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A Young Virtuoso

The little Joachim is at present already a virtuoso on his instrument, and with this the entire judgment of him may be spoken, since we are not inclined to be all too free with that expression; however, one would like to impress deeply upon him the motto of the late Jurende: [1] “Do not stand still, stride steadily forward.” [i]

                                    — Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, February 22, 1842



Kärntnertortheater, Vienna
Copperplate, Tranquillo Mollo (1767-1837)

On a chilly Sunday, November 15, 1841, Joseph stepped before the Viennese public for the first time as Böhm’s protégé. The event, a gala benefit for the homeopathic hospital of the Merciful Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul was held in the in the k. k. Hoftheater nächst dem Kärntnerthore — the theater where, seventeen years earlier, Beethoven had conducted the premiere of his 9th Symphony. [2] The long musikalisch-declamatorische Akademie featured the city’s most illustrious performers: from the Court Opera, the renowned Dutch soprano, Wilhelmine Hasselt-Barth, soubrette Jenny Lutzer (wife of poet and Theaterintendant Franz von Dingelstedt), tenor Joseph Erl, and basses Johann Karl Schober (Schoberlechner) and Joseph Staudigl; appearing from the Burgtheater were actors Karl Fichtner, Heinrich Anschütz [3], Luise Neumann and Julie Rettich. The orchestra, conducted by the Opera’s Kapellmeister Heinrich Proch, was led by Joseph’s former violin teacher Georg Hellmesberger. Among the thirteen numbers performed, the anticipated highlight of the evening was the second Viennese performance of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.



Heinrich Proch, Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna, 1840



Wilhelmine Hasselt-Barth, 1837

Joseph Staudigl 

Joseph Staudigl, Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna



Heinrich Anschütz



Julie Rettich, Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna, 1835

Jenny Lutzer


Jenny Lutzer, Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna, 1839

In Biedermeier Vienna, Wohltätigkeits-Akademien (“charitable academies”), together with virtuoso concerts, were the principal form of  concert life. The Hoftheater program, typical of such benefit entertainments, began with Lindpaintner’s Ouverture to Faust, an aria and chorus from Spohr’s Faust, and a poem, Lerchendank, by J. G. Seidl (a poet chiefly known today through song settings by Schubert, Loewe and Schumann). Fourth on the program came “the little Joachim” — according to M. G. Saphir’s Der Humorist: “a fresh-budding, lushly-verdant musical plant, acknowledged, even among the mass of luxuriant florets.” [viii]  “Joseph Joachim’s playing and performance of [Charles de] Beriot’s Adagio and Rondo truly surprised us,” wrote “Gross Athanasius” for the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung.

[He] fully justified anew our conviction and our often-made claim about the soundness of Herr Prof. Böhm’s teaching method; for here, everything was accomplished — even the most audacious expectations that one can ask of an 8-to-9-year-old [Joseph was 10] — and the word virtuoso, if we wish to assign it to the little violinist, would not be an arrow shot too high above the target. Without question, one cannot, and will not, expect and demand from a child performing a composition of Beriot the power of tone, the subjectively nuanced interpretation, the firm, bold playing of a man; but his tone is pure, strong, his bowing noble and correct, his staccato astonishing, especially with a short bow, his harmonics pure and secure; and there was not — and this is truly all that one can say here — a false tone to be heard in any passage; neither in the runs nor in the double stops. Herr Professor Böhm has already trained a number of outstanding pupils, and if Joachim follows in the path that has been set out for him, we may confidently predict the highest for him; he should beware of arrogance; otherwise false paths are unavoidable, and — the return to, and progress along, the path of genuine art is very difficult. Experientia docti — ! [ix]

Two months later, Böhm’s newly-fledged pupil would again stand before the public, this time with a piece of an altogether higher level of difficulty: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s Fantasie Brillante sur la Marche et la Romance d’Otello de Rossini, Op. 11, dedicated to Joseph Böhm and first published two years earlier in Mainz. Ernst’s Othello Fantasy has more musical substance than most virtuoso showpieces; at the same time, with its double stops, harmonics, quick runs and intricate passagework, it is a formidable technical challenge for even the most accomplished violinist. With the composer’s own astounding interpretation still fresh in the ears of the Viennese public, it was a daring choice for a student violinist to present to the public. Nevertheless, the Othello Fantasy would remain Joseph’s Cheval de Bataille from the age of ten until his mid-teens.

Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 5.01.00 PM


Program from the fourth Conservatory Concert,
27 January 1842

The performance took place on Thursday, January 27, 1842, in the fourth conservatory concert. Music critic J. N. Hofzinser reviewed the concert in the Wiener Theaterzeitung on January 31, 1842:

The palm of this evening went, and belonged by right to, the ten-year-old student of Herrn Professor Böhm, Joachim, who played variations by Ernst with astonishing virtuosity. The profession will soon have arrived at its peak of unattractiveness for adult concert artists if even boys prove so capable of comprehending and performing. Joachim is truly a musical phenomenon. It is difficult to discern whether his eminent interpretation surpasses his splendid technique or vice-versa.

If one hears the wonderful cantabile in the boy’s playing, with that intensity of feeling, the suffering in the tone, the lament of the violin, that resounding pain, which, as one imagines, only dreary life-experiences are capable of enticing out of the instrument, one becomes disoriented by the vision before one and believes oneself to be the plaything of an optical illusion. In this boy we behold the ripest fruit in early blossoming-season; we see in him the finished, deeply-feeling artist.

With regard to technique, Joachim handles the violin in an utterly exceptional manner. He possesses a beautiful skill in guiding the bow — which is not disturbed by the most heterogeneous bow-strokes on the E and G strings — combined with an exceedingly effortless control of the right hand. Through correct and expedient fingering, the left hand also displays this exemplary manner in the creation of a beautiful tone as well as in the clarity and distinctness of the passagework in all positions.  His playing reveals true study of the art of fingering.

In the execution of the aforementioned variations, Joachim displayed not only the greatest security in conquering immense difficulties, which in this piece seem to aim at outdoing one another, but also exhibited every beauty of the violin. Chords heap against chords in the most difficult forms and in all positions; thirds, octaves and tenths, chromatic and diatonic runs in the most rapid tempo, arpeggios with detaché and springing bow-strokes, staccatos at the tip and middle of the bow, pizzicato notes mixed with arco; in short, everything that may be called difficult this boy played with a security, purity and clarity that touches on the miraculous, in a performance that attests to the most admirable schooling and the most masterful method.

The reception was equal to the uncommon level of the achievement; it created an unparalleled clamor. After repeated recalls, intended for the boy, the audience did not rest from applauding until the appearance of the great master Böhm (who only seems to retire from playing in public in order that much more to be able to astonish with eminent pupils). Böhm’s pedagogical method has already become world-famous through Ernst. With every new pupil he also recalls the powerful impression that his faultless playing was capable of making on the minds of his auditors. [xi]

Hofzinser’s review was quoted nearly in full in Pesth’s Der Ungar, no doubt at the behest of Joseph’s family.

This concert also brought the welcome attention of the influential critic and impresario Moritz Gottlieb Saphir: [4]

Among the instrumental solos, we should first mention the little violin player Joseph Joachim. Here again is a genuine musical miracle-plant from which rich blossoms are to be expected; yet another disciple of art with a big talent. It is not his facility and his ability to dispense passagework fluff that captivates one — all of which can be learned and drilled into the fingers; it is not the pizzicatos, harmonics and octave runs in Ernst’s variations, which he played cleanly and effortlessly; it is the freedom, independence, resoluteness, the inwardness, the warmth, the mindedness that attracts us to him and provides us the assurance that this is a real talent.

Joachim is the pupil of Herrn Prof. Böhm, who understands like few others how to cultivate talent where he finds it, and to lead it toward artistry. Therefore it was only fair that the teacher was called for, with stormy applause, after the boy had taken multiple bows. [xii]

On July 30, the Conservatory ended its school year with its annual concert and awarding of prizes. The concert opened with the student orchestra performing Beethoven’s Egmont Overture under Preyer’s direction, followed by the choir, and a variety of student soloists, including violinist Ignaz Bauer, who, despite a shaky start and a small tone, “like almost all of Böhm students, distinguished himself through a good staccato.” [xiii] At the end of the concert, the prizes and medals were awarded by the Conservatory President, Landgraf Friedrich Egon von Fürstenberg. Of the five levels of prizes, given “for encouragement and reward,” Joseph received an award of the second highest degree, the “premium with entitlement to a medal” — an award generally given to encourage and reward diligence.

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

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[1] Austrian pedagogue and publicist Karl Josef Jurende (April 24, 1780-January 10, 1842).

[2] The Kärntnertortheater, as it is commonly known, was the Imperial and Royal Court Theater, the predecessor of the current Vienna State Opera. It occupied the site of the present Hotel Sacher. In addition to the premiere of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, famous first performances there include Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, Schubert’s Erlkönig, Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe, and numerous operas by Salieri, Paer, Kreutzer, Donizetti and Nicolai. Frederic Chopin made his Viennese debut in the Kärntnertortheater in August of 1829. The building was closed in 1870, and razed in 1873-74.

[3] It was Anschütz who read Grillparzer’s eulogy at Beethoven’s funeral.

[4] The remarkably prolific Hungarian humorist, impresario, publisher, essayist, playwright, critic and poet Moritz Gottlieb Saphir was born on February 8, 1795 and died in Baden near Vienna on September 5, 1858.  His mordant wit made him a figure of controversy in Berlin, where he first attained success, and later in Munich. Expelled successively from Vienna, Berlin and Bavaria, he lived briefly in Paris, returning finally to Vienna in 1835. There, he became an associate editor of the Theaterzeitung, and, the following year, the editor of his own journal, Der Humorist. Born a Jew, Saphir converted to the Protestant faith in 1832.

[ii] Author’s collection.

[iii] Wikimedia commons.

[viii] Der Humorist von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 5, No. 229 (November 17, 1841), p. 939.

[ix] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, No. 139 (November 20, 1841), p. 582. m. t.

[x] Borchard/STIMME, p. 80. [Wien, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde]

[xi] Moser/VIOLINSPIEL, pp. 260-261. Also quoted in Der Ungar, Vol. 1, No. 28 (February 4, 1842), p. 172:



[xii] Der Humorist, Vol 6, No. 21 (Saturday, January 29, 1842), p. 86.

[xiii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 2, No. 95 (August 9, 1842), p. 385.