment in which a 13-year-old boy might grow in sympathy and self-confidence, make new friends, stretch his muscles and improve his vision.

Joseph Joachim to his parents [ii]

Tharandt, [Tuesday] 8 August [1844] [2]

…We have bad weather here, and I think that we will soon return to Leipzig where I will again begin my studies with the same masters, and from where I will write to you about how I divide up my time. I use my time here as well as possible, although I spend many hours in the garden. Dear Fanny has bought me a crossbow that gives me a lot of pleasure, and which I often shoot with boys of my age. I am not the worst shot among them; it also exercises my eyes a lot. [3] We also have a large pond here on which I often go boating, for I can row pretty well; naturally I never go alone, but always with company, so nothing can happen to me. — Last week I was with dear Fanny and a French family in Freiberg, the famous Saxon silver mines, about two stations from here. [4] I observed everything in the greatest detail; the silver in its rawest condition, its separation from other ores, and much more besides. Only I pity the poor miners who have to spend their lives in these deep, unhealthy and dark shafts, many of them 1500 feet deep. — Today I received a letter from dear Heinrich and from dear Uncle Bernhard, [5] who are well. Heinrich writes that I have received a pin from the Philharmonic Society, which he will send to me as soon as possible… 


Boating in Tharandt, ca. 1890 [iii]

Tharandt Today

Tharandt today

Next Post in Series: Return to Leipzig

[1] “In those days France dominated all Europe, musically speaking, and particularly in Eastern Europe,” wrote Leopold Auer of his youth in the 1850’s. “Paris was the dream-vision that floated before the eyes of every young artist who yearned for recognition.” [Auer/VIOLIN, p. 14.]

[2] Joachim/BRIEFE I, p. 1. Moser and Johannes Joachim date this letter 1843, but the year is clearly wrong. In August 1843, Joseph was en route to Leipzig, and would hardly have had time for the leisurely activities mentioned here. All evidence points, instead, to 1844. In her letter of June 5, 1844, Fanny Wittgenstein writes to Joseph’s parents that “I will go to the countryside near Dresden with the children; there [Joseph] should fully recuperate and then he will return dilligently to work.” In the letter to his parents, Joseph mentions recommencing his studies with the same masters, as well as receiving letters from his brother and uncle in London and being promised a pin from the Philharmonic society. He mentions bad weather: the summer of 1844 was unusually rainy throughout Europe. He further says that he will write from Leipzig about how he will divide up his time — something he did in a subsequent letter, a month later.

[3] Joseph had an in-turning eye.

[4] This may mean coach stations. While the 120 km. Leipzig-Dresden railway line had been open since April of 1839, the Dresden-Tharandt railway was not completed until June 1855; the Tharandt-Freiberg section was inaugurated in August 1862.

[5] Joseph’s older brother Heinrich and Uncle Bernhard Figdor tended the London office of the family wool wholesale business.

[i] [David an Mendelssohn, 17 Juni 1844; Julius Eckhardt, Ferdinand David an die Familie Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Leipzig, 1888, p. 216. [my translation].