© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

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JJ Initials

 Growing Pains/Travel Plans

By spring, Joseph and Fanny Wittgenstein were beginning to get on each other’s nerves. The good behavior of November was less and less in evidence — relentless wrangling and bickering over practicing had begun to take a toll on their relationship, and Fanny was thinking of sending Joseph back to Vienna. Away on a business trip, Hermann recommended that Fanny find Joseph another place to do his work, in effect throwing him out of the house. “…you touch such a sore spot in my heart,” he wrote, “that I must give you this answer:

I fully grant the fairness of your reasoning concerning Joseph, insofar as it affects you. You are not required to make continual sacrifices for him. You have done more for him than any of his other relatives, and it arises from your innermost nature that an irrvocable separation must take place. So there is nothing to be done about it, and even less to be said; but you are wrong about everything else, and should have listened to counter-arguments. Just because it is no longer feasible for Joseph to live with us, there is no reason for him to make a journey against his wishes, to interrupt a course of study that he has chosen — or we for him — and to toss time and money and everything into the ditch. We could not take responsibility for that, though we could, perhaps, justify it before others, since they would not know where the problem lay. On the other hand, you believe that we could not justify before others if he were to get a room in a house where he could have his own piano, full freedom and privacy, if that is something that causes him distress, or if there is something that we cannot give him. Now, I do not care what others say; but in this case you may rest assured, for the dear people will find out that in so doing we are fulfilling Joseph’s wish, and a need at the same time. Dear Fanny, wait until I return — then we will find a room for Joseph, wherever; in the meantime, don’t let him feel his dependence so strongly, and later he will be for you, as for me, a welcome guest at our table. We will raise him together without great effort. I am so fully persuaded of the truth of what I write that I await your consent with confidence and let the subject drop.” [i]

The matter came to a head in March, just as news of Joseph’s sister Julie’s engagement reached Leipzig. Fanny, simultaneously surrogate mother and disciplinarian, dutiful niece and obedient wife, was clearly looking over Joseph’s shoulder as he wrote:

Joseph Joachim to his parents [ii]

Leipzig, March 4, 1844

Dearest Parents,

I received your dear letter, and am extraordinarily happy that you and my dear brothers and sisters are faring so well. I am also very healthy, as always, and am today very exuberant, because I am happy that from tomorrow on I will have the opportunity to test myself and see if I have enough strength and insight to be diligent and active without constant supervision. That is to say, I am getting my own room, since dear Fanny’s quarters are somewhat small, because of which we irritate one another — since I have for example no piano that I can use whenever I wish, and it must be most unpleasant for dear Fanny to hear my scratching and plunking all day long. The room, by the way, is very big and nicely furnished, and what pleases me the most is that it is in the same building in which dear Herrmann has his office. I promise you, dear parents, to be very diligent and regular, and not to misuse this great trust.

A couple of days ago, dear Heinrich wrote to me [from London], and I shall answer him soon; he told me that Vieuxtemps, Ernst and Sivori want to go there next season. Therefore there won’t be a shortage of good fiddlers. — The 2nd grand mass of Beethoven is being rehearsed here; I have attended 2 rehearsals of this giant work, and am totally entranced with it. I hope still to hear it very often. — Your description of my future brother-in-law, dear Mother, makes me regret even much more that I do not know him personally. Please give him and all my dear brothers and sisters best wishes from

Your respectful

[Addendum in Fanny’s hand]

Dear Aunt, dear Uncle,

[…] [if my congratulations on] the engagement of your dear Julie arrive somewhat late, nevertheless you know that they are no less deeply felt. It is a great blessing to see your children happy and well taken care of. I congratulate you that you are among the few who are able to make that happen. Naturally, not everyone deserves it as much as you. I hope Joseph will someday crown your family happiness by making good use of the opportunity to develop his artistic abilities. I would have liked to see him spend the summer in Vienna, but my dear husband and Joseph had other wishes — so we shall attempt to see if he can live up to his responsibilities without supervision. Naturally, he will eat and spend the bulk of the evening with us […].


Koryčany, showing the Figdor Schloss (top, center)

Joseph would not have long to get used to his new surroundings: as his letter implies, plans were already underway for him to travel to London, where he would make an important debut as Mendelssohn’s protégé. These plans were being managed, not only by Mendelssohn in Berlin, but also by his uncle Wilhelm (Fanny’s father) in Vienna. Wilhelm Figdor commanded impressive wealth and connections, and he was prepared to use them on Joseph’s behalf (among other beneficences, Joseph’s violin, a priceless Guarneri del Gesú, was a loan from Wilhelm and his brother Nathan). Wilhelm was a partner in the wool-trading firm of Isaac Figdor & Söhne, a shareholder and director of the Austrian National Bank, and a man of considerable property[1] (One measure of his wealth can be seen from the estate in Koryčany, currently in the Czech Republic, that he acquired from Salomon Mayer Rothschild in 1851. An areal view of the imposing Baroque Schloss and Hof can be seen on Google maps, keyword: Koryčany). According to Fanny Wittgenstein’s granddaughter Hermine, Wilhelm and his son Gustav (Fanny’s brother) “lived in Vienna as respected, resident wholesalers (a letter of recommendation for Wilhelm F., signed by Prince Metternich, testifies to his respectability). […] They were Jews, but they felt themselves to be Austrians — as one could in those days — and they were also regarded as such by others.” [iii]

A letter dated February 29, describing Wilhelm’s preparations for Joseph’s upcoming trip, makes clear the extent of his continuing influence, not only over the course of Joseph’s incipient career, but over the other members of the family, including Joseph’s parents.

Wilhelm Figdor to Julius and Fanny Joachim [iv]

Vienna, February 29, 1844

Dear Brother-in-law and Sister,

I am happy to tell you that I have succeeded in getting a letter of introduction from Prince Coburg to Prince Albert; also from Count Harrach to the Duke of Beaufort; also from Count Bathiany in London. I will also send the one from Prince Esterh[az]y directly to Bd. [Bernhard Figdor] so that he won’t have to concern himself with it. Yesterday, I had a letter from Leipzig that Jos. will depart around the middle of March. I have already written that they should inform me how and when. In any case, Hermann and Fanny will attend to everything as for their own child, and you do not need to be the least bit concerned about it. Mendelssohn visited them in Leipzig, and will do everything for Jos. He may go himself, in order to direct the Philharmonic concerts. In that case, everything is taken care of. If he should be detained, he will provide him with all possible letters of introduction. I only ask that you not make any noise about it, as that could only hurt Jos. Mendelssohn also does not want you to allow the Pester Zeitung to gossip about it. All you would achieve would be that people would have to treat you as little children; it has not been an easy task, and is something I have long resisted. Very few people can boast such letters of introduction. God grant that they will bear fruit. What friends Jos. will have from them!

I beg you once again not to make Coburg’s letter into coffee house gossip.

On March 10th, Joseph was back in Berlin to play at another of Fanny Hensel’s Sonntags-Morgenmusiken. Among the six dozen or so Sunday musicales that Fanny had mounted over the years, this one was clearly out of the ordinary, as Fanny rather breathlessly revealed to her sister Rebecka:

Fanny Hensel to Rebecka Dirichlet: [v]

                                                                        Berlin, March 18, 1844

            We have been living the grand life here lately. […] Last Sunday we had, I think, the most brilliant Sunday-music that ever was, both as regards the music and the audience. When I tell you that we had twenty-two carriages in the court, and Liszt and eight princesses in the room, you will dispense with my describing the splendors of my cottage; but I will give you my program: quintet by Hummel, mit der Finger leicht Getummel [2] duet from Fidelio, variations by David, played by that magnificent little Joachim, who is no Wunderkind, but a most wonderous child [ein bewunderungswürdiges Kind], and also Sebastian’s [2] thick friend. Two songs, one of which, Eckert’s beautiful ‘Lass die Schmerzen dieser Erde,’ Felix and Mme. Decker performed by heart, with eminent success, as usual […]. Then came the Walpurgisnacht, which my public has been eagerly looking forward to for these four weeks, and which went off excellently. We had three rehearsals, which the singers enjoyed so much that they would have liked to have as many again. Felix was present at the last, and was very satisfied. I should have liked him to accompany, but that he decidedly refused; however, he played the overture with me, and helped me in the difficult parts, by putting in bits, now in the bass, now in the treble, so that it was a kind of improvised arrangement for four hands, which sounded very good.

After the guests had left Fanny’s matinée — and with the impressions of the day still fresh in his mind — Mendelssohn took it upon himself to compose a remarkable series of references for Joseph to carry with him to London together with those provided by his uncle Wilhelm. To his old friend Karl Klingemann, the Prussian atachée in London, he wrote:

Felix Mendelssohn to Karl Klingemann [vi]

                                                                        Berlin, March 10, 1844

 My Beloved Friend:

I wish to make you acquainted by these lines with a lad who, during the three-quarters of a year that I have known him, has become very dear to my heart, and who has gained my love and high esteem to a degree that I may say I have latterly experienced for very few. His name is Joseph Joachim, a boy of thirteen years of age, [4] from Pesth, in Hungary. He intends to pay a visit of some months to his uncle Figdor, a London merchant.

I cannot say enough to you of his truly wonderful talent for the violin. You must first, however, hear him yourself, and the manner in which he can play all possible solos, both of the past and the present, and decipher and interpret every kind of music, in order to place him as high as I do, and to anticipate the glorious results which must accrue to art through him.

He is, moreover, sound at heart, an admirable, well-educated, thoroughly genuine, shrewd lad, of great good sense, and the strictest integrity. Be kind, therefore, to him; take some charge of him in great London, and present him to those of our acquaintances who know how to appreciate such glorious talent as his, and from whom he can in turn derive pleasure and improvement. I here allude principally to the Horsleys. Take him to Chorley’s, also, if you can, and, above all, remember that any kindness you show to him, you show also to me. [5] May we soon, God willing, have a happy meeting! When spring arrives, I hope also to come to you.

Your Felix

“Any kindness you show to him, you show also to me” — Klingemann would surely hear in Mendelssohn’s words an echo of Matthew 25:40. Joseph departed for London the next week, crossing the Channel on the 22nd.


Etude for one violin, or Canon for 2 violins
to Joseph Joachim for friendly remembrance
Berlin, 11 March 1844
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Joseph Joachim to Felix Mendelssohn [vii]

Revered Herr Doctor,

You asked me, when I was visiting in Berlin, to notify you of the day of my departure for London; completely against my expectations, and contrary to the original plan, it must be moved up by several days, since the steamboat from Ostende departs on Friday. I regret that that makes it impossible for me still to receive your instructions here in Leipzig; I would, however, count myself lucky if you were to give me the opportunity to serve you in some manner, and thereby to demonstrate my most thankful devotion, that I may remain with greatest esteem,

Yours truly,
Joseph Joachim

Please commend me to your dear family. Greetings from my cousin. [6]

Leipzig, 17 March [1844]

My address in London is: B. Figdor for Jos. Joachim.

Hermann Wittgenstein to Felix Mendelssohn [viii]

Et[ernally] Highborn,

Allow me most respectfully to report that your protégé Joseph arrived safely in London on the 23rd. He wrote me a quarter of an hour before the post departed, and said only that he had had a splendid trip there from Ostende. May yours be the same!

Et Highborn,
Your equally thankful as respectful
H. Wittgenstein

Leipzig 31/3 44.

Next Post in Series: London, 1844

[1] “Laut Kundmachung vom 11. December 1841 für das Jahr 1842.” [Hof- und Staats-schematismus des österreichischen Kaiserthumes, Wien: k. k. Hof- und Staats-Aerarial-Druckerey, 1842, p. 639.]

[2] “Which trips easily off the fingers.”

[3] Fanny’s son, Sebastian Hensel (1830-1898)

[4] Mendelssohn here overstates Joachim’s age, and may have been using a traditional way of reckoning age, in which a newborn starts at one. Joseph was still only 12.

[5] “Was Du ihm Gutes thust, das thust Du auch mir.”

[6] Fanny Wittgenstein.

[i] Wittgenstein/FAMILIENERINNERUNGEN, pp. 13-14.

[ii] British Library BL, family corresp., Add. MS 42718, p. 1

[iii] Wittgenstein/FAMILIENERINNERUNGEN, p. 3. Wilhelm received the right of citizenship in the city of Vienna, and was for many years the financial advisor of the Viennese community. Hermine quotes his obituary: “Wilhelm Figdor was elected in 1861 to the Vienna city council, and he served continuously until 1876. The large commercial transactions that he carried out as head of his company gave him such an abundance of great viewpoints, especially in financial matters, that for many years he was also able to make excellent use of them regarding the financial concerns of the municipality. Therefore, his vote in matters of finance was in most cases of decisive impact, and in this connection he was accorded high regard around the town.” [Wittgenstein/FAMILIENERINNERUNGEN, p. 4.]

[iv] British Library BL, family corresp., Add. MS 42718, p. 196.

[v] Hensel/MENDELSSOHN II, p. 260-261.

[vi] Polko/MENDELSSOHN, p. 131. The same letter, with slight variations is in Moser/JOACHIM 1901, p. 54, and MT/JOACHIM, p. 226.

[vii] Bodleian Library, Mendelssohn Greenbooks XIX d. 45, fol. 159, fol. 182a, fol. 182 b, fol. 182c, fol. 197.

[viii] Bodleian Library, Mendelssohn Greenbooks XIX d. 45, fol. 159, fol. 182a, fol. 182 b, fol. 182c, fol. 197.