© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013


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Each Moment has its sickle, emulous
Of Time’s enormous scythe, whose ample sweep
Strikes empires from the root: each Moment plays
His little weapon in the narrower sphere
Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.

                                    — Edward Young, Night Thoughts, Night I. (1742)

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The hallway in the Mendelssohn home. The small bedroom in which Mendelssohn died is at the end of the hall on the right.

            On November 3rd, word reached friends that Mendelssohn was in dire condition. Recalling the event, Ferdinand David wrote to Sterndale Bennett: “Never shall I forget Gade’s coming to me at the Conservatorium and telling me that Mendelssohn had another attack and that it was a question of life and death. I ran out at once and was met with the tidings that there was no hope. It was quite a quarter of an hour before I was calm enough to go in to him. I found him unconscious (this was Wednesday evening) and his shrieks, which lasted until 10 o’clock, were terrible. Then he began to hum and to drum as if music were passing through his head and, when he became exhausted by it, he started giving fearful screams and continued to do so throughout the night. In the course of the following day the pains seem to have abated, but his face was that of a dying man.” [i]

On the morning of November 4, as Mendelssohn lay dying, Ignaz Moscheles sat in his friend’s house, and committed his meditations to paper:

Mother Nature, art thou demanding thy rights? Angels who dwell in the heavenly spheres, do you wish to reclaim your brother whom you consider as your own, and whom you deem to be too noble to keep company with us ordinary mortals? We still possess him, we still cling to him, and we hope that by God’s gracious mercy he will be able to dwell longer among us; he who has always enlightened our lives as an example to us of all that is noble and all that is beautiful. Only Thou, O Creator, knowest why it is. Thou hast poured into this soul treasures of the spirit and the mind which the tender shell of his body can bear for only a limited time, and these same treasures are now threatening to shorten his very existence. May we plead to thee as a fellow brother? Thou hast achieved such a marvelous creation in him. Thou hast shown us how man can be raised towards thee and how he can even approach thee. No man has come closer to thee than this man for whom we now stand in fear and trembling. We beseech thee to allow him to enjoy his earthly rewards, to enjoy the love of his chosen companion, the development of his children, the bonds of friendship and the adoration of the world. [ii]

The deathwatch continued into the evening. Hedwig Salomon wrote: “After dinner, Madame David invited me to go to her, where we all wanted to gather to hear news. I went. Oh, how strange it was. Davids, Constanze [Schleinitz], Gade and Joachim sat around in the parlor; Schleinitz slept nearby. No one dared to speak a word: we were all as though paralyzed. Occasionally the children would shout, and then look around frightened, as though they had done something bad. The concert was called off: David, Gade wouldn’t have it. Schleinitz and David wanted to take turns waking, and to rest at Gade’s. [1] We sent them pillows. — […] I didn’t want to go with the men, and pretended to go my way. But Gade turned around, saw that I was following him, and asked what sort of maneuver that was. “I didn’t want to go with you” — I answered. “Ih — why not?” he said, so idiosyncratically, — went to me and complained that the others were walking so quickly. I asked him to take care of Schleinitz — I felt so sorry for him. — ‘I have two sofas: it will work.’ — Joachim looked repeatedly around after us. ‘We are going too fast for you, aren’t we?’ he said. ‘Don’t worry,’ I answered. ‘I’m going off here,’ and with that I turned into the Barfußpförtchen, because it was a bit too bold for me to walk alone with Gade through the city at dusk.” [iii]

As they awaited the arrival of his sister Rebekkah and several other close friends, Mendelssohn’s breathing became slow and labored. “The doctors counted [his breaths] as if they were hoping to be able to enrich scientific research with new discoveries,” wrote Moscheles. “His features were transfigured; Cécile knelt by his bed and burst into tears. Paul Mendelssohn, David, Schleinitz and I stood round the bed in deathly silence, immersed in prayer. With every breath that was wrested from him, I could feel the struggle of his great spirit, wanting to free itself from its earthly shell. I had often heard his breathing while admiring his performing, as if he were riding heavenwards on Pegasus, and now these same sounds had to ring out, announcing this terrible end… At 24 minutes past nine, with one last deep sigh, he exhaled his great soul from his body.” [iv]

Mendelssohn was thirty-eight years old.

Mendelssohn Deathbed

Image: Eduard Bendemann

(NY Public Library)

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Joseph Joachim to his parents [v]

                                                                        [Leipzig, November 5, 1847]

Dear, dear, good parents!

Prepare yourselves to hear from me something unspeakably terrible and sad. God Almighty yesterday afflicted me for the first time with a great misfortune; all my joys, all my hopes, everything, everything has been ruined since yesterday at 9 o’clock — Mendelssohn is dead! A world of sorrow lies in these three words; unfortunately, they are only too true. — Dead! dead! dead! — it is impossible for me to think of anything else, or to listen to even one note of music. Mendelssohn had been unwell for some time; 8 days ago he had a relapse, and he suffered a small stroke; nevertheless, the entire time we had the best hopes, until the day before yesterday, Wednesday, at two o’clock, when he had another, very violent attack, and things became more and more alarming. Yesterday evening the rattling in his throat began, and his strength gradually failed him, so that at a few minutes after nine o’clock he passed over into a more beautiful world, calmly as only an angel could do.

The thoughts of you and other dear ones in Pest is the only thing that keeps me up. But I am very unhappy, and will never be cheerful again. You can easily imagine, my dear parents, how much good a few lines from you would do me, and I fervently hope that I shall soon see your dear handwriting. —

Your disconsolate

Joseph.

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I hold you as a thing enskied and sainted.

— Shakespeare, Measure for Measure 1. 4. 34

            Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote unforgettably about the permanence of misfortune’s impress: “Did you ever happen to see that most soft-spoken and velvet-handed steam-engine at the Mint? The smooth piston slides backward and forward as a lady might slip her delicate finger in and out of a ring. The engine lays one of its fingers calmly, but firmly, upon a bit of metal; it is a coin now, and will remember that touch, and tell a new race about it, when the date upon it is crusted over with twenty centuries. So it is that a great silent-moving misery puts a new stamp upon us in an hour or a moment, — as sharp an impression as if it had taken half a lifetime to engrave it.” [vi] So it was that the finger of anguish reached out and touched an entire community, leaving behind a myriad coinage, ineffaceably minted with the date in November, 1847 when they first learned of Mendelssohn’s death.

Hedwig Salomon in her diary:

                                                                        November 8, 1847

As I wrote that, he was dead. I shall never forget the 5th of November. Schleinitz came to me to write a letter concerning Mendelssohn. He told me everything — but how! His voice quavered so that he often had to stop speaking. He constantly fought back tears, and it is so unsettling to see a man cry! “Oh, it is a misery! he said, I am not miserable for Mendelssohn, he is with God, but his wife, and we! Oh, this woman, this woman! She kneeled by his bed like a saint, kissed him on the forehead calmly and without complaint, and received his last breath. And when no one else came, she listened a while, and lay down on his bed and with childlike piety looked him in the face. Then she folded her hands. It was so quiet in the room, where so many people stood! This death was like a worship service, an edification. [Erbauung] She allowed us to take her quietly from the room, she wept only when she was outside and asked: “Is it truly all over?” — She said to me: “You won’t leave me, will you? Oh, I am very unhappy!” — I closed my friend’s eyes, he has had a beautiful death, God sent him an angel, who helped him die. Oh, this submission to God! This calm! She shames us all. “This morning I awoke early,” she said. “Oh, now I am alone!” You will meet him again, I said. “He is already with me,” she answered, “otherwise I could not bear it.” She went to her five children with the words: “Now, dear children, you must obey me alone. Your father is dead.” She wept seldom, but she is crestfallen for life.”

So, more or less, Schleinitz related it to me. It sounds cold as I have written it, but the way he told it to me it completely broke my heart. I could not console him, just weep with him; and that, honestly, is what I did. Those days, when I met friends, we pressed each others’ hands and everyone had to cry.

On Thursday evening, as many people as room would allow stood and wept in Mendelsson’s house, on the stair, and in the courtyard. No one could think of anything else. I was often at Schleinitz’s, I could not stay home; I had a great desire to see Mendelssohn in death, but there was no one who would go with me to see him.

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The Courtyard of Mendelssohn’s Apartment Building

The Mendelssohns occupied the visible second floor.

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The Staircase to the Mendelssohn Apartment

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Inside the Mendelssohn Apartment

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Mendelssohn’s Study

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Cecile Mendelssohn’s Sitting Room

Robert Schumann in his diary:

Sunday, the 7th, mild day, like in Spring — Memories, overflowing, of Mendelssohn — …Great mass of people — the adorned casket — all his friends — Moscheles, Gade and I on the right, Hauptmann, David and Rietz on the left of the casket — in addition Joachim and many more behind — immense train — beautiful mourning-solemnity of the march in e minor from the 5th book of the Songs without Words, played along the way — two choirs in alternation— in the church the choir. [vii]

Mendelssohn's Funeral 

Mendelssohn’s Funeral Cortège [viii]

Moritz Hauptmann to Ludwig Spohr [ix]

Leipzig, November 16, 1847

Dear Herr Kapellmeister,

Eight days ago on Sunday, a very beautiful and dignified funeral was held for Mendelssohn, which was all the more fitting, since he was buried in Berlin and not here.  After the funeral procession had left the house on its way to the Paulinerkirche, with suitable music and a cortège that was longer than one can imagine, the adorned casket was positioned in the middle of the church, surrounded by candelabras, and a choir of 500, accompanied by organ and trombones, sang verses from the chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden; the eulogy followed, then the beautiful chorus from Paulus Sie wir preisen seelig, the Benediction, and finally the last chorus from the Bach passion. The orchestra was of a strength commensurate with the choir; the whole thing had the most beautiful, uplifting effect, and it was truly remarkable that it had all been brought together in barely two days. Remarkable, too, the order and calm of the procession, since such an enormous mass of people crowded in, following and looking on. The ceremony was over around 6 in the evening. The casket remained in the church, and at 10:00 o’clock in the evening was taken by a special train to Berlin; it was received in Cöthen by music director Lang — in Dessau by Dr Schneider — with Männerchor singing. Mendelssohn’s family will remain through this winter in Leipzig, then probably move to Frankfurt, where the mother of his wife lives.

Announcement Mendelssohn Death

Announcement of Mendelssohn’s death

Leipzig after Mendelssohn’s death was Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius. The musicians carried on as best they could, but they were dead at heart. Mendelssohn was indispensable — irreplaceable. Ferdinand Hiller wrote: “In the evening there was a concert at the Gewandhaus to his memory. ‘The saddest thing,’ says George Sand somewhere, ‘after the death of a beloved being, is the empty place at table.’ I had exactly the same feeling during the concert. There were the orchestra, the chorus, the audience, which for so many years had been inspired by Mendelssohn; they made their music and played and sang — and only a few days before they had followed his corpse to the church.” [x]

Mendelssohn Concert Program 1

Mendelssohn Program 2

Fifth Subscription Concert of the Leipzig Gewandhaus

Felix Mendelssohn in memoriam [xi]

11 November, 1847

Hedwig Salomon in her diary: [xii]

November 11, 1847

Today was the first concert after Mendelssohn’s death. It was very solemn — everyone dressed in mourning. This black-clothed throng looked indescribably serious. [Livia] Frege sang the song [Mendelssohn’s Nachtlied: Vergangen ist der lichte Tag[2] very, very sombrely, which gave one the chills. After so many years of silence, Schleinitz sang the solo in the motet; in this hour, and in this music, his wonderful voice was more moving than anything else.

I could not avoid the thought that Mendelssohn was listening today. Shouldn’t the spirits surround us here? — should their life be a slumber — no continuation of the earthly life? — I imagine that they see and hear everything as before, but they penetrate the causes of that which appears incomprehensible and painful to us here. Of all people, I cannot imagine Mendelssohn dead — not even temporarily asleep — for his spirit was so utterly compelling that he appeared to be made entirely of soul, entirely of spirit.

Whenever he entered a rehearsal or a performance, a new life flowed into everyone; his eyes sparkled, every motion was elastic, stimulating, and always and everywhere this noble command, this outward as well as inward nobility. And whoever had never seen him before would have recognized him at first sight as a great spirit among thousands. And how every feeling found direct and lively expression on his face! No greater joy than to see him listening to music, for instance in a quartet that he did not participate in playing. Every thought of the unfamiliar music could be read in his face. How heartily could he laugh! One could not hear three words from him without there being a significant, a stimulating one among them.

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Schumann likewise gathered his thoughts in his diary:

            His judgments in musical matters — especially on composition — the most trenchant imaginable, go straight to the innermost core. — He instantly and everywhere recognized flaws and their cause. —

He never kept diaries or anything of that sort, he told me. —

I always considered his praise the highest — he was the highest authority, the court of last appeal.

If he had unjustly offended anyone — spoken of someone adversely to a third party — he could not rest until he had made amends. His behavior toward other living composers… When he had nothing to praise, he said nothing; but where he unmistakably found talent, he was the first to say so (thus in the cases of Bennett, Gade and Rietz).

In 1836 when we were talking about aging composers, he said “how sad is the thought of creativity drying up” and added that he could not be reconciled to this thought. —

He was free of all the weaknesses of vanity. —

The exaltation of associating with him. Highest moral and artistic principles; for that reason intransigent, sometimes seemingly rude and unkind. —

He never remained in debt. If you said something good or significant to him, you could be certain of receiving it back twice and thrice over. —

On his relationship to Meyerbeer he said they had never suited each other; if one of them said “Good day” the other would surely have scented some ulterior motive. —

Self-crriticism, the strictest and most conscientious I have ever encountered in an artist. He changed some passages five and six times. (Especially the Elijah; his fine remark on that: “I think there are a few things I might do better.”) —

If all his intimate friends had been writers, each would have had something extraordinary and something different to record; each would have whole volumes to write about him. —

It was as if every day he had been born anew. —

Did he feel that he had fulfilled his mission?

I think so. The trace of melancholia that is so frequently found in all his compositions after the Lobgesang. —

His face in death. He looked like a hierophant, like a warrior of God who had conquered. — 6th November 1847. [xiii]

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In England, the “musical world talked as if the sun had fallen from the sky.” [xiv] Mendelssohn’s friend Sophy Horsley traveled to Leipzig to be with Cécile. Years later she wrote to Joachim: “In November 1847, when I was at Leipsic dearest Cécile M. B. spoke of the great love her Husband had borne you, of the high hopes he entertained for yr future career, adding ‘Poor boy, he has lost his best friend.’” [xv]

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For Joseph, the loss was crushing. “It seemed as if the world had ceased,” he later quietly recalled. [xviii] On the centenary of Joachim’s birth, Donald Francis Tovey commented: “Mendelssohn died when Joachim was only sixteen; and to the end of his life Joachim felt that this early loss had checked his development. Old age is enviable when it can thus retain the passionate loyalties of youth: but Joachim’s memories of Mendelssohn were not vague sentiments. He could tell us many definite things of Mendelssohn’s playing and conducting, of the spontaneity and truth of his rubato, of his touch in Beethoven’s C minor variations, and of his wonderful extempore cadenzas in classical concertos. These were the details of the artist; of the man one learnt from Joachim only what can never be put into words.” [xvi]

Cécile continued to treat Joseph with maternal kindness. Mendelssohn had been the first to conduct the Gewandhaus Orchestra with a baton. [3]  Of her husband’s five batons, she gave four to her children as a remembrance of their father. The fifth, she gave to Joseph.[xx] Later, on April 30, 1848, she presented Joseph with the manuscript of Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F minor, Op. 4. [xix]

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Reacting to the news of Mendelssohn’s death, Joseph’s father urged him to return home to Pest. Joseph, however, wrote to his physician brother-in-law, Dr. Rechnitz:

 

Joseph Joachim to Dr. Johann Rechnitz [xx]

Leipzig, 18 November 1847

Dear, good Rechnitz,

If one can be comforted by anything for such an enormous, bitter loss as has recently befallen me, it is only by such a loving and sincere compassion as you, my dear brother, have shown for my misfortune. Your letter has done me so infinitely much good, and is such a welcome new sign of your solicitous care for me, that I cannot express the thanks that I owe to you with my lifeless pen. Simply be assured that my heart rings with the most heartfelt, most childlike love for you, my brotherly brother, and I shall never forget, thou splendid doctor, how you have dropped the most curative balsam on my ailing soul. It has been the first great sorrow in my life — nevertheless! The only thing that one can do is to learn to accept it, in obedience to God. Man is so shortsighted and tiny, that he must not dare to grumble against mighty fate, since he cannot understand why the Allgracious may have sent it. —

Leipzig, which, as long as Mendelssohn was there seemed to me a paradise, has now lost its magic charm for me. — nevertheless! (It might perhaps astonish you) My dear father’s suggestion is something with which I am — not in agreement. When I received his treasured letter yesterday, I was greatly taken with the thought of once again belonging to you, my dear ones, and immediately made all kinds of plans about it; about my journey, etc. I have already gone so long without the great delight of seeing you all that in the beginning I could hardly give in to any other thought than the joy of it. But as little by little I calmed down, and began quietly and seriously to mull it over, I had unfortunately to admit that it would not agree well with my artistic development, and duty must take precedence over that ever-so-great satisfaction. — It is absolutely necessary for my reputation, my independence and also for my purse that I go next spring to England, as my best friends there expect. To this end, I plan to spend the few months that remain early next year to write a few pieces—this is absolutely necessary. Since there only remains until the end of February or the beginning of March, I would like to spend as much time as possible on it, and if I go to Pesth, I will lose much time with the trip back and forth, and I would barely be able to spend 2 1/2 months with all of you, irrespective of the fact that I would have not a single musical advisor there whose inspiration would assist me in my compositional work. — Also, as concerns my other studies, literature and Latin for example, I would hardly have such a dear friend and teacher as [I do] here, who is of such value to me, and with whom I am, so to speak, settled in, and who takes such pains for my education as a human being; and to be uprooted from here would certainly not be good for me. What’s more, I don’t believe that I, who have been spoiled by the good fortune of having the musical companionship of people like Hauptmann, Gade, Mendelssohn, could get used to keeping company with people like Hunyady, Kohn, etc., [4] and if I could, I would certainly hold it to be an intellectual/spiritual step backwards, as you undoubtedly would also, dear Rechnitz. May I therefore trouble you with the request to tell me as soon as possible whether my motives appear right, for the advice of such a well-meaning, dear friend would be of the greatest value and service to me. — Also, I ask you to present and explain to my dear father and good mother my reasons which cause me not to spend this Winter in Pesth, since, coming from your eloquent mouth they will surely have genuine power and weight for them. Perhaps it will work out next year, when I hope to be more musically and intellectually developed, that I will fully come to Pesth; for I am sensible of how wholesome and beneficial it would be for me once again to live fully for those that I call my own. — Unfortunately, the post-hour strikes, and I must cease my conversation with you, my fatherly, much admired friend. Greet and kiss your loved ones. I thank your dear Hanni for her affectionate good wishes, which I return with all my heart. I will write to my dear parents soon, since today I can only still send filial and sincere wishes for their well-being, which is so precious to us.

From my entire soul,

your

Joseph Joachim

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This letter is stunning to look at. Carefully copied and darkly lettered, the writing is a nearly perfect imitation of Felix Mendelssohn’s hand — the word “Mendelssohn” an exact replica of Mendelsson’s signature.Joseph’s early childhood letters are written in a tiny, clear, copybook script. Between 1844 and 1847, the writing evolves, gradually becoming less cautious and tidy. Joachim’s handwriting would continue to change over the course of his life — but from the time of his beloved mentor’s death, it would always retain a clear vestige of, and sometimes a striking resemblance to, that of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. [xxi]

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Joseph Joachim to his brother Heinrich in Vienna [xxii]

Leipzig, 19 November 1847

For such a kind, consoling letter I owe you a debt of thanks that I repay with my whole heart. It is indeed a good fortune that God in his benevolence has granted me such dear, good souls, whose sympathy comforts me so well, and whose love for me I learn more and more to recognize and to value.  Here, everything that concerns music is now so desolate and empty, since the exalted spirit who was her guardian is departed from us. His works, which I study eagerly, are my most beautiful consolation, and I linger with heartfelt delight over them, to which I already owe so many transported hours. Whenever I go to the piano and play for myself a particularly beautiful passage in which his noble soul is so fully reproduced, it brings a rapture of melancholy such as I am incapable of describing in words.

In any case, I plan to stay here throughout the winter, and to write a few compositions for myself for next Spring (in London)… Just now the mailman has brought me a letter from dear Mother, in which she invites me to Pesth; this after dear Father wrote me the same thing the day before yesterday. As great as my desire is, and as firmly as I had already decided to travel there, in the end I had to tell myself, after I had thought it over more calmly, that it cannot be well reconciled with my artistic development, and so reluctantly decide not to leave here for now, since I don’t know a single person there with whom musical relations could be anything but a disadvantage for me. It is only good that I had the courage to write to dear Rechnitz yesterday that I wasn’t going, for I believe that after the loving letter of our good Mother today, the ardent longing to see my own, whose loving gaze I have missed for so long, would have won. Aren’t you going soon to Pesth? If only I could be so close to my own!…

Your,

Joseph Joachim.

[On the end of this letter, not published in BRIEFE, but present in the holograph,  Brahms Institut Lübeck, 1991.2.47.4:

Es befremdet mich, dass ich von den lieben Wienern nichts direct hörte, da sie doch wissen, ein wie grosses Unglück mich betroffen hat. Ich weiss, dass ich es nicht für Theilnahmslosigkeit halten soll; es will mir beinahe so scheinen, als sollte es Rache sein, für mein Stillschweigen, welche ich aber in diesem Falle nicht für edel halte.  — Warst du bei der Aufführung des Elias zugegen? Es würde mir ausserordentlich lieb sein, wenn ich darüber etwas Näheres hören koennte. Dürfte ich dich denn, lieber Bruder, darum bitten? Ich würde dir sehr dankbar dafür sein, u. du kannst dir ja denken wie sehr es mich interessiert. — Grüsse mir alle unsere lieben Verwandten recht herzlich, und verzeihe mir mein oftes Ausstreichen. Ich habe einen Hass, gegen das Abschreiben der Briefe. Diess hätte ich mit enem grossen Mann gemein (Jean Paul) — freilich: quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi; aber ich weiss ja, wie gerne du vergiebst, Guter, und darum hoffe ich es auch für mich, der ich mit innigster Liebe bin

Dein Joseph Joachim]

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“Mendelssohns musical influence was probably the most far-reaching of any that affected him,” Georg Fischer wrote of Joachim in 1903; “under [Mendelssohn’s] example he had the good fortune to develop deliberately, and it was also to him that he owed his harmonious development as a person.” [xxiii]

Joseph would stay on for several years in the city that had “now lost all its magic charm” for him. Continuing forward would require that he face significant challenges and make difficult adjustments.


[1] Gade lived near Mendelssohn at Königstrasse 16.

[2] The song by Mendelssohn, with words by Eichendorff:

Vergangen ist der lichte Tag;
Von ferne kommt der Glocken Schlag;
So reist die Zeit die ganze Nacht,
Nimmt Manchen mit der’s nicht gedacht.
Wo ist nun hin die bunte Lust,
Des Freundes Trost und treue Brust,
Der Liebsten süsser Augenschein? —
Will Keiner mit mir munter sein? —
Frisch auf denn, liebe Nachtigall,
Du Wasserfall mit hellem Schall
Gott loben wollen wir vereint,
Bis dass der lichte Morgen scheint.
_____

Gone is the bright day,
From afar the church bells sound;
So, time journeys all night long,
Taking with it many an unsuspecting man.
Where has my colorful pleasure gone,
My friend’s consolation and true heart,
The sweet, bright eyes of my darling girl? —
Will no one be joyful with me? —
Take heart, then, dear nightingale,
You waterfall with your bright sound,
We will praise God together
Until the bright morning shines.

[This song — “Gone is the Bright Day” — is the song Mendelssohn was playing with Livia Frege when he suffered his first attack]

[3] Mendelssohn was among the second generation of conductors in the modern sense, and should be counted among the inventors of the conductor’s art. Among the first generation of conductors, the baton was a novelty. Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) conducted using a rolled-up sheet of paper. Richard Wagner described how Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851) used a heavy baton made of ebony with white ivory knobs at the ends: “He did not hold it, like other conductors, at the end, but rather clasped it in the middle with his full fist and moved it in such a way that one could clearly see he considered the device as a marshal’s baton, using it not to beat time, but to command.”  [Richard Wagner: My Life, (Andrew Gray, tr., Mary Whittall, ed.) New York: Da Capo Press, 1992. p. 280.] Louis Spohr (1784-1859) claimed to have introduced the art of conducting with a baton to England during a guest appearance with the London Philharmonic in 1820. “It was at that time still the custom there that when symphonies and overtures were performed, the pianist had the score before him, not exactly to conduct from it, but only to read after and to play in with the orchestra at pleasure, which when it was heard, had a very bad effect. The real conductor was the first violin, who gave the tempi, and now and then when the orchestra began to falter gave the beat with the bow of his violin. So numerous an orchestra, standing so far apart from each other as that of the Philharmonic, could not possibly go exactly together, and in spite of the excellence of the individual members, the ensemble was much worse than we are accustomed to in Germany. I had therefore resolved when my turn came to direct, to make an attempt to remedy this defective system…. I … took my stand with the score at a separate music desk in front of the orchestra, drew my directing baton from my coat pocket and gave the signal to begin. Quite alarmed at such a novel procedure, some of the directors would have protested against it; but when I besought them to grant me at least one trial, they became pacified….[With the baton, I] could not only give the tempi in a very decisive manner, but indicated also to the wind instruments and horns all their entries, which ensured to them a confidence such as hitherto they had not known there. I also took the liberty, when the execution did not satisfy me, to stop, and in a very polite but earnest manner to remark upon the manner of execution… Incited thereby to more than usual attention, and I conducted with certainty by the visible manner of giving the time, they played with a spirit and a correctness such as till then they had never been heard to play with. Surprised and inspired by this result the orchestra immediately after the first part of the symphony, expressed aloud its collective assent to the new mode of conducting, and thereby overruled all further opposition on the part of the directors. It is true, the audience were at first startled by the novelty, and were seen whispering together; but when the music began and the orchestra executed the well-known symphony with unusual power and precision, the general approbation was shown immediately on the conclusion of the first part by a long-sustained clapping of hands. The triumph of the baton as time-giver was decisive, and no one was seen any more seated at the piano during the performance of symphonies and overtures.” [Louis Spohr: Louis Spohr’s Autobiography, London: Reeves & Turner, 1878, pp. 81-82.]

[4] See Edmund Singer’s memoir. (Ridley Kohne; also Hunyady)


[i] Music & Letters, Vol. 36, No. 4 (October, 1955) p. 375.

[ii] Smidak/MOSCHELES, pp. 162-163.

[iii] Holstein/GLÜCKLICHE, pp. 66-67.

[iv] Smidak/MOSCHELES, p. 163.

[v] Author’s translation based on German text in Reich/BETH EL, p. 67, amended from the English quoted from the Jewish Chronicle and Hebrew Observer in The South Australian Advertiser, Monday, October 31 1859, p. 3.

[vi] Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table: Every Man his own Boswell, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894, p. 38.

[vii] Litzmann/SCHUMANN II, p. 171.

[viii] Author’s collection.

[ix] Hauptmann/SPOHR, pp. 30-31. m.t.

[x] Hiller/MENDELSSOHN, p. 217.

[xi] This is in Creuzburg/GEWANDHAUS, opp. p. 82.

[xii] Holstein/GLÜCKLICHE, pp. 70-71.

[xiii] Jacob/MENDELSSOHN, pp. 105-106.

[xiv] Ernest Walker, quoted in Demuth/ANTHOLOGY, p. 212.

[xv] Sophie Horsley to Joseph Joachim, Kensington, March 17, 1889. Holograph in Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

[xvi] The Musical Times, Vol. 39, No. 662 (April 1, 1898), p. 226.

[xvii] Joachim/CENTENARY, p. 11.

[xviii] Moser/JOACHIM 1898 I, p. 65

[xix] See: Friedhelm Krummacher, Mendelssohn — der Komponist: Studien zur Kammermusik für Streicher, Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1978, p. 83.

[xx] British Library BL, family corresp., Add. MS 42718

[xxi] This relationship was noticed by Otto Gumprecht: “Bis in das Kleinste und Aeußerlichste spiegelte sich die Innigkeit dieses Verhältnisses wieder, z. B. auch in dem Umstande, daß die Handschrift Joachim’s eine überraschende Aehnlichkeit mit der des geliebten Meisters gewann.” Gumprecht/CHARAKTERBILDER, p. 267

[xxii] Joachim/BRIEFE I, pp. 8-9

[xxiii] Fischer/HANNOVER, p. 227.