The Times, (August 16, 1907), p. 10.
N. B.: Obituaries are posted for historical interest only, and should not be taken as sources of accurate biographical information.
DEATH OF DR. JOACHIM.
Our Berlin Correspondent telegraphs that Professor Joachim died at his residence in Berlin yesterday afternoon in his 77th year.
In Joseph Joachim the world has lost not merely the greatest violinist of our time, but a man of exceptional beauty of nature and character. Born at Kittsee, near Pressburg, June 28, 1831, Joachim lived at Pesth in his early childhood, his parents changing their abode when he was but two years old. Here he was a pupil of Serwaczynski, who brought him out when he was not quite eight years old. The teacher was a very capable trainer of the left hand, but his bowing was not of the best kind, and when Joachim was placed with the elder Hellmesberger in Vienna, this master feared that nothing could overcome the boy’s deficiencies in this respect. Ernst heard him play, and recommended that Joseph Böhm should be entrusted with his technical education. Böhm had inherited the traditions of the pure Corelli school, and he was not long in curing the defect that seemed so serious. In 1843 Joachim went to Leipzig, in order to enter the newly-founded conservatorium; Mendelssohn, after testing his musical powers, pronounced that the regular training of a music-school was not needed, but recommended his general musical education should be in the hands of Ferdinand David and Moritz Hauptmann. In the following year he sought fame in England, appearing at Drury Lane Theatre at the benefit of the then famous “poet Bunn,” playing Ernst’s Otello fantasia. In the same season he appeared at one of Benedict’s gigantic benefit concerts, and at the Philharmonic Concert, under Mendelssohn’s direction, playing Beethoven’s concerto. The critics and the public were alike enthusiastic over the boy’s wonderful performance; and ever since that year Joachim has been sure of an equally warm welcome from all classes of musicians, and has been a regular visitor to London. England, indeed was almost a second home to him, so warm was the appreciation of the English public, and so close were the friendships formed during his long career. From 1859, the year of their foundation, to 1899, he appeared regularly at the Popular Concerts, and always with the greatest possible success. An engagement as “Concertmeister” in Weimar, 1850-1853, brought Joachim into close contact with the advanced school of German musicians, headed by Liszt; and he was strongly tempted to give his allegiance to what was beginning to be called the “music of the future”; but his artistic convictions forced him to separate himself from the movement, and the tact and good taste he displayed in the difficult moment of explaining his position to Liszt is one of the finest illustrations of his character.
His acceptance of a similar post at Hanover to that which he held at Weimar brought him into a different atmosphere, and his playing at the Düsseldorf festival of 1853 procured him the intimate friendship of Robert Schumann. His introduction of the young Brahms to Schumann is a famous incident of this time. Schumann and Brahms collaborated with Albert Dietrich in a joint sonata for violin and piano, as a welcome on his arrival in Düsseldorf. At Hanover he was Royal “concert-director” from 1853 to 1868, when he made Berlin his place of abode. He married, in 1863, the famous mezzo-soprano, Amalie Weiss, who died in 1899. In 1869 the foundation of the “Königliche Hochschule für Musik” was accomplished, and Joachim was placed at its head; and in the following year, the quartet evenings in the Sing-Akademie were instituted. Since that time every possible honour has been conferred upon Joachim, and his position in the world of music was quite unique, so wide and deep was his influence, and so undisputed his supremacy. In 1877 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Cambridge, and he had the same degree at Oxford and was an LL.D. of Glasgow. But, fitting though these honours were, his position in the affections of Englishmen was more characteristically shown by the warm reception given to him by the distinguished audience at the Royal Academy Banquet of 1903, when Dr. Joachim responded to the toast of “Music,” and by the enthusiasm of the larger public at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of his first appearance in England. On that occasion, at the Queen’s-hall, on May 16, 1904, Dr. Joachim was presented with his portrait, painted by Mr. J. S. Sargent (a not unworthy companion to the more familiar picture of 1866 by Watts); and such representative men as Mr. Balfour, Sir Hubert Parry, and Mr. Robert Bridges were the spokesmen of a great gathering assembled to do him honour.
His biographer, Herr Andreas Moser, has phrased the secret of his wonderful playing in the words, “He is the first man who has played the violin, not for its own sake, but in the service of an ideal.” This is certainly the truth, for there never was a simpler or more modest nature in the world. There may have been other players with as high an ideal as his, but none has united it with such unerring genius of interpretation. Joachim’s performance of the violin works of Sebastian Bach, music which was formerly deemed quite impossible of execution, was a thing never to be forgotten, so deep was the insight, so thorough the sympathy, and so reverent the handling of the music. In Mozart’s concerted music the quartet headed by Joachim attained an unrivalled position, and conveyed the idea, as no other body of players has managed to do, of youthful exuberance, while no touch of exaggeration could be laid to their charge. As interpreters of Beethoven the players long ago gained the power of shedding new light upon the difficulties of the last quartets, and even of persuading their hearers that these difficulties did not exist. Joachim also, it has rightly been said, did more for the fame of Brahms in England than any one else, by bringing forward his concerted chamber music and by playing his violin concerto; and there is a sad appropriateness in the fact that Joachim’s last appearances in this country should have been in the brilliantly successful series of last autumn’s concerts at which the entire chamber works of his great friend were performed.
As a composer Joachim did but little in his later years, and the works of his earlier life have not attained the success which, in the opinion of many, they deserve. They undoubtedly have a certain austerity of character which does not appeal to every hearer, but they are full of beauty of a grave and dignified kind; and in such things as his “Hungarian concerto” for his own instrument the utmost degree of difficulty is combined with great charm of melodic treatment. The “romance” in B flat for violin and the variations for violin and orchestra are among his finest things, and the noble overture in memory of Kleist, as well as the scena for mezzo-soprano from Schiller’s Demetrius, show a wonderful degree of skill in orchestration as well as originality of thought. But it is hard for a man who is supreme in one direction to establish greatness in another; and a comparative indifference to Joachim’s compositions may be pardoned to a generation that has so long been under the spell of the interpretative genius of one who spent a long and honourable career playing the greatest music in the greatest way.