Previous Post in Series: Of Rivers and Highways: The Perilous Journey into the Future 


JJ Initials


miratur molem Aeneas, magalia quondam,
miratur portas strepitumque et strata viarum. [1]

                        — Virgil, Aeneid Book I

 Buda Pesth

Buda and Pest from the South [i]

            The contrast between the two shores, linked together by a bridge of boats upwards of twelve hundred feet in length, is peculiarly striking; on one side Imperial Buda, the original and ancient capital, spreads stern and still, clasping the dark heights with houses and convents, clothing their sides with habitations, and cresting them with lordly palaces and bristling fortresses: while right and left along the river bank stretch its long faubourgs, where you may distinguish at intervals an old Turkish tower, a remnant of the times when the Moslem held sway in the chief city of the Magyars, or a stately monastery, upon whose spire the cross now glitters in the sunlight, unprofaned by the vicinity of the crescent.

            There is a strange stillness about Buda; a sort of calm regality; and you ever find your thoughts flung back upon the past as you climb its abrupt acclivities, or wander among its giant-looking houses. But you have only to repass the bridge, and the present, the active, ambitious, energetic present is at once before you. Tall, handsome, Italian-seeming terraces face the river, from which they are only separated by a wide quay, the line occasionally broken by a noble portico, a stately frieze, or the towers of a church; all is so fresh, so bright, and so indicative of growing prosperity, that you feel at once that Pesth, though now regarded as a garish intruder on the metropolitan pretensions of time-hallowed Buda, will one day become the capital of a country which is even now like a giant slowly awakening from a deep death-sleep; and that while Ofen [Buda] remains a monument of warfare and subjugation, rife with memories of strife and struggle, and of the days when Hungary was unconscious of her moral strength, Pesth will grow into splendour, and her quays and warehouses be heaped with the riches of this teeming land. [ii]

                                                                                    Julia Pardoe, 1840

            That was the way Miss Pardoe described the twin cities in 1840. Considerably less charming, yet somehow vulgarly evocative, was the German writer “Spiritus Asper’s” over-the-top description of Pest, published in 1833, the year of the Joachim’s arrival: “If the damsel Europe can, not infelicitously, be compared with a female body, and the various countries be made to pass as acceptable images of her limbs, why should my imagination not be permitted to picture Pest as an attractively adorned maiden in a reclining position with her feet bent backward, while one arm extends toward her head, and the left (as in the Medici Venus) modestly attempts to cover the front part of her body down as far as the hip. The graceful countenance (the New Town) observes itself in the clear mirror of the Danube, and the splendid, symmetrically arranged masses of the casino and theater, outstanding by virtue of their surprisingly pleasing forms, may be regarded as the maiden’s breasts. We may just as appropriately describe the crooked, angular alleys of the Old Town as her bowels, hence, the lower half of the body, and this simile gains strength through the circumstance that the waterfront that makes up the outer end of the Old Town on the left bank of the Danube mostly consists of the foul-smelling dwellings of tanners.[2] The backside of the body is made up by Theresienstadt, where the hosts of rag dealers from the tribe of David nest in great numbers.” [iii]

Having journeyed a hundred miles through wasteland, forest and vineyard, beside the ancient baths, Gül Baba’s tomb and other picturesque reminders of Hungary’s Turkish past, the Joachims took up residence in the maiden’s backside, at the edge of Pest’s Jewish quarter Theresienstadt (Terézváros), [3] happily up-wind from the stinking butt-end of town. It had been 50 years since Joseph II’s Toleranzpatent had opened the door for the first Jews to settle in Pest and the other royal free cities. The door would have slammed shut again a mere seven years later, with the Emperor’s deathbed renunciation of his decrees, had not the Hungarian Diet passed legislation preventing royal free cities from carrying out their intended indiscriminate expulsion of Jews. That statute (Law 38 of 1791) nevertheless allowed the eviction any Jew who had not been a lawful resident before January 1, 1790. Though unenforced, the act was technically still in effect when the Joachims settled in Theresienstadt. It remained on the books until 1840, when the National Assembly passed Law 29, permitting all indigenous and naturalized Hungarian Jews to settle in the royal free cities. [iv]

Despite this legal ban on immigration, the Jewish population of Pest swelled from 114 in 1787 to approximately 8,000 in 1840, the most rapid rate of increase in Europe. [4] When the Joachims arrived, there were 1,356 Jewish families in Pest — a total Jewish population of 6,983. [v] Of these, only 530 families enjoyed “tolerated” status or were Commoranten (“Sojourners” — i.e. Jews who had the right of temporary residence). [vi] Put another way, nearly two-thirds of these residents were illegal aliens whose status the government found it expedient to ignore, partly because they were engaged in what the ruling nobility considered economically beneficial or otherwise vital activities, and partly because the local authorities lacked the resources to enforce the law. [vii] During their first years in Pest, “Productenhändler” (merchant) Joachim and his family were apparently among the city’s illicit inhabitants. Julius may have benefitted from the fact that his father-in-law, Isaac Figdor, who enjoyed a rare and coveted “tolerated” status in Vienna, also had temporary residential privileges in Pest. [viii] It also seems likely that Julius had family of his own in Pest: Isac Joachim, born in Frauenkirchen (Boldogasszony), and almost certainly a relative—possibly Julius’s father or brother—had been living there since 1817. [ix]

Legal or not, the temptation to relocate to Pest may have been too great for an ambitious wool merchant to resist. The “youthfully blossoming queen of domestic commerce and gateway to the Orient” [x] was a major center of the European wool trade. Wool was one of Hungary’s principal articles of commerce and a major source of capital for the Hungarian economy, primarily because it was one of the few export commodities that the Austrian government did not tax. [5] Due to improved farming methods and the introduction of Spanish merino sheep to the region, Hungarian wool was of exceptional quality and highly prized by English woolen manufacturers. [6] Each year, nearly 9 million pounds of wool were offered for sale at the spring trade fair in Pest, most of it bought by German merchants for resale in England. [xi] This trade in wool was largely carried on by strategically networked Jewish families, many of whom, like the Figdors, had relatives placed in each of the wool-trading capitals of Europe.

Proximity to this enormous source of material wealth helped to make Pest the fastest-growing city in Europe. “Situated nearly in the centre of one of the richest countries in the world, on the banks of a river which traverses more than half of Europe, surrounded by a population requiring a supply of almost every article of luxury from abroad, chosen by fashion as the metropolis, with a good climate, and capable of unlimited extent on every side,” wrote John Paget ungrammatically, “it requires but little sagacity to foresee a brilliant future for Buda-Pest.” [xii]


Buda and Pest, ca. 1840

            Visitors to Pest were captivated by the city’s bright appearance, its bustle, and its forward-looking optimism. Pest’s pretty houses reminded Viennese writer and salonière Caroline Pichler of Vienna’s Leopoldstadt and of the many dainty villages that surrounded the Imperial capital. Strolling the city streets, she was charmed by the fresh breath of life that permeated the town: the cheerful, friendly faces of its inhabitants, the brisk activity of its newly awakening industry, and the busy throngs of workers that milled about, engaged in new construction. [xiii]

Pest’s rapidly constructed houses were mostly built of an insubstantial, unburnt brick, a kind of adobe, manufactured using the fine local Flugsand (“fly-sand”). Though this sand was plentiful and cheap, it was also a nuisance. During the warm months, huge heaps of it blew in from the city’s treeless surroundings, hissing through the streets, seeping into houses through cracks in window frames and door sills, choking and blinding their inhabitants and leaving a thin abrasive coating over clothing, floors and furniture. “Pest must be close to heaven,” one wit claimed. “Like the gods, we live among the clouds.”

 Alt R. Magyar király szálló 17.368 M 810

Rudolf von Alt: The Coffee-house König von Ungarn


            Like Paris and Vienna, Pest was noted for its ubiquitous coffee houses, where, amid billows of Turkish tobacco smoke, patrons could find cups of strong Turkish coffee, abundant newspapers, billiards, free heat and endless glasses of water to provide entertainment or refuge for an hour or a day. Each had his favorite Stammlokal—among the best known were the gleaming marble Kemnitzer; the Kaffeequelle, known for its prompt service; zum schwarzen Adler, the student hangout; das weiße Schiff, the most popular coffeehouse, with the widest selection of newspapers  (the wireless internet of the day); the König von Ungarn, home to the theatre crowd; zu den sieben Kurfürsten whose bel étage served in the absence of a suitable alternative as a concert venue for local musical academies, concerts by visiting virtuosi and occasional dramatic readings; the Kaffeehaus zur Krone where the Greek merchants met; and Bartels Kaffeehaus, jocularly known as the “Jewish exchange.” “Although [Széchenyi’s] newly-built Casino provides the Pesters with the service of an exchange,” wrote “Spiritus Asper,” “nevertheless the coffee houses are to be regarded as the actual places in which the success of a trade fair is determined, for here the most important trade agreements and transactions take place.” [xv] In the evening, the shimmer of countless lamps was reflected in mirrors, marble walls and polished table tops, as the citizens of Pest gathered in their favored locales — over coffee or a traditional meal of Rindsuppe mit Griesnockerl, Heißabgesottener Karpfen, Paprikahendl, and Gurkensalat — to discuss the news of the Diet, haggle over the price of potash, catch up on the Potpourri aus Paris or the Pêle-mêle aus London, or to gossip about the fate of such scandalous low-lifes as Arthur Lowell, the man from Boston who reportedly married ten wives of six colors: white, black, brown, red, nutmeg and mulatto.



Orczy House

Jewish life in Pest centered on the Orczy House, a massive structure with three large courtyards, occupying an entire block beside the Jewish Market (Zsidók piacra). [7] Constructed and reconstructed over the course of the 18th century by the philo-Semitic Orczy family, it functioned as a kind of “metropolitan stetl,” a welcoming point and refuge within the larger city. Among the buildings in old Pest, this “Jewish caravansary” was the second in size only to the Károly Barracks, encompassing 142 rooms with kitchens and 37 vaulted storerooms for the adjacent market place. Orczy House was said to offer everything that a traditional Jew may ever have required in life: two synagogues (one Orthodox and one Neolog), ritual baths, a ritual slaughterer, several restaurants, numerous shops, a Jewish bookstore and a bank. [xvi]


Pest, Street Scene

To the northeast of Orczy House lay the rapidly expanding and poorly regulated Theresienstadt district, consisting almost entirely of three- and four-story buildings, with apartments above, and shops on the ground floor. With very few exceptions, the residents of Theresienstadt were the families of Jewish merchants, among whom there were, roughly speaking, three classes. At the top of the pyramid were the Großhändler, or wholesalers, a number of whom amassed considerable fortunes, and whose appearance and lifestyle did not differ noticeably from that of the city’s Christian population. [xvii] At the bottom were the Trödelvolk (hawkers and peddlers), the “rag dealers from the tribe of David” whom a writer for the Hungarian Miscellany described as crowding the area near Orczy House, swarming together like bees, trafficking amongst themselves, or fixing themselves upon any passer-by who appeared likely to trade with them. [xviii]

A third class of traders were the Händler and Sensale (retailers and brokers), who, lacking the means of the Großhändler, were nevertheless able to carve out a substantial living for themselves as middlemen. Available sources suggest that Julius Joachim was occupied at the upper end of this middle level, and that he was able to provide his family with a comfortable living. Many, including Joseph Joachim himself, attest that Julius traded in wool — he is, however, enrolled in the 1837 census (incongruously) as a grain merchant. By 1845, he was enrolled as a retailer with an annual income of 160 forints: toward the lower end of what a wholesaler might expect to earn, but well above the typical income for a Jewish retailer, which was between 30 and 90 forints per year. [xix]

Pesth Fair


The Fair at Pest

             Joseph spent his first years in the company of merchants, not musicians. We can imagine him as a child in the marketplace, amongst the traders and shopkeepers, amidst the victuals and wares, listening to the Babel of languages and observing all the diversity of custom and costume that life in Pest had to offer.

Pest’s most impressive market events were the trade fairs that were held four times a year in Pest: on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), Medardus (June 8), St. John’s Day (August 29) and on St. Leopold’s Day (November 15). [xxi] On those occasions, the entire city teemed for a long fortnight with Slovaks and Magyars, Germans and Greeks, Turks, Gypsies and Jews, who, from stores and open air booths, boats and wagons, offered up hats and shoes, leather and linens, pottery, woodenware, iron and glass, large heaps of tallow, flax, hemp, wool, grain, and, for two or three kreutzers each, refreshing watermelons in season. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, numbering in the tens of thousands, were gathered for sale on the outskirts of town, as were horses, broken and unbroken, 30 or 40 to a corral. [xxii] More than 14,000 wagons and 8,000 ships are said to have been employed in conveying goods to and from the fairs. [xxiii]

Though Pest was a thriving center of commerce, it was not yet a musical capital. All Western musical activity had ceased under the rule of the Turks (1541-1686), and it was only in the late 18th century that Buda-Pest began to establish a modest reputation for itself as a provincial outpost on the southeastern edge of the German Kulturbereich. During the Classical era, the most important performances took place in Buda: stagings of French operas by Grétry, Monsigny and Dalayrac, and early performances of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, Magic Flute, Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The first instrumental soloist of stature to appear there was Joseph Haydn’s concertmaster, Luigi Tomasini, who made the journey from Eisenstadt in 1789. Both Haydn and Beethoven visited Buda in 1800 — Haydn for a performance at the royal castle of The Creation; Beethoven to accompany a horn player called Giovanni Punto, whose real name was Wenzel Stich. “Who is this Bethover?” asked the critic for the Ofener und Pester Theatertaschenbuch. “The history of German music is not acquainted with such a name. Punto of course is very well known.” [xxiv]



Buda from Pest, Showing the Palatine’s Castle and the Pontoon Bridge

            Beethoven returned in February, 1812 for the opening of the Municipal Theatre (Városi Színház) in Pest, having written incidental music for Kotzebue’s dramatic prologue and epilogue on subjects from Hungarian history — King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens — with which the new house was to be inaugurated. [8] The Pest Opera, with its excellent orchestra (mostly Bohemians), fine soloists and mediocre chorus, continued to present a series of contemporary opera productions, including works by Weber, Rossini, Auber, Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer and Marschner, until the Municipal Theatre burned in 1847. Among the noteworthy performances was one in the year of the Joachims’ arrival: an imaginative production of Der Freischütz, using live trees, the local cavalry and a real waterfall. It turned out poorly when the imported forest interfered with scene changes, and the clatter of hooves and splashing of water overpowered the singers. No matter: it sold out the house.

Regular concert seasons did not begin in Pest until 1834, when Sechényi’s National Casino began hosting a series of chamber concerts. Early orchestral and concerto performances date from this period as well. The founder of the Hungarian opera, Ferenc Erkel, gave an early performance of Chopin’s E minor concerto in November of 1835. The English violinist Antonio James Oury, accompanied by Erkel, performed a concerto by de Bériot that same year. [xxvi] Most concerts in Pesth were given by local musicians; the difficulty and danger of travel conspired to keep Pest off the tour for traveling virtuosi. “Before the revolution of 1848, the policy of Austria was to shut [Hungary] off from all communication with the rest of Europe,” wrote D. T. Ansted in 1862. “All the usual passport and police regulations, troublesome enough in any case, were doubled when Hungary was the point to be reached; and few travellers cared to undergo the certain trouble for a very uncertain return of instruction and amusement.” [xxvii] It was only in the late thirties that a trickle of foreign artists, including the 17-year old Henri Vieuxtemps in 1837 and Ole Bull in 1839, began to take advantage of steamboat travel to début in Pest. Still, travel was arduous. [9] As Ansted reported: “Very uncomfortable steamers conveyed the determined voyager down the Danube to Pesth, and he must trust to the far-famed Peasant’s Post to gallop back to Vienna in an open cart as well as he could, taking some forty hours for the journey. […] The roads were impassable in wet weather, and enveloped in clouds of choking dust in dry seasons. Inns were places in which dirt and discomfort were the only things that could reasonably be expected. […] Bad speed, bad accommodation, bad food, very uncertain progress, and very certain delays, combined to limit the passenger traffic to a very small amount.” [xxviii] Traveling musicians evidently expected less in the way of luxury than English gentlemen. By the mid-forties, conditions had improved to the point that Pesth became a tour destination for such established artists as Molique, Ernst, Thalberg, David, Berlioz and Liszt. [xxix]

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

Next Post in Series: First Lessons

[1] Aeneas marvels at the enormous buildings, once mere huts, 
and at the gates and tumult and paved streets.

[2] The stench and contagion associated with tanneries may be imagined, as the tanning process then in use involved soaking, kneading and pounding hides in vats of urine and excrement.

[3] [Borchard/STIMME, p. 76.] Theresienstadt/Terézváros is not to be confused with the Theresienstadt/Terezín in the Czech Republic, the site of the Nazi concentration camp.

[4] In the same period, the total population of Pest increased from just under 30,000 to more than 70,000. The Jewish population of Budapest continued to grow apace. By 1920, there were more than 200,000 Jews in the city—nearly a quarter of the population of the place that Vienna’s mayor, Karl Lueger, famously called “Judapest.”

[5] Austrian taxes on Hungarian exports were punitive, arising out of a conflict between the government in Vienna and the Hungarian nobles, who refused to give up their personal tax-exempt status.

[6] The original breed of Hungarian sheep was the Zackelschaf, Ovis strepsiceros, with long, upright spiral horns and shaggy, coarse wool. In the early 19th century, the improvement of breeding stock was a major concern of the Hungarian nobility on their feudal demesnes. The Esterházy flocks alone numbered more than 50,000 head. Until the early 18th century, the export of merino sheep from Spain had been a crime punishable by death. In the later 18th and early 19th centuries, Spanish sheep were sought after for breeding stock throughout Europe, and particularly in the German lands, because of the fine quality and great quantity of their wool.

[7] The building was on the corner of the Landstrasse (today Károly körút) and the König von Engellandgasse (Angliai Király utca).

[8] In the latter play, the Athenian goddess Minerva awakens after two millennia to find Athens in ruins under the heel of the Turks. After being assaulted by the hideous music of the dervishes, Minerva finds herself magically transported to Budapest, where she is delighted to find that Athenian culture is alive and well under the benevolent reign of Emperor Franz. Beethoven liked Kotzebue’s efforts so well that he subsequently asked the poet to provide him with a libretto for an opera.

Richard Bright described the new theatre in some detail: “The whole theatre is somewhat in the form of the longitudinal section of an egg, about one-third at the smaller end being cut off for the stage. The proscenium is wider than in almost any of the continental theatres. In front it is 56 ½ feet wide, and 51 feet high; and diminishes in height to 42 feet. The width of the area forming the stage, and set apart for scenery, is 93 feet, decreasing to 74, and its depth, with the proscenium, 90 feet; but the great saloon, built for redoutes and assemblies, is capable of being thrown into the stage, and then the whole is 228 feet deep. The pit, at its widest part, a few feet from the stage, is 60 feet, and its depth is 45 feet, of which a part is overhung by the lowest row of boxes. The boxes and gallery form four tiers, each of which projects a little less than the one below it, and becomes somewhat more curved, so that they all terminate at the same distance from the proscenium, which renders some of the upper-boxes near the stage excessively contracted. The whole house is lined with thin boarding, with a view of increasing the sound, and as little drapery is employed as possible. The ceilings are not arched, but the corners gently rounded off. The boxes are divided like those of the Opera-House in London; but the partitions are very thin. The ornaments are graceful, chiefly in white and gold. The principal light is derived from the stage, though the other parts of the house are by no means dark.” [Bright/TRAVELS, pp. 210-211.] The theatre had a capacity of 3,200.

[9] Bull wrote to his wife (Pressburg, April 17, 1839): “Instead of arriving at five o’clock we did not reach this place until eight; the driver got asleep on his seat and fell down under the carriage wheels; the horses ran against a post, breaking the carriage, and finally got away, giving us a good deal of trouble to catch them.” On Sunday, April 21, he wrote: “I arrived in Pesth yesterday evening: it seems that I was impatiently looked for. I waited a day and a half in Comorn for the steamer to Pesth, visiting the wonderful fortifications there.” [Sarah C. T. Bull and Alpheus B. Crosby, Ole Bull: a Memoir, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1882, pp. 112-113.]

[10] Or Stiegnitz (see: Reich/BETH EL, p. 61).

[11] Joachim had perfect pitch. Charles Hallé wrote about this in his autobiography: “This faculty has proved to have one drawback: viz. that the pitch of that period, a good half-tone lower than the present one, has remained so impressed on my brain, that when I now hear a piece of music for the first time, it seems to me in a higher key than it really is written in; I hear it in C when it is in B, and have to translate it, so to say. My friend Joachim shares this peculiarity with me, and it is now and then very perplexing.” [Halle/AUTOBIOGRAPHY, p. 27]

[12] Though Stanisław Serwaczyński is generally credited with being Joachim’s first teacher, this little-known—or unknown—“fact,” rings true. Ellinger was the first teacher of two other distinguished violinists, both of them Joachim’s friends and contemporaries: Edmund (Ödön) Singer (1830-1912) and Jakob Grün (1837-1916). “Pepi” Joachim and “Mundi” Singer were boyhood friends. Edmund Singer was born on October 14, 1830 in Totis, Hungary. He studied in Pest with Ellinger and David Ridley-Kohné (who also taught Leopold Auer), and in Vienna with Joseph Böhm. At age 13 he went to Paris for several years, after which he returned to Pest, where he was appointed concertmaster of the German Theatre orchestra. Singer made a brilliant Leipzig Gewandhaus début in December, 1851, playing Lipinski’s popular Military Concerto. In 1854, he succeeded Laub (who had succeeded Joachim) as concertmaster of the Weimar Hofkapelle under Liszt. In 1861, he became professor of violin in Stuttgart, where he also founded a highly regarded series of quartet concerts. He died on January 23, 1912. Singer was the editor of many standard works for violin, still available in the Schirmer edition. He played a Maggini violin that he had acquired from his former teacher, Ridley-Kohné.

[i] Author’s collection.

[ii] Pardoe/MAGYAR II, pp. 40-42.

[iii] Asper/PANORAMA, pp. xi-xii.

[iv] Lupovitch/WALLS, p. 41.

[v] Data from Peter I. Hidas,, Accessed April 19, 2006.

[vi] The Jewish Encyclopedia gives the number of Jewish families as 1,346., accessed 6/17/2007.

[vii] See: Lupovitch/WALLS, passim.

[viii] Deduction der Fremden, weder tolirirt noch commorirten Israeliten, welche aber Schwiegersöhne derselben sind, City Archives, Budapest, cited in Borchard/STIMME, p. 76.

[x] Benkert/WUTH, p. 1.

[xi] Paget/HUNGARY, p. 534.

[xii] Paget/HUNGARY, pp. 253-254.

[xv] Asper/PANORAMA, p. 45.

[xvi] Asper/PANORAMA, p. 198n; Frojimovics/BUDAPEST, p. 71ff.

[xvii] Asper/PANORAMA, p. 145 ff.

[xix] Data from Peter I. Hidas,, accessed April 19, 2009. This website contains some speculation about family relations that is not correct.

[xx] Author’s collection.

[xxi] Frojimovics/BUDAPEST, p. 68.

[xxii] Bright/TRAVELS, p. 217 ff.

[xxiii] The Penny Cyclopœdua of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. 18 London: C. Knight, 1840, p. 15.

[xxiv] Thayer/BEETHOVEN, p. 256.

[xxv] Author’s collection.

[xxvi] Dezső Legány, The Coming of French and Belgian Music to Budapest and Liszt’s Role, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 26, Fasc. 1/2. (1995), p. 39-40.

[xxvii] Ansted/HUNGARY, p. 18.

[xxviii] Ansted/HUNGARY, pp. 19-20.

[xxix] Dezső Legány: Budapest, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy, accessed 10/29/2007. See also: Dezső Legány, The Coming of French and Belgian Music to Budapest and Liszt’s Role, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 26, Fasc. 1/2. (1995): 39-46.