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JJ Initials


Pesth Castle

In the year following the flood, Serwaczyński began to play a dominant role in Joseph’s life. One of Joachim’s earliest recollections was of a visit to the opera to hear a performance of Konradin Kreutzer’s Nachtlager in Granada, in which Serwaczyński played the violin solo. At intermission, Pepi was taken to get a close view of the orchestra. The memory of that event was still present to him decades later when he was given an opportunity to purchase Serwaczyński’s Guarnerius violin from the Polish violinist Nikodem Biernacki while on a concert tour in Sweden. The violin became one of his most prized possessions.

With time, Serwaczyński became a family friend and a traditionally strict role model for the young Pepi. Moser informs us that the boy was “timid, and afraid of the dark—a weakness which did not please the master at all, and he resolved to cure him of it. One evening, therefore, he purposely asked him to fetch something from another room; but nothing would induce Pepi to go down the dark passage. First Serwaczyński used every means of persuasion at his command, then he scolded him, finally leaving the house, vowing he would return no more to teach such a little coward. When after several days his teacher failed to appear at the usual time, the child went to him, imploring his pardon, and promising he would never be so foolish again if only he might have his beloved fiddle lessons.”[i] Fear of the dark is common among 7-year-olds. Presuming that this incident occurred after the flood, however, Joseph’s phobias may well have been grounded in a terrifying reality: memories of nocturnal screams overheard, and of death and destruction revealed by daylight. Fanny did what she could to allay her son’s fear of Serwaczyński and his occasionally harsh methods. Several decades later, Joachim remembered himself as a “mother’s boy, when my good Mother helped me to practice my pieces for Serwaczyński with coaxing, and occasionally with a lump of sugar.” [ii] Such “sweet-talk” (literally “persuasion”) was tempered with other inducements: when Fanny wished to push her son to greater effort, she would show him a picture of Serwaczyński’s friend, the violin virtuoso Karol Lipinski, doubtless accompanied by a hortatory sermon.[iii] Old-school methods of admonition, punishment and reward.

After several years of study, Joseph’s success in repertoire by de Bériot, Cremont and Mayseder was such that Serwaczyński arranged for him to make his début appearance, at Széchenyi’s National Casino in Pest. The recital took place on March 17, 1839 — one year to the day after the flood’s end — suggesting that the date was deliberately chosen, and that Joseph’s triumph that day was a compelling symbol of the family’s revived hopes for the future.

The concert was clearly intended to pave the way to a professional career, presenting Joseph in a place where he could gain the interest of influential patrons. The building of the National Casino, occupying an entire block along the quay, was the Lloyd Palace, originally built as the “Merchants’ House” by the Bourgeois Trade Corporation of Pest in 1830, and still housing the mercantile exchange on its third floor.[iv] According to John Paget, the Casino was constructed “on a magnificent scale”—“a handsome building with an exceedingly elegant portico, —a little spoiled, perhaps, by being glazed […]” The ground floor was occupied by a stylish coffee house. The rooms of the casino, the meeting place of the nobility, were located in the bel étage. “As you enter, a number of well-dressed footmen are standing about,” wrote Paget; “one takes your hat, and another ushers you into the billiard-room, round the sides of which are rows of pigeon-holes, each bearing the name of a member arranged in alphabetical order, where letters, cards, or parcels are placed to attract his eye on entering. Beyond this, on one side, are two or three drawing-rooms. On the reading-room table we were delighted to find that vagabond Englishman’s consolation, Galignani; [1] besides the Athenæum, Edinburgh, Quarterly, and Foreign Quarterly Reviews. In the centre is a very fine ball-room, where the Casino gives three or four balls every winter; and beyond this, again, is a long suite of supper-rooms. A dining-room and a pretty good cook, complete the arrangements of one of the best-managed clubs in Europe.” [v] The casino’s ballroom was the city’s most important concert venue, which in the decades of the thirties and forties hosted composers and performers from Lanner to Liszt. [2] To Julia Pardoe, the Casino was “as perfect in its interior arrangements as any club in Europe,” and “superior to most in the liberality of spirit with which it is conducted.” [vi] Caroline Pichler praised the club for its “French refinement and English comfort,” wondering, at the same time if such a place would not eventually undermine attempts at mixed sociability by providing men with such a congenial place to congregate amongst their own kind and smoke. [vii]

In these august surroundings, seven year-old Joseph Joachim appeared for the first time in public, playing, with his teacher, the double concerto of Mannheim-born violinist Johann Friedrich Eck (1766—c. 1809) together with solo variations on Schubert’s Trauerwalzer by Franz Pechaˇcek (1793—1840). Pest’s Der Spiegel für Kunst, Eleganz und Mode [3] gave belated notice of the concert:

We call the public’s attention to the excellent musical talent of an 8-year-old [sic] pupil of Serwaczyński, Joseph Joachim, who lives amongst us. This ingenious boy may yet be epoch-making in the world of art, and we are glad if we have been the first to contribute to the propagation of his renown. We shall soon have an opportunity to hear the little virtuoso in public.[viii]

They were, indeed, the first, but the notice apparently did not make deadline. It was published three days after the event, with the parenthetical remark: “This Wunderknabe was heard last Sunday in the local Casino of the Nobility, to the wonderment of all present.” A more complete review—Joachim’s first—appeared in Honművész on March 31st:

In Pest, a particularly interesting concert was held in the National Casino on March 17, honored by a large attendance. The program included: (a) G. Onslow’s beautiful 15th Quintet; (b) a German four-part song for male voices by the Pest musician Mr. Merkel—(c) Friedrich Eck’s Double-concerto for two violins; played with quintet accompaniment by the excellent Stanislaus Serwaczyński and by his eight-year-old [sic] [4] pupil Joseph Joachim. Of the latter Wunderkind we can say no more than that we saw and heard in him a true marvel. His delivery, the faultless purity of his intonation, his mastery of difficulties and his rhythmic security delighted the audience to the extent that they would not stop applauding, and everyone prophesied that he would become a second Vieuxtemps, Paganini or Ole Bull. [ix]

As an adult, Joachim’s salient recollection of the event was not of the applause, but of his pride in the suit that he wore that day, fashioned of sky-blue silk with mother-of-pearl buttons. A portrait of him made at the time shows him wearing the suit, with long blond curls and a wide-collared shirt, standing in front of a piano and fingering a G Major chord on his violin. The portrait, clearly modeled on his teacher’s, gives compelling evidence of the professional aspirations that the Joachims had for their son after a mere two years of study.


Joseph Joachim at the time of his debut at the Adelskasino in Pest; his teacher Serwaczyński

Pepi’s successful début won him the support of an important benefactor: Count Franz (Ferenc) von Brunsvik, [5]  a liberal aristocrat and a pillar of Pest’s musical comunity. At the same time, it won him the enthusiasm of the count’s sister Therese (Teréz), and of the Brunsvik’s old school friend, Adalbert Rosti. [6] Brunsvik, the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Op. 57 Appasionata Sonata, had been amongst the earliest performers of Beethoven’s string quartets. His “deep and enduring” friendship with Beethoven had been such that they addressed one another with the intimate “Du.” [x] Beethoven was also particularly close to the count’s sister, to whom he dedicated his Op. 78 sonata, and who has been proposed at various times as a candidate for the composer’s mysterious “Immortal Beloved.”

Franz Brunsvik was an ardent and expert amateur ‘cellist; his generation-younger wife Sidonie [7] a gifted pianist of professional-level attainments. Their son’s tutor, Ferenc Ney, recalled “memorably beautiful times” in which the count and countess played piano and cello duos together at home, with “truly artistic pathos.” The couple employed the eminent violinist Leopold Jansa as a chamber music partner for their daily music-making. When Jansa went to Vienna after Ignaz Schuppanzig’s death to take over the first violin chair in Schuppanzigh’s quartet, another professional violinist, János Mihály Taborszky, was retained to fill out the Brunsvik family trio. [xi]

Beethoven had once been Brunsvik’s guest at his magnificent estate in Martonvásár, some 20 miles southwest of Pest—still one of the most beautiful estates in Hungary. [8] The count had inherited the property at the age of 16, and thereafter devoted much of his life to developing it. In time, Brunsvik proved a talented agriculturalist and manager, with a consuming interest in improving the breeding stock of horses and sheep. Contemporaries recognized his sheep farm, with its 5,000 improved sheep, as among the best in Hungary. The farm was staffed, not by the robot labor of serfs, but by sixty laborers, who, true to Brunsvik’s liberal ideals, were “regularly paid, and hired by the year.” [xii]

In Pest during the winter months, the Brunsviks hosted chamber music soirées several times a week, in which the best professional musicians took part—including, later in 1839, Franz Liszt, and in 1842 the 12-year-old Anton Rubinstein. Count Széchenyi was an occasional guest. Among the regular auditors was the respected composer Robert Volkmann. “I […] experienced beautiful musical pleasures at Count Brunsvik’s, where string quartets, quintets, duos and piano trios were played very artistically,” he wrote in 1841. “The count […] plays cello very well, and his wife is an outstanding pianist, who plays with great brilliance, power and spirit. Her interpretation of various composers, Beethoven, Hummel, Chopin is exceptional.” [xiii]

After his début, Pepi became a regular guest at these evenings. There, the seven year-old was introduced to the great chamber music tradition of the Danube region, hearing for the first time the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Onslow, [9] played by professionals and amateurs who had been personally acquainted with their creators. On several occasions, he was asked to sit in on the music making. [xiv] The brief time he spent in these surroundings was the beginning of Joachim’s devotion to the art of string quartet playing, of which he was in his time the greatest exponent. It also kindled his lifelong reverence and affinity for the works of Beethoven, whose name the child heard spoken with “holy awe.” [xv]

Even by 1839, it was highly unusual for a seven year-old Jewish boy to so enjoy the interest and encouragement of a sixty-two year-old Hungarian count. Serwaczyński had doubtless brought his precocious student to the count’s attention. It is possible that Brunsvik was acquainted with Julius Joachim, and, as the owner of a sheep farm, may have had business dealings with him. But circumstances suggest other ways in which the natural barriers of age and class might have been broken down, transcended or obviated. The recent disastrous flood, in and after which the nobility had behaved so honorably, and during which the Jewish community had deported themselves with such exemplary dignity and courage, had brought the city’s residents together. Death and disaster instruct the living, and they respect neither class nor age. Unquestionably, the events of the past year had helped to forge human bonds across class lines, while at the same time heightening the nobility’s sense of obligation toward the less fortunate. Brunsvik had known personal tragedy: his first son, István, had died in infancy, and at the time he met Joseph it had been a mere two years since he had lost his 12-year-old second son, Antal. For her part, Therese was well known for her interest in children. In Hungary, she is still remembered for founding the country’s first kindergarten (“Kleinkinderschule”), in 1828, at the family estate in Martonvásár. Together, Franz and Therese Brunsvik may well have been interested in so modest and endearing a boy as Joseph, each for their own reasons. It is hard to imagine, however, that Brunsvik’s support would have been forthcoming had he not also seen and respected in Joseph the same quality that he had recognized in his “brother” Beethoven: the aristocracy of genius.

Gradually, Joseph was being drawn into what remained of Beethoven’s professional milieu; yet, just as he celebrated his first great success, his mentor Serwaczyński decided to leave his post and depart from Pest. Serwaczyński suggested that the Joachims send their son to Vienna to continue his professional training. [xvi] With Pest under construction and Julius’s business on the rebound from the flood; with the encouragement of Brunsvik’s interest and with Serwaczyński leaving town, the Joachims decided to take up Serwaczyński’s suggestion. In Vienna, Joseph could live with his Grandfather Figdor, and his affluent Viennese relatives would absorb the cost of his living expenses and education. [10]

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Fanny Figdor [xvii]

That spring, Joseph’s Viennese cousin Fanny Figdor, the quick-witted and artistic daughter of his mother’s brother Wilhelm, came for a short stay. [11] An accomplished pianist and enthusiastic musical amateur, she took a knowing and affectionate interest in her precocious young cousin. Fanny, who acted as a go-between, would ultimately become Joseph’s caretaker and surrogate mother.

Fanny was a particularly sympathetic figure, whose letters reveal her to be intelligent, respectful and caring — though her granddaughter also later referred to her as “an outspoken, and indeed an ‘edgy’ (‘kantige’) personality.” [12] As painful as the decision to send Joseph away may have been, both for the boy and his family, the Joachims must have derived some sense of consolation from the thought that she was the family member who would best understand and care for him. Returning to Vienna, Fanny wrote to the Joachims, with a postscript to Joseph:

Fanny Figdor to Julius and Fanny Joachim, with a postscript to Joseph Joachim [xviii]

[The stationery is illustrated with an engraving of Vienna, showing St. Stephen’s Cathedral and St. Charles’s Church, as seen from the Spinnerin am Kreutz]

                                                                        Vienna, the 18th of April, 1839

Dear Uncle and dear Aunt,

What a rich source of joy and pleasure I have found in your house, you know best. Believe me, no one can share your happiness more than I, and in my eyes you are richer than Rothschild himself. May the Almighty preserve your good fortune for a very long time, and may He always give you all the joy that you so richly deserve; better one cannot wish for you. I thank you cordially for the friendly reception that you and your relatives showed me to such a high degree; I hope soon to have a similar opportunity to enjoy the same; and may you be as fortunate in caring for your two unmarried daughters as you formerly were with the older two. Dear Heinrich was sincerely pleased with our arrival, and listened eagerly and with satisfaction to all the details that I heaped upon him. Best wishes to Fritz, Henni and July, and to you, dear Aunt and Uncle, I give the assurance of my sincere high regards.

Your loving niece,


My dear, good Joseph,

In order to show you how much our correspondence means to me, I will begin it, contrary to all formality, [13] and say to you that I thought of you very often during our very pleasant return trip. May you fulfill all the beautiful expectations that our all too short acquaintance has permitted me to have for you. I hope that your determination will not fail you; good determination is already half the battle. Write to me very soon, but not as a little boy, who first composes a letter and then laboriously copies it, but rather, like when you play the violin on Saturday, as though you were 18 years old. Tell me, freely and openly, what seems pleasant or unpleasant to you — and very convincingly, so that I find it interesting and appealing. That way you will find your style, and give order to your thoughts, and immensely please your Fanny, who loves you dearly.

Give my best wishes to your esteemed music master.

Later that summer Fanny returned to Pest, and, accompanied by Julius, took 8-year-old Joseph to Vienna to live.

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

Next Post in Series: Vienna  

[1] Galignani’s Messenger was a daily paper, headquartered in Paris and printed in English. It was the nineteenth-century equivalent of today’s International Herald Tribune.

[2] Joseph Lanner’s op. 92 waltz, Die Humoristiker (1834) is dedicated to his “highly-honored patrons of the Adeligen National-Casino in Pesth.”

[3] Der Spiegel für Kunst, Eleganz und Mode, containing fashion plates from Paris, stories, anecdotes and reviews, was one of the first literary-style fashion magazines published in Europe. It appeared on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 25 volumes in all, from 1828 to 1852. In fairness to violinists who have made even more impressive débuts later, Pepi Joachim did not have much competition in Pest, and the Spiegel was not the New York Times. It goes without saying, however: we bloom where we’re planted — and when we’re planted.

[4] In those times, ages were often counted differently than they are today: babies were considered to be one year old at birth.

[5] (Ferenc Brunszvik), b. Pressburg, 1777, d. Vienna, 1849.

[6] Rosti’s daughter Anna married the prominent philo-Semitic writer and statesman Baron Jósef Eötvös.

[7] (Szidónia) Justh Brunszvik (1800-1866). According to Anton Schindler, Sidonie was the best female Beethoven interpreter of her time after Dorothea von Ertmann. On August 1, 1838, Stephen Heller wrote to Robert Schumann of “the wife of the F minor Brunswick” [a reference to the Beethoven’s Op. 57], who “plays Beethoven excellently, and with whom I often played four-hands in Pest. Count Br. is a good quartet-cellist, who every week hosts charming ‘musique’ as the aristocrats there say. I experienced very beautiful evenings there and heard magnificent things.” [Rudolf Schütz, Stephen Heller: Ein Künstlerleben, Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1911, p. 5.]

[8] Like Széchenyi, Brunsvik had spent time in England, and was a confirmed Anglophile. Richard Bright, writing in 1818, describes a visit to Martonvásár and its beautiful English gardens, complete with breakfast under the trees, saying: “—all around me appeared so like England, that I almost fancied myself in my own country.” [Bright/TRAVELS, pp. 607ff.] The estate, currently the headquarters of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is open to the public, and also houses a Beethoven museum. The palatial Baroque manor-house was rebuilt in the 1870s in the Gothic style.

[9] According to Mária Hornyák, the Brunsviks played “above all works of the Viennese classic composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Hummel and Spohr. But they also liked to play works by Cherubini, Onslow, Bernard and Andreas Romberg, and, among the Romantics they liked primarily Chopin and Mendelssohn.” The Brunsviks’ music library, consisting of 560 pieces—solo, chamber music, orchestral and operatic works— was taken over by the Musikhochschule Franz Liszt in 1937-38. [See: Hornyák/BRUNSZVIK, p. 231; see also: Moser/JOACHIM 1908 I, p. 10.]

[10] “He had several uncles who were filthy rich and supported their brilliant nephew in the most liberal way,” wrote Edmund Singer. “Unfortunately, I cannot report the same about myself. In fact, I also had two uncles who were filthy rich, but it seems that these did not have a particularly high opinion of my talent.” [Jütte/SINGER, p. 181].

[11] Fanny Christiane Figdor (b. April 7, 1814 in Kittsee—d. October 21, 1890 in Hietzing/Vienna). Fanny was the daughter of Wilhelm Figdor (1793-1873) and Amalie Veith Figdor (1789-1863). [Pribam/URKUNDEN II, p. 542; Flindell/WITTGENSTEIN, p. 299, Hollington/FAMILY, p. 26.] Like his father, Wilhelm Figdor was a successful wool merchant whose network of business interests and family connections encompassed many of the capitals of Europe. Poet and playwright Franz Grillparzer was a family friend. (After enjoying good port wine with Wilhelm’s family in Islington, England on June 2, 1836, Grillparzer noted in his diary that Fanny “appeared to be a most amiable young woman.”) (“Scheinbar ein höchst liebenswürdiges Frauenzimmer”) [Grillparzer’s Sämmtliche Werke, vol. 10, Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1872, p. 393.]  Fanny was remembered in the family for the impetuousness of her judgment (a favorite family story was of the time she took a boat to Egypt while on vacation in Italy.) [Wittgenstein/WRITINGS, p. xviii.] In 1839 she married Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (b. September 12, 1802 in Korbach—d. May 19, 1878 in Vienna). Together they had eleven children, among them the prominent Austrian industrialist Karl Wittgenstein (1847-1913), father of pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) and Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).

[12] Hermine Wittgenstein, ibid., p. 3.

[13] “gegen alle Kleiderordnung.”

[i] Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 4.

[ii] British Library letters, 27 February, 1857. [Author’s translation]

[iii] Joachim/BRIEFE I, pp. 455-456.

[iv] Vörös/BUDAPEST, p. 123, n. 66.

[v] Paget/HUNGARY I, p. 218, pp. 231-232.

[vi] Pardoe/MAGYAR III, p. 2.

[vii] Witthauer/ALBUM, p. 33.

[viii] Der Spiegel für Kunst, Eleganz und Mode, Vol 12, No. 23 (March 20, 1839): 188.

[ix] Moser/JOACHIM 1908 I, P. 9; Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 7. [Honmuvesz, No. 23, pp. 183-184]

[x] Thayer/BEETHOVEN, p. 234.

[xi] Hornyák/BRUNSZVIK, p. 230.

[xii] Bright/TRAVELS, p. 613.

[xiii] Quoted in Hornyák/BRUNSZVIK, p. 231.

[xiv] Moser/VIOLINSPIEL, p. 245.

[xv] Moser/JOACHIM 1908 I, p. 10.

[xvi] Reich/BETH EL, p. 62: “1839, im Alter von 8 Jahren, kam er auf Szervasinsky’s eigenes Anrathen nach Wien, wo er im Hause Prof. Böhms die sorgfältige, sowol leibliche als geistige Pflege genoß.”

[xvii] Available through Wittgenstein website.

[xviii] British Library letters [Author’s translation]