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JJ Initials

Vienna Philharmonic Debut

A notice appeared in the August 13 edition of the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung that on the following day, the 14th, Herr Saphir would give a musikalisch-declamatorische entertainment for the benefit of Baden’s Infant-preservation Institute. The performers were to include Dlle. Lutzer and Herr Staudigl, and, once again, “the ingenious little violinist Joachim.” [i] Whether this concert actually took place on the date indicated is unclear. In any case, a review later appeared in the same journal of Saphir’s benefit for the same charity in the Baden Theater at noon on August 28th. The roster of performers had grown, but Joseph, being “indisposed,” was not among them. [ii] As we learn from the following letter to Böhm, the first that we have from Joachim himself, Joseph was afflicted with a rash. The letter, undoubtedly written with his Aunt looking over his shoulder, nevertheless shows a degree of independence and sophistication rare in an 11-year-old.

Joseph Joachim to Joseph Böhm [iii]

Baden [bei Wien] September 12, 1842

Highly honored Herr Professor,

It gives me the greatest pleasure to let you know that on Friday I will be back in your dear company. If we have good weather, my dear Aunt will probably accompany me; otherwise, someone from the Comptoir will take me to Plankenberg. [1] — I am now once again completely well, and there is no longer any trace of the rash. I am very much looking forward to your loving instruction, which I have had to do without for so long, and, though I have been diligent here, I am unfortunately doubtful whether you will be satisfied with me. — You will certainly already have news from dear Louis, [2] which I would very much like to know. I hope to find you and your honored wife healthy and cheerful, and remain, with respect and love,

your pupil,

Jos. Joachim


Joseph Joachim: An Early Daguerreotype

On February 20, 1843, Joseph played at the annual “private entertainment” of Franz Glöggl (1796-1872), publisher, music shop owner, professor of trombone and bass at the conservatory, and archivist of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The long and diverse program featured an elite cadre of performers, including Mad. Hasselt-Barth, who sang Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade and several of her husband’s songs, receiving praise for her brilliant coloratura, and criticism for the overheated expression of her performance. There were other singers and other songs as well, and a wide variety of instrumental pieces. Among the performers, Joseph was singled out for special notice. “This is a hearty, genuine talent,” claimed Der Humorist, “not an inflated, labored virtuosity that has been pummeled into him. Here is fullness of tone, so much proficiency in all fingerings, passages, positions; such elegance of interpetation, as if the boy had labored for twenty years with the fiddle, though he has lived barely more than half that time. […] Once again, a pupil comes from master Böhm’s hand, in whose talent the teacher has found a rich soil, from which beautiful art-blossoms spring; but if we take pleasure in the flower, we must acknowledge the gardener who has tended it so well.” [iv] Critic A. J. Becher of the Sonntags-Blätter concurred: “J. Joachim played Ernst’s exceedingly difficult Othello Fantasy with a security of mechanism, a finished conception of expression and a roundness of tone that one seldom hears in a pupil (and then, only in a pupil of a master like Prof. Böhm). One is indeed familiar with the mastery of this promising boy, astonishing for his age; nevertheless, one is each time surprised anew.” [v] The reviewer for Der Wanderer wrote: “I have never so regretted that the term Wunderkind is so used up, and moreover has a bad reputation, as now, for, in my haste, I can find no other suitable term for this little hero of the violin. I heard Joachim today for the first time, and I must confess that I often could not believe my eyes. This powerful stroke, this lively combination of colors [Colorit], this astonishing bravoura, and from a small boy, twenty Paris Zoll in height, that works these wonders — — what should one demand from finished virtuosi?”  [vi]

April 43 Cons. Program


On Wednesday, April 5, 1843, Joseph played a Rode concerto (the program does not reveal which) in a Conservatory pupil’s concert, under the direction of Ferdinand Füchs, who had temporarily taken over leadership of the orchestra from Preyer. Joseph appeared 5th and 8th on the program: between the first and second movements of the concerto the choir sang a hymn, and two voice students sang a duet from Spohr’s Jessonda.

That year, Joseph’s cousin Fanny, who had been so influential in helping the Joachims to send their son to Vienna, would once again play a decisive role in directing his career. In 1839, Fanny had married Hermann Christian Wittgenstein, [3] a wool merchant some eleven years her elder, and a business acquaintance of her brother Gustav. Operating out of offices in Vienna and Leipzig — where nearly all the wool-export companies were headquartered — Hermann acquired wool from Poland and Hungary and sold it in England and Holland. After their wedding, Hermann and Fanny left Vienna and settled in Leipzig, where, as it happened, Felix Mendelssohn was just then working to create a Conservatory of Music — a German alternative to the Paris Conservatoire — that would reflect his own artistic credo. “From her new home,” writes Otto Gumprecht, Fanny “could not report enough of the lively artistic life that surrounded her on all sides. These alluring descriptions made the deepest impression on her cousin’s mind. He resolved to complete his studies at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatory, and despite the objections of his Viennese relatives, who, jealous of the family pride, did not want to allow him to move so far away, he persisted in his decision.” [viii]

Here, as elsewhere, Joseph is depicted as having had a strong and even stubborn sense of his own best interest and future direction. Andreas Moser nevertheless credits Fanny Wittgenstein, who “exerted her whole influence to have the boy sent to Leipzig for further development in his art.” [ix] In any case, Julius Joachim was persuaded, and resolved to follow both Fanny’s advice and Joseph’s desire. In the view of Joachim’s friend and colleague Heinrich Ehrlich, this decision was a blessing that led ultimately to the “harmonious development of the man.” “Other than the happy Felix Mendelssohn, there has been no musician in modern times who has been governed by such an auspicious star [as Joachim]; to whom it was granted to develop his capabilities in such an untroubled, straight-forward manner. Above all, he was granted the good fortune not to be sent as a Wunderkind on “artist-tours,” but rather to be brought to the Conservatory that Mendelssohn had just founded. Our time has no idea of the consequence of this decision. In the forties […] the currently-prevailing attitude toward art had achieved an enduring currency and success only in north Germany; in the south, where virtuosity, Italian opera and Meyerbeer reigned, it was little regarded. In Vienna, in particular, Mendelssohn was regarded by the majority of professionals and critics as an egghead musician; Schumann interested the public only as the storied huband of Clara Wieck, whose father had for so long refused to give in [to their desire to marry]. His compositions, which Vienna now adores, were known by very few. I remember very well how he came to Vienna in the forties with his wife, and how she performed his wonderful concerto for a half-empty house, with little success. At the time that I am speaking of, the Viennese regarded only Paris as the city in which a young artist could achieve the highest training and reputation; that one could learn much from a Leipzig violin player ‘David,’ or become a great musician under the supervision of Mendelssohn and the ‘old’ Moscheles, seemed so doubtful that even Joachim’s Viennese teacher Böhm, an admirable, classicly trained virtuoso, found this move by his pupil strange.” [x]

In convincing Julius Joachim to send his son to Leipzig, Fanny prevailed over the united objections of her own father and uncle Nathan, who often vied with one another as Joseph’s principal caregiver. More importantly, she prevailed over the opposition of Joseph Böhm, who, according to Moser, showed not a little displeasure at the idea. Böhm had wanted Joseph to follow the virtuoso route to Paris. In his opinion, there was no one in Leipzig who could fill the role of a destination teacher; and despite the prestige of its founder, the Leipzig Conservatory was, as yet, a school in name only.

Otto Nicolai


Otto Nicolai, 1842

Lithograph by Kriehuber, Vienna

Before departing for Leipzig, Joseph made an important début, in the fourth-ever subscription concert of the nascent Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. [4] Playing on Sunday, April 30 before a capacity audience at the Imperial and Royal Redoutensaal, he performed the Adagio religioso and Finale marziale movements of Vieuxtemps’s fourth concerto in D minor. The otherwise lack-lustre program included Preyer’s Symphony in D minor, [5] Abbé Vogler’s Ouverture to Samori and an aria from Mercadante’s Ipermnestra. “It is astonishing what this little virtuoso achieves,” observed the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung; “with what security and ease he conquers even the most difficult passages, and with what boldness he performs overall.” [xii] “The young violin virtuoso Joachim provoked a true sensation with an Adagio and Rondo from Vieuxtemps’s newest concerto” wrote Saphir. “Rarely has the voice of the public been so fully in accord with that of the critics as concerning the talent of this still virtually child-like boy; rarely have the most daring prospects become manifest as they have with him. Little Joachim has many very worthy fellow mignon-virtuosi here, both smaller and larger, but none possesses a power of interpretation so steeped in mind and spirit, with such irreproachable clarity and subtlety and nuance, with such boldness and resoluteness of bowing [6] — in short, with so much technical correctness; none advances toward such a bright future, as he. His well-grounded and solid playing was interrupted by the liveliest applause, and at the end he was recalled three times with stormy acclaim.”[xiii]

Joseph had had an opportunity to hear the concerto from Vieuxtemps himself that Spring, when the young Belgian master had played in the same hall. As with Ernst’s Othello Fantasy, Joseph was not detered from attempting the work, though the memory of the composer’s own performance was still fresh in his audience’s ears. The critic for Frankl’s Sonntags-Blätter made the inevitable comparison in his review:

In these pages, I have frequently had the opportunity to speak of the magnificent equipment, and — for his age — unusually advanced attainments of this twelve-year-old boy, for whom, with his diligence and his freshness, one can predict a distinguished future; it was also extremely pleasant this time to observe the persistent progress that he has made in technique and interpretation since last year. Our Joachim succeeded in such a surprising degree with the exceedingly difficult compositon — which we just recently heard performed with consummate mastery and artistry from the composer’s own irreproachable hands — that it made a generally satisfactory impression, not merely from the relative standpoint of a youthful virtuoso, but viewed in and of itself. Parts of it were, indeed, quite excellent. [xiv]

© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013.

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[1] The Böhms lived from summer until early autumn in Sieghartskirchen, 17 miles west of Vienna, at Schloss Plankenburg, the former estate of Count Moritz von Fries. At the time that the Böhms stayed there, the Fries estate was a boarding school for the nobility.  [Biba/PEPPI, p. 200.] The manor house was eventually sold to the Liechtenstein family, who rented it in the 1880’s to the well-known landscape painter Emil Jakob Schindler. Schindler’s daughter, Alma, the wife of Mahler, Gropius and Werfel, and lover of Oskar Kokoschka, grew up there, fearing the ghost that was said to walk the grounds.

A patron of Beethoven and Schubert, and the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Imperial Treasurer Count Moritz von Fries (1776-1826) was co-proprietor of the Viennese banking house Fries & Co. Fries was a man of great culture, well traveled and well-read, and a great lover of music. His extensive art collection included works by van Dyck, Dürer, Rembrandt and Rafael. The family fortune had been assured when Fries’s father received a privilege for the minting of the “Maria Theresa Thaler,” in 1752. The Maria Theresa Thaler has been legal tender in many countries worldwide since 1741. Fries was allowed to keep 1/3 of the Seignorage—the difference between the face value of the coins and their cost of production.

[2] Böhm’s nephew, Ludwig Böhm, Joseph’s fellow pupil and housemate.

[3] Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (b. September 12, 1802 in Korbach — d. May 19, 1878 in Vienna).

[4] The first concert of the Vienna Philharmonic —Vienna’s first professional concert orchestra — was given under Otto Nicolai’s direction on March 28, 1842, the same year as the founding of the New York Philharmonic. In the beginning, the Vienna Philharmonic had no regular season. It gave only 14 concerts between 1842 and 1848.

[5] Schumann’s 1839 consideration of a Preyer symphony, perhaps this one, is interesting as much for what he says about Viennese tastes as for what he says about Preyer’s work: “A few pages suffice to disclose a progressive young composer, initially somewhat ill at ease in the large, unfamiliar form, but gaining in security and courage as he gets under way. His aspirations must be doubly acknowledged in view of the fact that he lives in a city where little encouragement is vouchsafed the solid, serious or even profound average, where judgments for and against are largely determined by first impressions, and where the verdict is usually couched in terms of ‘it appealed’ or ‘it did not appeal.’ Thus it was after the première of Christus am Ölberge and Fidelio. They did not appeal, and that was the end of it. This symphony, which has been played frequently in Vienna, ‘appealed.’ It even ‘impressed,’ thanks to the veneer of scholarly working out which it often displays.” [Henry Pleasants (ed.), Schumann on Music: a Selection from the Writings, New York: Dover Publications, 1988, p. 149.]

[6] Ignaz Lewinsky also noted Joseph’s boldness of approach in his brief review for the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 3, No. 53 (May 4, 1843), p. 222.

[i] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung Vol. 2, No. 97 (August 13, 1842), p. 396.,M1

[ii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung Vol. 2, No. 105 (September 1, 1842), p. 427.,M1

[iii] Joachim/BRIEFE I, p. 1.

[iv] Der Humorist von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 7, No. 37 (February 22, 1843), p. 154.

[v] Sonntagsblätter, Vol. 2, No. 9 (February 26, 1843), p. 205. M. T.

[vi] Der Wanderer in Gebiete der Kunst und Wissenschaft, Industrie und Gewerbe, Theater und Geselligkeit, Vol. 30, No. 45 (Wednesday, 22 February, 1843), p. 179.

[vii] Private collection.

[viii] Gumprecht/CHARAKTERBILDER, p. 263-4. Gumprecht knew Joachim, and doubtless learned this at first hand.

[ix] Moser /JOACHIM 1901 p. 34

[x] Ehrlich/KÜNSTLERLEBEN, pp. 154-155.

[xi] Wikimedia commons.

[xii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung Vol. 3, No. 53, p. 222.

[xiii] Der Humorist von M. G. Saphir, Vol. 7, No. 87 (May 3, 1843), p. 354.

[xiv] Sonntags-Blätter, Vol. 2, No. 19 (May 7, 1843), p. 452.