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Gewandhaus Debut

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Back in Leipzig, Joseph was again practicing Ernst’s Othello Fantasy, this time in preparation for his official Gewandhaus debut. It was a piece that he had played often and well, and one that Mendelssohn particularly liked. Rochus Freiherr von Liliencron recalled in his memoirs an evening party in the winter of 1842 when Mendelssohn accompanied Ernst on this very work. Mendelssohn was reportedly so delighted with a passage at the end, that he made Ernst repeat it three times. [i] Now, Mendelssohn was equally delighted by the boldness with which Joseph attacked the high C sharp on the E string in the same passage. After their dress rehearsal he told him: “Listen, you Teufelsbraten, if I really do write a concerto for you fiddlers someday, I’ll have to put in Ernst’s audacious leap that you so brilliantly reminded me of today.” [ii] Mendelssohn wrote his celebrated concerto in 1844, and Joseph learned it shortly thereafter. Joachim later recalled to Moser how, during a coaching, Mendelssohn stopped near the end of the last movement and asked: “Do you know where I got that? From Ernst’s Othello Fantasy.” [iii]

Gewandhaus Debut Program 1Gewandhaus Debut Program 2


Joseph’s debut took place on November 16th in the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s seventh subscription concert, with Mendelssohn conducting. “Herr Joseph Joachim aus Wien” was joined on the program by another debutant that evening: the nineteen-year-old pianist and future Gewandhaus conductor, “Herr Carl Reinecke aus Altona.” As an old man, Reinecke recalled the emotions of that day:

On the evening of November 16, 1843, I walked the short way from my apartment to the old Gewandhaus in Leipzig. For me, it was a momentous course, for on this historic site, where from Mozart on practically every great artist had played, and where, for seven years, Mendelssohn had presided with holy zeal over his office as Kapellmeister, I now had to prove myself a competent artist. These sacred, but outwardly modest, rooms did not include a green room, and until I was called to the piano I had to listen to the preceding numbers through the door if I could not succeed in hiding in a small nook on the dais. A symphony by Haydn, and an aria from his Creation had elapsed, when a twelve-year-old boy in a short jacket and turned-down collar appeared, and with consummate virtuosity and boyish lack of self-consciousness played the then famous Othello Fantasy of Ernst. It was Joseph Joachim, who was stormily cheered by the otherwise somewhat reserved Gewandhaus audience. I still had quite a while to wait until I had to sit down at the piano and play Mendelssohn’s Serenade and Allegro gioioso. I was not hurt by the fact that the audience, though friendly in its reception, did not celebrate me in the same manner as the twelve-year-old Wunderkind, for I had the good sense to take it as a matter of course that the public would reward a boy who could produce all of the fireworks of this brilliant virtuoso work on his violin more than a nineteen-year-old youth in tails who had performed the agreeable, but by no means bravoura-laden, serenade by Mendelssohn. [v]

Leipzig’s Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported:

Herr J. Joachim from Vienna, pupil of the violin virtuoso Herrn Böhm of the same city, and just 13 or 14 years old, is a supremely interesting phenomenon, not only in regard to the excellent talent that is abundantly and authoritatively enunciated in his achievements, but due to the outstanding training and culture to which his playing bears unmistakable witness. It must be a joy to teach such a gifted student; much honor is also due the teacher, for having guided a wonderful talent, and having brought him so far so early that it can hardly be doubted that he will reach a high level of mastery before long. We have heard that Herr Joachim will remain here for some time, in order to receive further musical training from Herren Hauptmann, David, et. al.; if his disposition remains as natural and modest as it is now, his effort as diligent and careful as it must have been up to this point, one can expect him to become even more than a great virtuoso: he will certainly become a distinguished artist. May our hope not remain unfulfilled. Having said this, it further goes without saying that the audience received Herr Joachim with the liveliest applause. [vi]

“Today’s letter concerns only our dear Joseph, who in yesterday’s appearance received the full applause given here only to such artists as Mendelssohn,” wrote Hermann Wittgenstein to Joseph’s parents. “As you already know, he played the Othello Fantasy, and received applause with every variation, and at the end was heartily recalled. However, it was not only the crowd that was moved by his talent, but, as we hear, he is said also to have delighted the masters. The papers will not neglect to echo the general opinion, and that can only have the best consequences for him, since Leipzig has a reputation in musical matters. My Fanny was not a little tense, i.e., in the highest agitation, but also very satisfied, as concerns her own, by the appreciation of the local audience, which is otherwise rather cold, and shows not a trace of the enthusiasm that in Vienna reveals a southern complexion. Joseph is very happy over the daring adventure of his public appearance […]; he is convinced that there is a more active musical life here, even than in Vienna. That is, one hears and performs specifically classical music. […] Above all, I wish that dear Grandfather were here, so that he could see that Mendelssohn, though he probably meant it in jest, came to crown him with a laurel wreath.” Fanny added a postscript: “David was just here, and requested that we let Joseph go with him to a party where the whole musical clique will be present. He assured us that [Joseph] has delighted everyone, and that one can now already count him among the greatest artists. But everyone is also astounded by his demeanor and his tact — and really, as long as he has been with us, he has not said or done anything that is in any way blameworthy. Please forward these lines to dear Papa.” [vii]

About this time, Joseph’s acquaintance with Mendelssohn began to ripen into a true friendship. “From the beginning Mendelssohn had been the best of friends and advisers to the boy,” writes Andreas Moser; “but he became more intimiate with him after one evening, when, as they were walking together, Joachim answered one quotation from Jean Paul with the apt application of a passage from his ‘Flegeljahre.’ Mendelssohn was greatly surprised, and from that evening his interest in the Teufelsbraten grew to greatest affection; for, like Schumann, he only placed in the first rank artists ‘who could not only play passably one or more instruments, but who were also human enough to understand the writings of Shakespeare and Jean Paul.’” [viii]

On November 25, Mendelssohn traveled to Berlin for a protracted stay. Joseph continued his studies, practiced the Beethoven Concerto, and worked at composition. On December 20th, David wrote to Mendelssohn “Joachim has written a very pretty cadenza to the first movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto; he is also writing a Rondo in B minor, in which there are some pretty passages — it seems to come to him with much more difficulty than fiddling, however.” [ix]

Moriani, Napoleone


Napoleone Moriani

            On January 3, Joseph played a set of variations by Ferdinand David as a guest artist in k. k. Kammersänger Napoleone Moriani’s Gewandhaus recital. A celebrated tenor, Napoleone Moriani (1806/08-1878) died so impressively in Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor and Pia de’ Tolomei that he became known as il tenore della bella morte — the tenor of the beautiful death. Though a favorite with Mendelssohn, he was, by 1844, reaching the end of his voice, and the end of his career. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung said of his recital: “The only really interesting, indeed very outstanding thing in the entire concert was a child’s-play, namely the violin playing of the young Joseph Joachim from Vienna, who so successfully performed variations by F. David on “Das Lob der Thränen” by Fr. Schubert, likewise with pianoforte accompaniment, that he repeatedly received the most universal and lively applause. —” [xi] Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, while likewise calling attention to the audience’s warm acclaim (“as great as it was deserved”) concluded: “we do not believe ourselves deceived in pointing out this boy as a significant virtuoso talent, from whom the future can expect something extraordianary.” [xii] The news of this successful appearance reached Vienna several weeks later, and recieved a notice in the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung. [xiii]


Charlotte Birch

Three weeks later, on January 29, Joseph again appeared in the Gewandhaus, this time in the last of a series of concerts by the English soprano Charlotte Birch (then on her first visit to Germany). [1] Mendelssohn being in Berlin, the conductor for the occasion was Ferdinand Hiller.

Program, 1:29:44


This concert demonstrated the astonishing speed with which Joseph was able to learn new repertoire, and the self-confidence with which he could perform it. As Moritz Hauptmann told a friend: “Joachim […] is here from Vienna. He seems to have learned [the violin] so easily. He was brought early, with good talent, to Böhm’s good, regular schooling. Now he plays, perhaps an hour [daily]. Recently he played Spohr’s Gesangscene in the Gewandhaus — on the spur of the moment — after having started it just a few days earlier with David; and since the solo part was mislaid, played it by heart such that Spohr himself would have enjoyed it. In the aria his tone was of utterly touching beauty, his intonation pure as a bell and in the most difficult places he was infallibly secure.” [xv]

For the critic of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, undoubtedly unaware of the full extent of Joseph’s accomplishment, the concert was simply a welcome demonstration of musical depth from a young player hitherto known only for his brilliant virtuosity:

[…] We have already extolled the deserving accomplishments of the young Jos. Joachim from Vienna; what we had heard him play earlier were mere virtuoso affairs, pieces in which the intention is primarily the production of a sparkling technique, less the representation of an artistic idea, and not at all the realization a work of art in the higher sense. We could therefore only say with certainty that his technical training was quite extraordinary, and already so advanced that one could surely soon expect him to become a virtuoso of the first rank; in another, purely artistic respect, the inner character of his achievements — the propensity of his taste in their performance — gave us some reason to hope that he possessed a genuine talent and a real artistic instinct that could prevent the artist from being overwhelmed by the virtuoso. Now, after the performance of the Gesangscene by Spohr — to be sure a grateful composition, but also an imposing one, such that it remains a difficult assignment, even for experienced and thoroughly trained artists — we consider ourselves justified in expecting the greatest things from the young Joachim. He has performed the piece with such a clear, correct understanding, with such copious and good sense and taste, as only a truly significant talent can. May this talent continue to enjoy the calm, solid training which has been so beneficial to him, and through which alone it can be guided to a high and beautiful goal! [xvi]

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[1] Soprano Charlotte Ann Birch (1815-1901), a protége of Sir George Smart, studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1831-1834. She was the first to sing the soprano part of Mendelssohn’s revised Elijah: in Exeter Hall, London, on April 16, 1847, under Mendelssohn’s direction. According to W. H. Hadow, “Miss Birch possessed a beautiful soprano voice, rich, clear, and mellow, and was a good musician, but her extremely cold and inanimate manner and want of dramatic feeling greatly marred the effect of her singing.” [Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 1, J. A. Fuller Maitland (ed.), London: Macmillan, 1911, p. 328.]

[i] Lilienkron/JUGENDTAGE, pp. 131-132.

[ii] Moser/VIOLINSPIEL II, p. 252.

[iii] Lilienkron/JUGENDTAGE, pp. 131-132.

[iv] Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig.

[v] Reineke/ERLEBNISSE, pp. 260-261.

[vi] Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Vol 45, No. 49 (December 6, 1843), p. 890.

[vii] British Library BL, family corresp., Add. MS 42718, p. 195.

[viii] Moser/JOACHIM, 1901, pp. 50-51.

[ix] Eckardt/DAVID, pp. 200-201.

[xi] Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Vol. 46, No. 3, (January, 1844), p. 43.

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[xii] Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Vol. 20, No. 6, (January 18, 1844), p. 24.

[xiii] Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, Vol. 4, No. 10, (January 23, 1844), p. 40.

[xiv] Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig.

[xv] Letter to Hauser, April 8. Hauptmann/HAUSER, vol. 2, p. 16. Author’s translation.

[xvi] Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Vol. 46, No. 5 (January, 1844) pp. 73-75.