© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

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JJ Initials

A Prodigious Fellow

             Joseph found himself in constant demand for the remainder of his stay in London. On Monday June 3, “the marvelous little Joachim” played at Mr. Hausmann’s soirée at 55 Wimpole Street, where Louise Dulcken was among the other performers. Adult appearances required an adult wardrobe. Ignaz Moscheles’ son Felix, [1] who was two years younger than Joseph, recalled: “after singing at our house, Mendelssohn wanted to take [Joachim] to a musical party; a pair of gloves were deemed necessary to make him presentable, and we two boys were sent out to get them; we had a walk, and a talk besides, and I remember thinking what a nice sort of sensible boy he was; no nonsense about him and no affectation; not like the other clever ones I knew. The gloves we bought in a little shop in Albany Street, Regent’s Park, and as these were the first pair of English gloves that Joseph wore, I duly record the historical fact for the benefit of all those who have at one time or the other been under the spell of the fingers we fitted that evening.” [i]

“Evening concerts of Classical Instrumental Music at Radley’s Hotel, Bridge Street, Blackfriars, this evening,” ran an advert in the Times on June 5th. “Mr. Purdy has the pleasure to inform his friends and the public that Dr. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy has kindly consented to play his Trio in D minor for pianoforte, violin, and violoncello; and that Master Joachim will lead two quartetts, and play a solo on the above named night, supported by Messrs. Case, Hill, and Hancock.” This was a formidable program. The “quartetts” were Mozart’s Quartet in d minor, K. 421, and a reprise of Beethoven’s treacherous “Rasumovsky” Quartet in C Major, op. 59, no. 3. The solo was again Ernst’s Othello Fantasy. That evening’s trio performance left a deep impression on Joseph, not only of Mendelssohn’s memory and sang-froid, but also of his character. “It so happened,” he later recalled, “that only the violin and violoncello parts had been brought to the concert-room, and Mendelssohn was rather displeased at this; but he said, ‘Never mind, put any book on the piano and someone can turn from time to time, so that I need not look as though I played by heart.’ Nowadays, when people put such importance on playing or conducting without a book, I think this might be considered a good moral lesson of a great musician’s modesty. He evidently did not like to be in too great a prominence before his partners in the Trio. He was always truly generous!” [ii]

Amidst this whirlwind of performance, Joseph somehow found time for study. Mendelssohn, who was directing his education, placed a great emphasis on his compositional work, and insisted as well that he not neglect his general studies and physical culture. “So thoroughly grounded seems to be this young professor in musical science, as well as in executive skill —,” wrote Henry Chorley, “so liberally gifted in the essentials of head, heart, and health — that we see no limit to his future career; and if the creative faculty develop itself, shall look for a great artist in him, in the most comprehensive acceptation of the term.” [iii]

No doubt on Mendelssohn’s recommendation, Joseph took lessons in composition and orchestration from the thirty-one-year-old George Macfarren, at Macfarren’s flat on the corner of Oxford and Berners Streets. Lady Macfarren later recalled their first meeting at Joseph’s uncle Bernhard Figdor’s home at Tulse Hill: “It was a grey, warm afternoon, and I saw a tall, [2] genial youth, who I was told was a great violin player. I had a long game of ball with him, several times resumed, on the lawn, whilst Professor Macfarren and his uncle walked up and down on the paths at the sides of the garden.” [iv]

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Album leaf: “for Joseph Joachim in remembrance of his
friend G. A. Macfarren, London 20 May 1844” [v]

Though not an enthusiastic advocate of Macfarren’s theories, Mendelssohn was nevertheless generous in his support of Macfarren, whose overture Chevy Chase he had performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on October 26 of the previous year. [3] Macfarren was an engaging and original teacher, with a “quaint, chatty” tutorial style. While still in his mid-twenties, he had been appointed professor of harmony and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He founded the Society of British Musicians in 1834 and the Handel Society in 1844. In 1845, he would assume conducting duties at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

A proponent of Alfred Day’s novel and controversial harmonic theory, Macfarren was discovered one day in 1847 by an official of the RAM teaching from an unauthorized text. “Holloa!” cried the visitor. “What is this book? We cannot have any new-fangled notions here.” [vi] A conference was called with Macfarren’s former teacher Cipriani Potter (then director of the school), William Sterndale-Bennett and three others. After a spirited discussion, Macfarren resigned his position, “rather than continue to teach contrary to his convictions.” Potter eventually recalled Macfarren to his old position, telling him: “come back and teach anything you please.” In the words of a friend, “better counsels prevailed; not the acceptance of Day’s theory, but the wise persuasion that it was better to have a musician of unquestioned competence and power to teach that which he believed from his own out-thinking, than that any old traditions should be so stereotyped in an educational system or curriculum as to bar all free thought, and to alienate from the Institution one whose worth was so fully recognised.” [vii]

Macfarren gave Joseph his first instruction in composing for orchestra. [viii] Whether he taught Joseph using Day’s theories is not known, but it seems likely that he did. Day’s Treatise on Harmony was begun at Macfarren’s instigation in 1840 — though it was not published until 1845.

On Friday, June 7th, Joseph was among the performers at a concert in the Princess’ Concert Room, co-sponsored by Macfarren and the critic for the Musical World, James William “Jimmy” Davison. For Joseph, this program, too, amounted to a recital. As originally conceived, it was to have included a performance by W. H. Holmes of Macfarren’s Second Solo Sonata in A Major, Ma Cousine. When Holmes fell ill, Macfarren asked Mendelssohn to step in. Mendelssohn demurred:

Felix Mendelssohn to George Macfarren [ix]

4, Hobart Place, Eaton Square

June 6th, 1844.

My dear Sir,

I need not tell you with how great a pleasure I would have played your Sonata to-morrow, if I possibly could—for I hope you know this. And you also know that it is with true and sincere regret that I must say I am not able to undertake the task which you propose me. During the bustle of the last weeks I have not yet been able to become acquainted with your Sonata; the whole of this day and of to-morrow morning is taken up with different musical and unmusical engagements, and accordingly I would hardly have an hour till to-morrow night to play your Sonata over. This I cannot think sufficient, and I would not be able to do it justice in my own eyes. Do not misunderstand me and take this for false modesty; I know very well that I should be able to-morrow to play it through without stopping, and perhaps without wrong notes; but I attach too much importance to any public performance to believe that sufficient, and unless I am myself thoroughly acquainted with a composition of such importance and compass, I would never venture to play it in public. Once more I need not tell you how much I regret it, for you must know it very well.

Mr. Davison told me the Concert was now to begin with my Trio: I shall therefore be punctually with you to-morrow evening at half-past eight. I beg you will arrange about having a good piano of Erard’s at the room; they know there already which I like best.

Always very sincerely yours,

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

The room was filled — “the presence of the most eminent musicians and dilettanti giving a character and importance to the audience not often observable apart from the Philharmonic.” The concert opened with a performance of Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio, [4] performed by Mendelssohn, Joachim and Hausmann “with a spirit, freshness, and brilliancy perfectly inapproachable by any other set of artists. The andante and the scherzo were encored.” [x]  Later, Joachim, substituting for the ailing Holmes, played J. S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor for violin solo (BWV 1001), after which he led a performance of Mendelssohn’s quartet in D, op. 44.

“The adagio and fugue in G minor, which Joachim volunteered, were delivered to perfection, and met with a unanimous encore,” reported the Morning Herald. “The more frequently this gifted lad plays the more extraordinary does he appear. Boy as he is, it does not seem that he has more to learn. He has all the energy, feeling, and judgement of the matured musician, and certainly he does not lack those acquirements of hand, which have hitherto been supposed attainable only by years of persevering practice. The vigorous fugue of old Bach he gave with the most complete readiness and precision; never faltering for an instant, or clouding the development of the subject in its interlacements by confused or insufficient workmanship. As a mere manual performance it was remarkable; but there was a fine intelligence pervading every bar in the highest degree gratifying, the more so as it was quite unlooked for.” [xi] The reviewer for The Polytechnic Review and Magazine, who took a decidedly negative view of the entire concert, demonstrated the risk of programming Bach’s solo works in the age of opera fantasias: “Young Joachim, in obedience to the Genius of Dulness, who seemed to have made these concerts the objects of her most particular care, played a dull tiresome fugue from one of Bach’s Violin Studies. The playing was marvellously good, and the music miraculously flat.” [xii]



             Better than any review was a letter from a Miss Robinson, daughter of the Venerable Archdeacon Robinson, addressed to a Mr. Wood, and later forwarded to Macfarren:

                                                                                    14, Euston Square

                                                                                    June 8 [1844]

My dear Mr. Wood,

How much have we to thank you for! The Concert last night was a rare treat, and the boy Joachim is beyond my poor powers of description. He is ‘a marvel and a mystery’ if ever one existed. How I wish you could have heard him! It is impossible otherwise to form a notion of his power. Papa and I were convinced that, however wonderful, it seemed impossible that such a child could equal or even approach a master of the art like Ernst; but we came away satisfied that the impossibility was accomplished. I should say Joachim is fully equal to Ernst both in power of expression and execution. The firmness and delicacy of his touch (is that a right epithet for the violin?) and the taste with which he applies both, is something quite mysterious when you remember what a mere child he is. There is no accounting for it by any method of ordinary reasoning. He has been endowed with the gift, ‘the faculty divine,’ and that has lifted him above all education.

In case you have not seen him I will just give you an idea of his appearance. He is rather short for his age, and has shaggy hair which completely covers his brow and shades his eyes, which are deep set with an earnest sort of gaze in them, the eyebrows being slightly contracted, which throws an expression of thought and intellectual grasp over his countenance. He has a most genius-like awkwardness about his figure and great simplicity and childishness of carriage. His bow of acknowledgment to the thunders of the room seemed rather to say ‘do be quiet and let me be at it again,’ than the usual ‘I am much obliged to you’ air of a bow. He just gave it as a necessary quietus, and no more. His enthusiasm in playing was intense; in the pieces, at which he played seated, he would every now and then get up and every nerve appeared to thrill as the music burst into form at his spell, while at some of the soft wailing tone which his little instrument sent forth, he bent his head close to it and shut his eyes till you might well fancy it was a spirit breathing out his plaint into his master’s ear. His face is very pale and perfectly free from vanity or consciousness of being anything extraordinary; altogether, he is a very interesting looking child. So much for his personal appearance, which I hope has not been a tedious detail. I always, myself, like to have a picture to look at, and so I tried to give you one.

What am I to say of that ‘Boy-God’s’ solo and the quartett? They were both perfectly wonderful. The Fugue, played without notes, was delicious, and the extreme grace with which he managed the reiterations surprising. I thought the house would have been down with the shouting ‘again, again, encore,’ and the clapping and thumping. In the quartett he seemed to be the master-spirit of the thing and, without the slightest effort, accomplished the most difficult passages. His shake is beautiful, clear and distinct; I thought Ernst was matchless there, but this boy is his equal. The Concert was crowded to excess, so much so that even the orchestra up to the top was thronged. [xiv]

Macfarren responded:

                                                                        73, Berners Street [xv]


 My Dear Sir,

I return you Miss Robinson’s sprightly and clever letter with thanks for its perusal.

Joachim is surely a prodigious fellow — I do not mean a ‘prodigy.” This is a term that has been so abused that we conventionally understand it as a mountebanking charlatan. I assure you that on his instrument, in his general capacity for music, and in his mental powers in matters unconnected with the art, he is at once one of the most minded and most interesting persons I have ever known. It has been my great pleasure to be very intimate with him during his stay in London, and I have had perhaps better opportunities than most people of estimating his transcendent talents, for he has played my music and I have given him lessons during his sojourn. I speak therefore most advisedly, and I am most delighted to find that I am not alone in my opinion, but that he is generally understood and appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

G. A. Macfarren
G. H. Wood, Esq.

Special dispensation was no longer necessary for Joseph to appear with the Philharmonic. At the beginning of his final week in England, he was invited, at Prince Albert’s request, to appear in the Sixth Philharmonic Concert, playing Ludwig Maurer’s Sinfonia Concertante, op. 55, for four violins, together with three veteran performers: his hero, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, Henry Blagrove, and Paganini’s protégé, Camilo Sivori. The concert, which also included Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, arias by Mozart and Bellini, William Sterndale Bennett’s Overture The Naiades, and a reprise of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was to be attended by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their guest, the King of Saxony. [xvi]

Ernst, who had been in precarious health, was disinclined to play, and at first refused. At Mendelssohn’s request, he reconsidered, but only on the condition that he should play the first violin part. Sivori then objected, proposing that they draw lots to determine parts. Hearing this, Ernst again refused to participate. The French virtuoso Prosper Sainton was persuaded to fill in for Ernst, and it seemed as if the “show-lion quatour” was again en train. “At the rehearsal, however,” reported the Musical World, “when the four violinists were called upon, little Joseph Joachim, a good artist and true, seeing that Ernst was not present, was not to be persuaded by any argument to ascend the orchestra. He declared, and properly so, that he had only acceded to make one of the quartet on the understanding that Ernst was to lead it — and that though he would play any where, or any thing under the auspices of that great violinist, he would by no means place himself under the same control with any one else. Nothing could be more straight-forward than this, and the little violinist was as firm as a rock — not to be shaken. At last the directors were compelled to ask Mr. Willy to play; and Mr. Willy, with his usual good nature, consented. So that on Monday we had the advantage of hearing two first-rate English violinists (Blagrove and Willy), one first-rate Italian and one first-rate Frenchman (Sivori and Sainton), perform, before an English audience, one of the most supreme pieces of rubbish that ever was penned to flatter popular prejudice or tickle uncultivated ears.” [xvii]

On that Monday afternoon, Joseph played instead at Madame Dulcken’s soirée in the Great Concert Room of the Italian Opera House. According to the Musical World, “Mad. Dulcken’s soirée, in honor of Dr. Mendelssohn, was brilliantly attended, by amateurs and artists of the highest distinction. The Doctor delighted the company by several performances on the piano, and little Joachim, Goffrie, Hill, Hausman, Brizzi, Miss Rainforth, (who sang the Reislied, [sic] ‘Journey song,’ to the accompaniment of the great composer) and Madame Dulcken herself, helped to make up a musical treat of the most intellectual kind.” [xviii] That same week “the extraordinary little Joachim” also appeared in Mr. John Parry’s Concert and was present at the final dinner of the Melodists club, at which Ernst and Jacques Offenbach (on ‘cello) played solos.

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London Standard, June 17, 1844, p. 3

On June 14, [5] “Master Joachim” made his final London appearance in a morning gala of gargantuan proportions, promoted by Julius Benedict, in the Great Concert Room of Her Majesty’s Theatre. Here again, the boy was in the most illustrious company. An advance notice boasted: “The giant concert of this most amiable man and distinguished musician takes place to-morrow morning… Not a name of any ability is absent from the programme — and we cannot doubt that the attendance will be as brilliant as the high merit of the beneficiaire and the unrivalled pretensions of his programme so richly deserve.” [xix] The distinguished roster of performers included, among others, Mendelssohn, Thalberg, Dulcken, Sivori, Lablache, [6] Staudigl, Costa, Parish-Alvars and Jacques Offenbach. Thirty-nine pieces were presented. Joseph played the Othello Fantasy “(by desire) […] (His last appearance in England.)” [xx]

That evening, two weeks prior to his 13th birthday, Joseph left for Leipzig with the English public at his feet. In his baggage was a gift from Thomas Alsager: a score of the Beethoven quartets. [xxi] The Musical World reported his departure:

JOSEPH JOACHIM left London on Friday night, by the Hamburgh steamer, for Leipsic where he goes to study under Hauptman, the contrapuntist. Query:— does he better himself by leaving Macfarren? But there are other educational reasons. Little Joseph’s departure will cause many a heart-pang. He is as much loved for his amiability, as for his most wonderful talent. He has no reason, we hope, to feel discontented with his reception in England. [xxii]

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Joseph Joachim acknowledges the audience, London, 1844

This album-leaf is the joint effort of Julius Benedict and Felix Mendelssohn.

The drawing is probably Mendelssohn’s, and shows the young violinist from the conductor’s perspective. Note the proper accentuation of Joachim’s name, which is pronounced in the Hungarian manner: JOachim. [xxiii]


Joachim, little Joachim
Fare well, Fare well
and come back to us very soon
come soon, come soon back to us.
Mendelssohn says he can’t write any more
nothing, nothing. What a Malheur.
Joachim, little Joachim,
don’t take it badly of me.
Since he won’t help,
it’s all over with my song.
I search and search in vain. Ei. ei. ei.

Joseph was to return as he had come — alone. Mendelssohn’s old friend Karl Klingemann escorted the youth safely to the ship. There, Joseph was entrusted to the supervision of the Hanoverian courier. The journey quickly became a nighmare. The weather was violent. The storm-tossed ship lost its mainmast, and was badly damaged. With the courier nowhere to be seen, the ship’s captain intervened to care for the seasick child. At Cuxhaven, Joseph eventually took it upon himself to find his protector. When he opened the cabin door, he found the courier lying dead on the floor with his throat slit.

Joachim’s English Repertoire March 28 — June 14, 1844 included at least the following works:

Bach Adagio and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 1001
Beethoven Violin Concerto, Op. 61
Beethoven Quartet Op. 59, No. 3
Beethoven Quartet in Bb Op. 130
Beethoven Quintet in C
de Bériot Andantino and Rondo Russe (from the Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, op. 32)
Ernst Othello Fantasy
Haydn Quartet Hob. III: 70
Maurer Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 55 for four violins (prepared but ultimately not performed)
Mendelssohn Quartet in D Major, Op. 44 No. 1
Mendelssohn Trio in D Minor
Mozart Quartet K 421
Mozart Quartet K. 516
Spohr Concerto No. 8 in A Minor, Op. 47, Gesangsscene

Next Post in Series: After the London Debut: Tharandt

[1] Felix Moscheles was Mendelssohn’s godson.

[2] Perhaps Lady Macfarren was very short. Joachim, in any case, was not tall.

[3] “Macfarren’s theoretical system […] may have led him to write unusual chords and progressions,” wrote Macfarren’s friend Henry Banister; “certainly it led him to use unusual notation. Mendelssohn did not argue these matters with him, it may well be believed; but, when playing from Macfarren’s manuscript, would, on coming to such cases, cry out, in that quick way which is not to be forgotten by those who once heard it: ‘Mac, Mac, do you mean this?’ On an affirmative answer being given, he would simply say, ‘Very well, all right, go on,’ to the rest of the performers.” [Banister/MACFARREN, p. 81]

[4] The first English performance of the trio had occurred the previous year, also in one of the Davison-Macfarren concerts. The performers were Sterndale Bennett, Henry G. Blagrove and Charles Lucas. [Banister/MACFARREN, p. 98]

[5] Not May 19th, as stated in Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 55.

[6] Luigi Lablache (1794-1858) was the great bass singer of the age, and a great fan of Joseph’s violin playing. Moser relates how, whenever Joseph played something particularly well, “Lablache’s resonant voice” was sure to be heard from a corner of the room, with a loud and encouraging “serr gutt.” [Moser/JOACHIM 1898, p. 51] During Joseph’s English sojourn, Lablache on one occasion backed out of a previous performance commitment, so that he could appear on the same program with Joseph. “Joachim plays, then I sing,” he said. [Unpublished MS, British Library: Joachim Correspondence, bequest of Agnes Keep, Add. MS 42718, p. 199.]

[i] Moscheles/FRAGMENTS, p. 25.

[ii] The Musical Times, Vol. 45, No. 736 (June 1, 1904), p. 377. See also: Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 101.

[iii] The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 35, No. 616 (June 1, 1894), p. 383.

[iv] Lady Macfarren, Recollections of Dr. Joachim, The Musical Times, Vol. 48, No. 776 (Oct. 1, 1907), p. 662.

[v] Lübeck: Brahms Institut, Sig. ABH: 6.3.96

[vi] Banister/MACFARREN LIFE, p. 70.

[vii] Banister/MACFARREN LIFE, p. 70.

[viii] Banister/MACFARREN, p. 103.

[ix] Banister/MACFARREN, pp. 102-103.

[x] Review of Messrs. MacFarren and Davison’s Concerts of Chamber Music (From the Morning Herald.)  Friday, 7 June, 1844, Quoted in The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 24 (June 13, 1844), p. 196.

[xi] Review of Messrs. MacFarren and Davison’s Concerts of Chamber Music (From the Morning Herald.)  Friday, 7 June, 1844, Quoted in The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 24 (June 13, 1844), p. 196.

[xii] The Polytechnic Review and Magazine, George G. Sigmond, M. D., (ed.), London: John Mortimer, (July-December 1844), p. 77.

[xiii] Program scans courtesy the collection of John and John Anthony Maltese.

[xiv] F. G. E./JOACHIM, pp. 579-580.

[xv] F. G. E./JOACHIM, p. 580.

[xvi] See letter in British Library: Joachim Correspondence, bequest of Agnes Keep, Add. MS 42718, p. 199.

[xvii] The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 24 (June 13, 1844), p. 197 Review of concert Monday, 10 June, 1844 Sixth Philharmonic Concert.

[xviii] The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 24 (June 13, 1844), p. 199.

[xix] The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 24 (June 13, 1844), p. 200.

[xx] A full notice of the concert appeared in the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 4, No. 82 (July 9, 1844), p. 328.

[xxi] Levy/ALSAGER, p. 124.

[xxii] The Musical World, vol. XIX No. 25 (June 20, 1844), p. 207.

[xxiii] Lübeck Brahms Institute, Sig. ABH: 6.3.97