© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

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JJ Initials

London Debut



Hanover Square Rooms in 1843



Hanover Square Rooms in 1843

            Mendelssohn had been an occasional guest conductor with London’s Philharmonic Society Orchestra since his first appearance there in 1829. In 1843, the Society had come into financial difficulties, and, by engaging Mendelssohn to conduct the following season, they hoped to help rebuild their audiences and recoup their losses. It may not have pleased them, therefore, when Mendelssohn suggested an unknown 12-year-old as a soloist. The Philharmonic had a long-standing ban on appearances by children. In arranging Joachim’s debut, Mendelssohn, who himself had a well-known aversion to the exploitation of prodigies, was required to give personal assurances to the committee that his young protégé was no mere Wunderkind, but already “an eminent artist and a fine person.”


John Ella

Portrait by Charles Baugniet in 1851
Courtesy of Raymond E. O. Ella, author-historian

Impresario John Ella claimed some of the credit for easing the committee’s skepticism, by including Joseph in what amounted to a series of high-profile auditions:

By special invitation, I accompanied a literary friend, in April 1844, to the residence of the late Madame Dulcken, Pianist to the Queen, to hear a youth play the violin. M. Dulcken was in doubt whether a boy of the age of Master Joachim, then fourteen [sic], would be allowed to play at the Philharmonic Concerts, and both Sir Henry Bishop and Sir George Smart were sceptical on the matter. On the Tuesday following, the youthful violinist came to my second weekly quartet union, and led Beethoven’s Quintet in C. At two other of my private musical gatherings Master Joachim played solos, or led quartets, and ultimately I mustered a notable assembly of musical lions to hear him play Beethoven’s Posthumous Quartet in Bb. Royalty and nobility crowded my room, but the most illustrious of the company comprised Mendelssohn, Moscheles, Dragonetti, Ernst, Lablache, Döhler, Offenbach, Benedict, Thalberg, Sainton, Sivori, Sir George Smart, Sir Henry Bishop, and Costa.[iii]


The Morning Post, May 15, 1844, p. 3

It seems that the original plan had been for Joseph to play Spohr’s Concerto No. 8, the Gesangsscene, but here again Ernst played a pivotal role in Joachim’s career; since Ernst had only weeks earlier played the same work, the choice fell by default to the Beethoven Violin Concerto, for which Joseph had provided cadenzas his own devising.[1]


Joseph Joachim: Cadenza to the Rondo of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
“London, 12 May 1844
To my dear friend Hill for remembrance”

“The MS. of the cadenza to the Rondo of the concerto is now in the possession of Messrs. W. E. Hill & Sons, the well-known violin makers of New Bond Street. The following ‘account’ is attached to it:— Joseph Joachim: born 1831. A cadenza written by the great violinist, in 1844, for the Beethoven Concerto, when he was but thirteen years of age, and presented by him to the late Henry Hill, who was present on the occasion of its being played for the first time at an evening musical party. Joachim played the cadenza from memory, and took the musicians by surprise when he told them that it was his own composition, and to convince them that this was so (some doubts being expressed) he wrote this and presented it to Henry Hill.'” [F. G. Edwards, Professor Joachim’s English Jubilee, The Musical Herald and Tonic Sol-fa Reporter 552 (1 March, 1894): 70.] Henry Hill was a prominent London violist, and a member of the famous English family of violin makers. This manuscript was passed to Hill’s son Arthur F. Hill, and eventually found its way into the collection of Serge Lifar. It was sold at Sotheby’s on December 6, 2002.

This, too, must have been a controversial decision. Beethoven’s concerto had had a checkered career since the evening, just before Christmas, 1806, when Franz Clement first conjured it to life in Vienna’s Theater and der Wien. Though it had been championed by such eminent violinists as Luigi Tomasini (Berlin, 1812), Pierre Baillot (Paris, 1828) and Henri Vieuxtemps (Vienna, 1834), [iv] it had never garnered more than a succès d’estime in public performance. Many great violinists, including Ludwig Spohr, had rejected the work outright (“…that was all very fine,” Spohr later said to Joachim by way of congratulations after a performance in Hanover, “but now I’d like to hear you play a real violin piece.”). [v] The concerto’s London premiere, given in April 1832 by a Frankfurt native named Edward Eliason, had not impressed the critics. “Beethoven has put forth no strength in his violin concerto,” wrote the reviewer for the Hamonicon. “It is a fiddling affair, and might have been written by any third or fourth rate composer. We cannot say that the performance of this concealed any of its weakness, or rendered it at all more palatable.” [vi]

This difficult, reputedly disagreeable work was a risky choice, then, as a debut vehicle for a boy one month shy of his 13th birthday. For Joseph, as for Mendelssohn, the stakes for this performance were unusually high. Joseph’s success in meeting this challenge would have historic consequences, both for the boy and for the concerto.

Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 7.00.56 PM


A copy of the original program, signed in 1899 by Joseph Joachim, “the little fellow.”

            Joseph’s May 27 Philharmonic debut took place at the Hanover Square Rooms. [2] The long and diverse program began at eight. The highlight of the evening promised to be Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring the first English performance of the celebrated Wedding March. The concert opened with a performance of Beethoven’s fourth symphony, followed by a mawkish duet, excerpted from the young Liverpudlian John Liptrott Hatton’s opera Pascal Bruno:

Stung by horror, shame, and anguish,
Driven from her once loved home;
Mid yon mountains, wild, and lonely,
There she sought an early tomb.
Holy hand her grave ne’er hallowed;
Tears, none but his, her only child,
Who swore thereon an oath of vengeance —
Vengeance! as terrible as wild.

After that came Joseph and Beethoven’s “fiddling affair.” Mendelssohn’s account of the performance evokes the boisterous concert-going customs of the time, and vividly captures the atmosphere of exhilaration in the hall:

… The excitement into which [Joseph] had transported everyone, beginning with the rehearsal, was so great that a frenetic applause began as soon as he stepped in front of the orchestra, and lasted right up until the piece could begin. He then played the beginning so masterfully, so surely and well in tune, and, playing from memory notwithstanding, with such irreproachable security that the audience interrupted him three times before the first big Tutti, and then applauded throughout half of the Tutti. They likewise interrupted in the middle of his Cadenza, and after the first movement the noise only stopped because it needed to stop sometime, and because people’s hands and throats hurt from clapping and shouting. It was a great joy to be a fellow witness—and to see as well the boy’s quiet and secure modesty, immune from all temptation. After the first movement, he said softly to me: ‘I really am very frightened.’ The cheers of the audience accompanied every single part of the concerto throughout. When it was over and I took him down the stairs, I had to remind him that he should once more acknowledge the audience, and even then the thundering noise continued until long after he had again descended the steps, and was out of the hall. A better success the most celebrated and famous artist could neither hope for nor achieve. [viii]

“I well remember Mendelssohn’s bright look of pleasure and appreciative interest in his little friend,” witness Elizabeth Mounsey [3] recalled later. “As conductor, he turned towards the very young soloist, attired in short jacket and turned-down collar, so as to follow him dutifully, Mendelssohn’s own subordinate position appearing to give him a degree of amusement. But it was very beautiful to see the pleasure it gave him to regard the boy at his side, not only with admiration, but with honour. [4] Joachim, whose playing was so masterly, and whose whole manner was so thoughtful, was still boy enough to indulge in an unbecomingly full pocket at his side; one wondered what its contents might be!” [ix]

The ‘cellist Alfredo Piatti, making a London debut of his own that season, was also in the audience. Fifty years later, at a joint jubilee celebration, Piatti recalled the “little fat boy in tight trousers” who had made such a sensation that night. “He had blooming cheeks and a short jacket, and he stepped up on the platform at the Philharmonic Concert and played Beethoven’s violin concerto in such style that everybody was astonished. It was my good fortune to be very much associated with the little boy in after years; and his name was that of my friend, the great artist, Joseph Joachim.” [x]

Joseph emerged the lion of the hour, and even the most feared of reviewers were effusive in their praise. In the Athenaeum, the occasionally cantankerous Henry Chorley wrote: “Then came Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, played by Herr Joachim and, what is more, played with… Very few performers have come before us so satisfactory, and for the future so brightly promising as this boy; who seems, too, to possess a strong frame and a disposition so modest, as well as cheerful, that the perils of praise are less formidable than usual.” [xi]

The reviewer for The Musical World, probably J. W. Davison, was equally impressed:

Joachim’s rendering of Beethoven’s concerto was astonishing. Not only was it astonishing as coming from a comparative child, but astonishing as a violin performance, no matter from whom proceeding. The greatest violinists hold this concerto in awe. It is, we must own, not adapted to display advantageously the powers of the instrument — though a composition of great distinction, the first movement being in Beethoven’s highest manner. Young Joachim, however, attacked it with the vigour and determination of the most accomplished artist, and made every point tell. So well did he play, that we forgot how entirely unadapted for display was the violin part. No master could have read it better, no finished artist could have better rendered it. Tone, execution, and reading, were alike admirable — and the two cadences introduced by the young player were not only tremendous executive feats, but ingeniously composed — consisting wholly of excellent and musician-like workings of phrases and passages from the concerto. The reception of Joachim was enthusiastic, and his success the most complete and triumphant that his warmest friends could have desired. What Charles Filtsch [5] is upon the piano, Joseph Joachim is upon the violin, and he is, in common with that prodigious little genius, remarkable for the most attractive manners, the most amiable disposition, and the most intelligent and charming modesty. We wonder not that he should be such a favourite with Mendelssohn, who is ever the first to acknowledge and to nurture rising genius. [xii]

JJ London 1844
Joseph Joachim at the time of his English debut

The Illustrated London News concurred:

… now we come to the dictu mirabile monstrum, in the shape of a little boy of thirteen, who perhaps is the first violin player, not only of his age, but of his siècle. Of late years we have heard some prodigies, in the form of grown persons, as performers on that splendid instrument; but without severally enumerating them, or their merits, we can safely say that little Joachim is equal to any, or all of them, put together. His tone is of the purest cantabile character — his execution is most marvellous, and at the same time unembarrassed — his style is chaste, but deeply impassioned at moments; and his deportment is that of a conscious, but modest genius! He performed Beethoven’s solitary concerto, which we have heard all the great performers of the last twenty years attempt, and invariably fail in. On Monday last its performance was an eloquent vindication of the master-spirit who imagined it, and we might fearlessly add, that in the cadences, composed by the youth himself, there was as much genius exhibited as in the subject which gave birth to them. Joachim plays from memory, which is more agreeable to the eye of the auditor than to see anything read from a music-stand; it seems more like extemporaneous performance, and admits a greater degree of enthusiasm on the part of the instrumentalist. We never heard or witnessed such unequivocal delight as was expressed by both band and auditory. [xiii]

The reviewer concluded: “We did not think so much of the [Wedding] March as the rest of the audience, but “trahit sua quemque voluptas.” [7] Altogether it was a delightful concert; but we should like to see the programme of the next a little more varied.” [!]

Finally, the reviewer for the Morning Post enthused:

Joachim, the boy violinist, astounded every amateur. The concerto in D, op. 61… has been generally regarded by violin-players as not a proper and effective development of the powers of their instrument… But there arrives a boy of fourteen [sic] from Vienna, who, after astonishing everybody by his quartett-playing, is invited to perform at the Philharmonic, the standard law against the exhibition of precocities at these concerts being suspended on his account. […] As for his execution of this concerto, it is beyond all praise, and defies all description. This highly-gifted lad stands for half-an-hour without any music, and plays from memory without missing a note or making a single mistake in taking up the subject after the Tutti. He now and then bestows a furtive glance at the conductor, but the boy is steady, firm, and wonderfully true throughout.

In the slow movement in C — that elegant expanse of melody which glides so charmingly into the sportive rondo — the intensity of his expression and the breadth of his tone proved that it was not merely mechanical display, but that it was an emanation from the heart — that the mind and soul of the poet and musician were there, and it is just in these attributes that Joachim is distinguished from all former youthful prodigies… Joachim’s performance was altogether unprecedented, and elicited from amateurs and professors equal admiration.

Mendelssohn’s unequivocal expression of delight and Loder’s [8] look of amazement, combined with the hearty cheering of the band as well as auditory, all testified to the effect young Joachim had produced. [xiv]

Reports of Joseph’s success continued to appear. As late as August, Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik reported: “The very youthful Jos. Joachim played in the 5th Philharmonic Concert, and aroused the liveliest sensation, and not simply through his virtuosity, but more through the maturity and capacity of comprehension, and the taste with which he performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto. He also retained these virtues elsewhere, through his outstanding quartet playing, and the partiality that he seems to hold for Bach’s works. Though, indeed, still a boy, Joachim is not one of those pitiable hothouse plants that our era is so rich in, and the tact with which he deflected all speculation that would stamp him as a Wunderkind is commendable.” [xv]

On the day after the concert, the thrill of the event still vivid in his mind, Mendelssohn sat down and penned the glowing letter to the Wittgensteins in Leipzig (from which the foregoing description of the concert was drawn):

Felix Mendelssohn to Herman Wittgenstein

 Dear sir,

I cannot neglect to tell you, at least with a few words, what an unheard-of, unprecedented success our dear Joseph has had with his performance of the Beethoven Concerto yesterday evening in the Philharmonic concert. The cheers of the entire audience, the unanimous love and esteem of all musicians, the warm affection of all who are genuinely interested in music and who base the fairest hopes upon such a talent — all that was expressed yesterday evening. You are to be thanked that you and your wife were responsible for bringing this exceptional boy into our midst; you have my thanks for all the joy he has given me in particular; and if heaven keep him in good and sound health, everything else that we wish for him will not then fail to be forthcoming — or rather, it cannot fail, for he no longer needs to become an eminent artist and a fine person: he is both already, as certainly as a boy of his age can be or ever has been. […]

With this [successful concert], the chief object of a first English visit has been, in my opinion, fully attained: every one here who is interested in music is his friend and will remember him. Now I wish, as you know, that he should soon return to a perfectly tranquil life, retiring entirely from public playing in order that he may use the next two or three years to develop his inner resources in every regard, practicing his art in all those areas in which there is still room for improvement without neglecting that which he has already achieved, composing industriously, and even more industriously going for walks and caring for his physical development, so that in three years’ time the youth may be as healthy in mind and body as the boy. I consider this impossible without perfect peace and quiet; may this be granted in addition to all the good things that Heaven has given him.

This letter is intended for your wife as well as for yourself; now just a short farewell from your most devoted,

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy [xvi]

Wittgenstein arrival

Arrival of Hermann Wittgenstein at the Port of London

On the 5th of June, Fanny Wittgenstein sent a transcript of this letter to Joseph’s parents in Pest, along with the following lines:

Fanny Wittgenstein to Julius and Fanny Joachim [xvii]

Leipzig, 5 June [18]44

Dear Aunt and Dear Uncle,

It is a sweet task for me to add my joyous news to the many gratifying reports that you have received from London and Vienna about our Jos, for I have been a witness to a part of his success! Although it was a 14-day [journey], I could not resist the temptation of traveling to London with my dear Papa and my Hermann, and (perhaps foolishly) left my 4 children in the care of my servants and my brother-in-law. It was a great joy to see how Jos. is universally acknowledged and appreciated, how even ladies of the first rank approach him with interest, how he delights everyone with his talent and his modesty, and is therefore dearly loved by everyone. Fortunate parents, what joys still await you! How often have we regretted that you, especially, are not present to witness his triumphs! You know how Mendelsohn [sic], this marvelous, independent artist, dotes on Jos. — in order to demonstrate this properly, I send you a transcript of the letter that we received from him yesterday. As you shall see, he wishes for Jos. to devote several perfectly tranquil years to his studies, with particular attention paid to his health. Leipzig, which is home to so much genuine edification, because it does not possess the distracting temptations of larger cities, is a suitable place for him to live; we love him like our own child, and again accept him gladly, to watch over him with parental love (if I may say so), although it is a difficult challenge. Jos. is what he should be — a child — but a marvelous child; only precocious in the development of his art. This weekend, I will go to the countryside near Dresden with the children; there he should fully recuperate and then he will return diligently to work. The children are well, thank God. I congratulate you and dear Hany. Dear Uncle and dear Aunt, may you enjoy your grandchildren as much as you enjoy your children. Affectionate greetings to all of you dear ones from Fany Wst.



Joseph conquers the world, from Joachim’s autograph book, 1844.
Drawing attributed to John Callcott Horsley [8],
Perhaps by Charles Edward Horsley

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The Musical Post, May 17, 1844, p. 1

            The “perfectly tranquil life” would have to wait until Joseph’s return to Leipzig. Following his brilliant debut, invitations to perform flooded in from all quarters. Joseph’s reputation reached as far as Windsor, where, on June 4th, he was called to give a command performance at a state concert before Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, together with their guests Emperor Nicholas of Russia, Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. [xix] He traveled to Windsor with his Uncle Bernhard, returning the next day. [xx] Joseph performed Ernst’s Othello Fantasy, and Bériot’s Andantino and Rondo Russe[xxi] accompanied by the Queen’s private band, and received a golden watch and chain from the Queen for his efforts. [xxii] For the young “Hungarian Boy,” not yet thirteen years of age, the story of these days, which hovers so close to the world of myth, had already become the founding narrative of his incomparable English career.

Next Post in Series: A Prodigious Fellow

[1] “There will be nothing left for me to do than to choose to play the Beethoven concerto (since Ernst played the Gesangsscene in the 2nd concert).” [Joachim to David, Joachim/BRIEFE I, p. 5.] Joseph was paid 5 guineas for his performance (a guinea being equal to one pound, one shilling — there are 20 shillings in a pound). Five guineas was the same fee that Louise Dulcken got that season for the first English performance of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. Sivori was paid £11 for two consecutive concerto appearances, and Spohr £30 for a command concert and a concerto. [Ehrlich/PHILHARMONIC, p. 56.]

[2] “These same Hanover-square Rooms are the arcana of a mysterious temple, and many and beautiful and powerful have been the worshippers within its walls,” wrote The Illustrated London News in 1843. “Here are held many of the gay subscription assemblies of the London season — and here the stately and aristocratic ball of the Royal Academy holds its fancy court… But Music is the true genius of these halls — the concert is their lawful revelry, and to an annual round of musical celebration — soirée and matinée — are they devoted as sacredly as was ever patriot to the altar of country. In these rooms enthusiastic assemblies have heard evoked the genius of some of the finest spirits of the age. From that orchestra Paganini, with almost unearthly presence, enthralled hearts and souls with the magician power of an instrument, oracular with strength and beauty, and poetry, and his touch alone! There Liszt flooded the raptured sense with wonder and delight as he opened up the stores of Genius — and in marvellous and gushing harmonies seemed, with an almost hallowed inspiration, to improvise the very music of the spheres. […] Now, turn from the orchestra to the company, and see what a graceful assembly you have. Peer curiously among them, and ten to one but you discover people of renown — great critics, or men of literary fame — artists, professionals, and musical amateurs. There is always something bright, cheerful, and exhilarating about the atmosphere of the Hanover-square Rooms, and often are they honoured with the presence of royalty.” [The Illustrated London News, Vol. 2, No. 60 (June 24, 1843), p. 439.]

[3] A musical acquaintance of Mendelssohn’s, Elizabeth Mounsey was from the age of fourteen the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Cornhill. A musical souvenir (Bach Passacaglia in C Minor) that Mendelssohn gave her when he played the church organ in 1840 is still preserved in the organ gallery of the church. “Miss Bessie” Mounsey became an associate of the Philharmonic Society in 1842. Her sister’s husband, William Bartholomew, was the translator of the libretto to Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The work received its first English reading by the sisters in Miss Mounsey’s home. Elizabeth Mounsey died October 3, 1905, just days before her 86th birthday. [“Elizabeth Mounsey,” The Musical Times, Vol. 46, No. 753 (Nov. 1, 1905), pp. 718-721.]

[4] Singer Elise Polko similarly described Mendelssohn’s supportiveness as a conductor: “No words can describe Mendelssohn’s exceeding kindness to me when I sang at the Gewandhaus. He moved his conductor’s desk forward, which was quite unusual, so that it was close beside me, and I could see him just before me in order to inspire me with courage, and how good-naturedly he nodded and glanced at me while conducting! … Mendelssohn had always a cheering word for the timid singer. ‘Mademoiselle, you always do your work so admirably; but I can see by your face this evening that you intend fairly to bewitch the public;’ or, ‘Now just for the next half-hour imagine that your are the first singer in Europe; and so will I;’ or, ‘Let us try to turn Ferdinand Böhme’s head altogether to-day with delight.’ Oh! who could ever forget all those kind words, and the kind face, too!” [Polko/MENDELSSOHN, pp. 103-104].

[5] Charles Filtsch (1830-1845) was Chopin’s most gifted pupil, about whom Franz Liszt is reported to have said “When that boy begins to travel, I will close shop.” He died, tragically young, in Venice.

[6] “When, at the end of the season, Joachim was leaving London, I accompanied him to Claudet’s Daguerreotype Studio, at the old Adelaide Gallery in the Strand, for the purpose of sitting for some portraits, a process which was very different from that we experience in these days of photography, for instead of seconds, the patient — or shall I say victim? — had to remain in one position for several minutes. Joseph Joachim gave me one of these pictures, which, notwithstanding the years that have elapsed, is still in perfect preservation, and my readers will rejoice at the opportunity of seeing what this great artist was like when he first visited London.” Walter Cecil Macfarren, F.R.A.M., Memories, London & New York: Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1905, pp. 37-39. In March, 1840, Antoine Claudet (1797-1867), a student of Louis Daguerre, purchased the first Daguerreotype license for England for £200. He operated his studio in the Adelaide Gallery, behind St. Martin in the Fields, from 1841-1851.

[7] Virgil: “Each is led by his own taste.”

 Concertmaster John David Loder (1788-1846), a member of a prominent English musical family.

[8] John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) was a British painter, and is credited with designing the first commercially produced Christmas card. His brother, Charles Edward Horsley (1822-1876), was a composer and a pupil of Mendelssohn. C. E. Horsley lived in Leipzig from 1841-1843.

[i] The Illustrated London News (June 24, 1843).

[ii] The Illustrated London News, (June 24, 1843).

[iii] Ella/SKETCHES, p. 250.

[iv] Stowell/BEETHOVEN, p. 34.

[v] Moser/JOACHIM 1908, pp. 291.

[vi] Stowell/BEETHOVEN, p. 35.

[vii] The Musical Times, Vol. 40, No. 677 (July, 1899), p. 457.

[viii] MT/JOACHIM, p. 227.

[ix] The Musical Times, Vol. 39, No. 662 (April 1, 1898), p. 227.

[x] Klein/LONDON, pp. 396-397.

[xi] The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 35, No. 616 (June 1, 1894), p. 383-384. Original in Athenaeum June 1, 1844.

[xii] The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 22 (May 30, 1844), pp. 180-181.

[xiii] The Illustrated London News, vol. 4, No. 109 (June 1, 1844), p. 354.

[xv] Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Vol. 20, No. 16 (August 20, 1844), p. 63.

[xvi] Moser/JOACHIM 1907, pp. 63-65 [my translation; Fanny Wittgenstein’s transcription of this letter is in the British Library letters, p. 198]

[xvii] Unpublished MS, British Library: Joachim Correspondence, bequest of Agnes Keep, Add. MS 42718, p. 198.

[xviii] According to Borchard (p. 60, p. 630 n.) this is in the British Library. Mahaim claims that it is by Charles Horsley, and not by John Callcott Horsley. [Mahaim/BEETHOVEN, vol. 1, Fig. 41]

[xix] Moser/JOACHIM 1908, p. 65.

[xx] Unpublished MS, British Library: Joachim Correspondence, bequest of Agnes Keep, Add. MS 42718, p. 199.

[xxi] The Times (London) (June 5, 1844), p. 4.

[xxii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 4, No. 86 (July 18, 1844), p. 344; Reich/BETH EL, p. 64; The Musical Times, Vol. 48, No. 775 (September 1, 1907), p. 578.