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Hauser and Hellmesberger



Miska Hauser

Joseph’s first teacher in Vienna was Mayseder’s seventeen-year-old student, the mercurial Miska (Michael) Hauser (1822-1887), who was then making a name for himself as an elegant salon player. The family may have been aware of him through a local connection: Hauser came from a prominent Jewish family in Pressburg. Hauser’s father, Ignaz, was an accomplished amateur violinist, said to have been acquainted with Beethoven. Miska’s early musical education had been arranged for by Konradin Kreutzer, a family friend and frequent guest in the Hauser household. [ii]

At home, Joseph’s grandfather supervised his practice. Though kindly and unmusical, he would cry out, when the occasion warranted: “Joseph, du spielst Mißtöne!”—“Joseph, you’re playing sour notes!” [1] Joseph’s studies with Hauser did not last long. It quickly became apparent that Joseph needed a more experienced teacher, if not a more knowledgeable practice coach, and after only a few weeks, the lessons were discontinued. Shortly thereafter, Hauser departed on a tour of Germany, Scandinavia and Russia, the first of the many far-flung concert tours in his long and colorful career.[2]


Georg Hellmesberger Sr
Portrait by Charles-Louis Bazin

Joseph was entrusted next to Georg Hellmesberger senior (1800-1873), a distinguished and experienced pedagogue who had been an early pupil of the eminent Joseph Böhm. In 1830, Hellmesberger had succeeded the recently deceased Ignaz Schuppanzigh as concertmaster of the Imperial Opera Orchestra. [3] A popular performer, he had joined the Vienna Conservatory faculty in 1821 as Joseph Böhm’s assistant, and had been promoted to professor four years later.

Among Joseph’s fellow students were Hellmesberger’s two sons, Joseph (1829-1893) and Georg junior (1830-1852), both of whom would go on to significant professional careers.[iii] Together with Joseph and a boy named Adolf Simon,[4] they formed a “quartet of prodigies” that on March 25th played Ludwig Maurer’s popular Sinfonia Concertante for the benefit of the Bürgerspital fund, a favored Viennese charity.



Vienna Hofburg Redoutensaal

The Bürgerspitalfonds-Akademie had been an important annual event, socially and artistically, since late December 1801, when Franz Joseph Haydn inaugurated the tradition with a noontime performance of The Creation. As in Haydn’s time, the benefit took place in the Imperial and Royal Grand Ballroom. This elegant space in the Imperial Hofburg was the city’s preeminent concert hall: the site of important premieres by Beethoven and Schubert, and historic concerts by such performers as Mozart, Paganini and Liszt. [5] The hall, which seats nearly 700, was reportedly filled to capacity for the event. The Allgemeiner Musikalischer Anzeiger reported that the boys played “with admirable proficiency,” earning the enthusiastic applause of the “highest aristocracy.” [v] “The little fiddlers gave evidence, in the piece, of their talent and their dilligence, as well as of their master’s practical teaching,” wrote M. G. Saphir in Der Humorist. [vi]

“In spite of the great success of this concert, Hellmesberger was not wholly satisfied,” writes Moser on Joachim’s own authority, “for he found (Joseph’s bowing) so hopelessly stiff, that he believed nothing could ever be made of him.” [vii] Berlin critic Otto Gumprecht relates a similar story: “after nine months of instruction, [Hellmesberger declared] that he could not vouch for the student’s future, because his right hand was much too weak to draw the bow with power and endurance.” [6] Hellmesberger’s judgment was devastating. Joseph’s parents, in Vienna for the concert, resolved to take him back to Pest and train him for a different profession.


Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst
Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna, March 1840

Coincidentally, Joseph Böhm’s most celebrated pupil, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst,[7] had just arrived in Vienna, and was giving a series of highly-publicized concerts. The papers were full of his praise:

Then appeared the young artist with the pale countenance; with the rapturous, longing gaze; with the soft, expressive, melancholy features — soft, melancholy and full of longing like the Elegy that you will soon hear from him; full of modesty and at the same time so interesting in his appearance. With his first bowstrokes you are impressed with the clarity, the purity of his tone; immediately afterward the sweetness and expressivity of his Adagio penetrates your soul — you already feel that this is a master who does not wish to astound you with feats of legerdemain. His playing is a noble language, to which you listen with relaxation and delight.  And yet, soon you see and hear difficulties of bow and finger: Paganini-ish demands, Ole Bull-ish demands, but no challenges without pleasant sound, or indeed, none with an unpleasant sound. They are astonishing bravoura passages, full of pure song; they do not affect the grace, the suppleness, the fragrance of the whole; they are daringly disposed cascades between luxuriant flowerbeds. Ernst’s playing and compositions are of a compelling, rapturous, gracefully melancholy character; his bowing has acquired a beautiful technical proficiency of the highest level of development, and is managed with a facility, an unconstrained effortlessness, a composure, such as we have virtually never had an opportunity to observe in any other player. Passages in thirds, octaves, tenths and chords; leaps, not only of immaculate purity, but also full of euphony; the harmonics bell-like; double trills even and full. [viii]

Joseph had heard such remarkable things about the young virtuoso that he pleaded with his parents to let him stay in the city long enough to hear Ernst play. “Ernst was the greatest violinist I have ever heard,” Joachim would say many years later. “He towered above the others.”[ix] Seeing the overwhelming impression that Ernst made upon the boy, Joseph’s Uncle Nathan prevailed upon the Joachims to solicit the virtuoso’s advice about their son’s professional prospects. Upon hearing Joseph play, Ernst recommended Joseph Böhm as the best person to develop their son’s talent.

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

Next Post in Series: Study with Joseph Böhm 

[1] This, according to Moser, who is doubtless the most trustworthy source. Brigitte Massin, citing an unpublished manuscript of Suzanne Chaigneau (the second wife of Joachim’s son Herman), tells the story differently: “Pepi lived from then on with his uncle, who, responsible for the progress of his nephew, supervised his work. ‘Joseph Joachim never evoked the memory of his uncle Figdor without speaking at the same time of his kindness and of the strictness of the challenges that he set during his practice hours: “Watch out… Pepi… Let’s see… That was bad…. and pay attention.” “You are playing wrong,” the good Nathan exclaimed repeatedly.’” [Massin/JOACHIM, p. 17] Otto Gumprecht gives yet a third version: “Two brothers of his father were well-to-do merchants in Vienna; they volunteered to care for their nephew.” [Gumprecht/CHARAKTERBILDER, p. 262.] It may be that Uncle Nathan eventually took over Pepi’s care from Grandfather Isaac. In any case, Gumprecht simply got it wrong: the uncles in question were brothers of Joachim’s mother — Wilhelm (Fanny’s father) and Nathan Figdor.

[2] Hauser’s career languished during and after the revolutions of 1848. Deciding to try his luck in the New World, he wrote, “I packed my violin in a waterproof case, made a small package of my hopes, and sailed across the sea.” He signed on with P. T. Barnum in 1850, making his American debut in the same year as Pablo Sarasate. He remained for the next three years, giving concerts with, among others, Alfred Jaell and Adelina Patti. Hauser soon broke with Barnum (“Such shrewd people as Barnum don’t say, ‘You are an artist and you shall be paid according to your merits…’”) and sailed west by way of Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama to make his fortune in goldrush California. His letters give the violinist’s piquant observations on life in early San Francisco and details of his friendship with “Lola Montez” (Elizabeth Rosanna Gilbert), the notorious Irish dancer and mistress of King Ludwig of Bavaria, who turned heads with her risqué Spider Dance, and was later rumored to have had an affair with Franz Liszt . While in San Francisco, he played flashy fantasias on opera themes and pieces into which he worked Chinese melodies, bird song, and bits of “Yankee Doodle.” He hired and trained an orchestra of gambling-house musicians, and “finally disciplined them to a point where we might dare to perform Beethoven’s Leonore Overture.” Hauser had ambivalent feelings about America. “Selfishness is the divinity which is worshipped here,” he wrote; “murder is an everyday occurrence, and anyone who intends to stay here in this well-advertised El Dorado for any length of time would do well to contemplate the heavens at night from the windows of his hotel room.”

Hauser’s tours eventually took him as far as South America, the West Indies, the South Sea Islands and Australia. In Tahiti, Hauser’s performance of the Ernst Otello Fantasie met with a cool reception; but when he removed three of the strings from his violin and played the Carnival of Venice on the remaining G-string he caused a sensation. Hauser’s brother Sigmund, who worked for the Ostdeutsche Post in Vienna, arranged for the publication of the violinist’s letters from Australia, which were later collected into a book: Aus dem Wanderbuche Eines Oesterreichischen Virtuosen (Leipzig, 1859), a classic of the travel literature.

References to Hauser continue to crop up in surprising places, including a 2004 Sherlock Holmes mystery, Spider Dance, by Carole Nelson Douglas. A few of Hauser’s compositions are still played today, including such salon pieces as the Village Song and the Boatman’s Song. In his career, Hauser owned at least two fine instruments: an Alessandro Gagliano, and a 1710 Stradivarius, the ex Vieuxtemps-Hauser, sold in 1891 by Hauser’s brother Isidor for $5,000, and most recently in the possession of Samuel Magad, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

[3] Ignaz Schuppanzigh (*1776 — †1830) was one of the most important Viennese violinists — the first to give a series of public quartet concerts in the capital. Schuppanzigh’s quartet, which included the violinist Joseph Mayseder, violist Franz Weiss, and ‘cellist Joseph Linke (the membership varied over the years), gave the premiere performances of most of Beethoven’s string quartets. For many years, the quartet was in the employ of the Russian Prince Andrei Rasumovsky.

[4] Later concertmaster in The Hague, “Adolphe” Simon made his London debut in 1845.

[5] In modern times, the Großer Redoutensaal was the site of the SALT II treaty signing on June 18, 1979. It was destroyed by fire in November, 1992, and has been rebuilt to the original plans.

[6] Gumprecht, op. cit., p. 263.

[7] Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814-1865) was one of the greatest of 19th-century violinists. He was Böhm’s student at the Conservatory from 1824-1828. In 1828, he was dismissed from the Conservatory for an unsanctioned absence—he had returned home to Brno to care for his ailing father. After protracted negotiations, he was finally re-admitted, “not so much to further his education at the Conservatory, as rather primarily so that he could continue to remain in Vienna under the name of a Conservatory pupil — which as an Israelite might otherwise not have been permitted him — and might thus himself be permitted to give violin lessons unhindered.” [Pohl/CONSERVATORIUM, pp. 43-44.] Ernst was 14 years old at the time.

Es ist eine wenig oder gar nicht bekannte Thatsache, daß Ernst im Jahre 1828 aus der Zahl der Zöglinge ausgeschlossen wurde, und zwar wegen Nichtachtung der Schulgesetze. Aus einer Vorlage des Comité an Erzherzog Rudolph geht hervor, daß Ernst nach seiner Vaterstadt Brünn zu seinem kranken Vater geeilt war, sich dort über seine Urlaubszeit aufgehalten hatte und deshalb seiner Stelle als Zögling verlustig erklärt worden war. Nach Wien zurückgekehrt reichte er ein Gesuch beim Comité ein und hat, ferner noch als Zögling des Conservatoriums angesehen werden zu dürfen, jedoch vom Besuch der Lehrstunden dispensirt zu bleiben, da er gerade zu dieser Zeit selbst Unterricht auf der Violine ertheilte, um seine Existenz zu sichern.
“Hieraus (heißt es weiter im Bericht) wolle Eure kais. Hoheit gnädigst zu entnehmen geruhen, daß es diesem vormaligen Zöglinge des Conservatoriums nicht mehr so sehr um die weitere Ausbildung am Conservatorium, als hauptächlich darum zu thun ist, daß ihm unter dem Namen eines Zöglings des Conservatoriums der fernere Aufenthalt in Wien, welcher ihm als einem Israeliten sonst vielleicht nicht würde zugegeben werden, hier gestattet und er ungehindert auf der Violine selbst Unterricht ertheilen könne.”

[iii] There is a nice engraving of the Hellmesberger boys from 1845 in the Archive of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, reproduced in Herta und Kurt Blaukopf, Die Wiener Philharmoniker, Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1986.

[v] Allgemeiner Musikalischer Anzeiger, Vol. 12, No. 14 (April 2, 1840), p. 55.

[vi] Der Humorist, von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 4, No. 63 (March 27, 1840), p. 252.

[vii] Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 19.

[viii] Der Humorist, von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 4, No. 41 (February 26, 1840), pp. 163-164.

[ix] Boris Schwarz: Ernst, Heinrich Wilhelm, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 31 August 2006),