© Robert W. Eshbach, 2013
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Vienna Again — and Pest
The New Year (1846) brought a trip to Vienna and Pest — Joseph’s first since his departure three years earlier. The visit was undertaken with earnest artistic and professional intentions, and reflects both the high esteem in which the young man was still held in Viennese musical circles, and the influence of Figdor wealth and connections. Joseph took with him three pieces that would become the cornerstones of his adult solo repertoire: the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concerti, and Bach’s Chaconne. “Approximately three or four years ago,” wrote Saphir’s Humorist, “the chubby-cheeked boy Joachim, a pupil of our excellent Böhm, drew unusual attention to himself with a few public appearances. In the meantime, he has undertaken serious and systematic studies, such as one can make under the auspices of a Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. That boy, now returned, is not yet grown to a youth, but has shot up into an artist.” [i]
Joseph’s first appearance was on December 28th, 1845 in the Theater an der Wien, in one of Saphir’s “Musical Academies and Humorous Readings,” for the benefit of the Institute for the Care of the Blind (Blinden-Versorgungs-Anstalt). Among the numerous performers were Ernst, and the pianist Alexander Dreyschock. Joseph played “a caprice by Ernst, whose great difficulties he conquered with unusual security, purity, and delicacy. He who has achieved such virtuosity at the age of 14 is prepared for the highest consecration of art.” [ii]
Jetty Treffz [iii]
On Sunday, January 11th, Joseph gave a well-attended noonday concert in the 700-seat hall of the Musikverein, Unter den Tuchlauben, performing the Beethoven and Bach, and David’s Variations on a Russian Theme. The Imperial and Royal Court Opera Orchestra was engaged to accompany, under Georg Hellmesberger’s direction. The concert began with Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer-night’s Dream. Joseph’s violin solos were interspersed with a French romance, and songs by F. W. Kücken and Josef Netzer, performed by the popular mezzo-soprano Henriette “Jetty” Treffz, then the mistress of the wealthy, cultured, Jewish banker Moritz Todesco (for confessional reasons they could not marry), and later the wife of Johann Strauss II. [iv]
The serious nature of the program, typical for Leipzig, but unusual for a Viennese virtuoso soirée, drew immediate notice from Frankl’s Sonntagsblätter: “This Joachim must be a genuine artistic talent — otherwise he would not begin his concertizing here with Beethoven and Bach; other concert-givers do not customarily angle for audiences with such compositions.” Quoting Horace’s dictum: “Pore over your Greek models day and night,” the reviewer praised the program as an antidote to the insipid nature of the customary virtuoso fare: “With the great levelling of contemporary concert music, it is most advisable to take a step backward in order to move forward. Returning to Bach and those of like mind might somewhat cleanse the tainted blood of our concert-music composers, and improve what has come to be our inane taste.” [v] Der Humorist, reacted similarly: “It is so satisfying, in this difficult, needy age of bravoura, to see a talent emerge, that has been led on the path of the worthy, dignified and poetic in art; that feels at home there, and promises to remain. […] We can already see from the program of the concert he gave in the hall of the Verein on the 11th that Joachim is a violin player who does not pursue the same path as the others. His main offerings consisted of the concerto of Beethoven, the most precious gem that the violin repertoire possesses, and a ‘Ciaconna’ by Joh. Seb. Bach. — A violin piece by Bach? Has the concert-going public ever heard one here — have they heard one played by a concert giver? Most people must have thought to themselves: “that looks curious!” Oh, rococo! Classical, but not brilliant; we won’t find guitar plucking on the violin, and flute blowing with the bow, in that — no pizzicatos and no harmonics. — Certainly nothing of that, but nevertheless Classical, and truly Classical, this ‘Ciaconna’ is nevertheless as brilliant as any solo piece that has been written for the violin; and not only are there few such magnificent, wonderfully-constructed violin pieces as this fugue [sic], but there are also few players who can perform them with such roundedness, such spirit, such power and stamina, in short, in such an excellent manner as our young artist, who, alone through the magnificent performance of this piece stands in the first rank of contemporary violinists.”
The reviewer went on to praise Joseph’s “beautiful, pithy, masculine tone,” which demonstrated “not only the singing, but also the strongly intellectual-spiritual element. His left hand easily encompasses the most difficult configurations with power and dexterity, and the fullness and beauty of his trills is remarkable. To this is added […] a noble, adroit and firm bow arm, which demonstrates proficiency and security in all bowing styles.” [vi]
Der Wanderer reported that “Herr Ernst was an attentive listener until he had to go to the Redoutensaal, in order to let his talent sparkle there.” [vii]
Joseph’s second Viennese concert, on Saturday, February 28, was less well attended than the first: Liszt was in town, and commanded the 12:30 Sunday time in the Musikvereinssaal, so Joseph had to present his concert at nine thirty the previous evening — an unusual time, as most Viennese concerts occurred at mid-day. For this appearance, Mendelssohn had entrusted Joseph with the important Viennese premiere of his Violin Concerto in E Minor, which David had brought to life in the Gewandhaus a year earlier. The rest of his program consisted of a perhaps different set of variations by David (“on an original theme”), and a reprise of the Bach Chaconne. He was assisted in this concert by the popular alto Betti Bury who sang songs by Nicolai and Dessauer, and “Herr Wieselmann,” who “shrieked” an aria from Rossini’s Othello. The Imperial and Royal Court Opera Orchestra, under Hellmesberger’s direction, performed Mozart’s Titus Overture, and accompanied the concerto and aria.
Home in Pesth, Joseph saw the appearance of his first published work: a setting in G Major for soprano and piano of Goethe’s Haidenröslein. The song, with the text in Hungarian translation below the original German, was published by the otherwise obscure “Verlag des Ungar” — the “Hungarian Press” — and may have been a private printing.
It is an effort worthy of Cherubino. The simple, folk-like, “Deck the Halls” tune, which appears at first in classic horn thirds, fifth and sixth, feints immediately to e and a minor, and is soon buried under an overwrought, dissonance-laden 16th-note accompaniment more descriptive of the trials of Clytemnestra than the fate of a poor little heath-rose. The three verses are set in ABA’ form, the B section in mournful e minor, concluding with proto-Mahlerian Gypsy-minor sighs in the piano part, and transitioning to the reprise through a minor version of the horn call theme. The song ends as it began — with horns. A good boy, the composer’s sympathies were all with the rose, and not with the lad.
M. G. Saphir (ed.), Der Humorist, Vol. 10, No. 11 (Tuesday, January 13, 1846), pp. 42-43.
Ferdinand Ritter von Seyfried (ed.), Der Wanderer im Gebiete der Kunst und Wissenschaft, Industrie und Gewerbe, Theater und Geselligkeit, Vol. 33, No. 11 (January 13, 1846), p. 44.
Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode, Vol. 31, No. 12 (January 16, 1846), p. 48
Ludwig August Frankl (ed.), Sonntagsblätter, Vol. 5, No. 3 (18 January, 1846) p. 59-60.
Ferdinand Ritter von Seyfried (ed.), Der Wanderer im Gebiete der Kunst und Wissenschaft, Industrie und Gewerbe, Theater und Geselligkeit, Vol. 33, No. 53 (March 3, 1846), pp. 211-212.
M. G. Saphir (ed.), Der Humorist, Vol. 10, No. 53 (March 3, 1846), p. 215.
G. Ritter von Franck (ed.), Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode, Vol. 31, No. 45 (March 3, 1846)
Ludwig August Frankl (ed.), Sonntagsblätter, Vol. 5, No. 10 (March 8, 1846), p. 236.
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[i] M. G. Saphir (ed.) Der Humorist, Vol. 10, No. 11 (January 13, 1846), p. 43.
[ii] Die Gegenwart. Politisch-literarisches Tagblatt, Vol. 1, No. 73 (December 30, 1845), p. 350.
[iii] Wikimedia Commons
[iv] The presence of Jetty Treffz on Joseph’s program, together with the venue and the accompanying court orchestra, strongly implies the continuing influence, financial support, and social connections of Joseph’s uncle Wilhelm Figdor. Moritz Todesco’s father, Hermann, had been born in 1791 in Pressburg. His large fortune was based in textiles: flax, cotton and silk. When Hermann died in 1844, his estate was valued at circa twelve million guilders. Hermann’s sons, Eduard and Moritz, were partners in the family banking and wholesale company doing business as “Hermann Todesco’s Sons.” Moritz, a music lover, later built an impressive, five-story in-town palais (designed by Theofil Hansen, who also designed the building of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde) on Vienna’s Kärntnerstrasse, opposite the opera house. The Todescos were eventually allied in business with the Miller zu Aichholz family. See: Jill Lloyd, The Undiscovered Expressionist. A Life of Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, Chapter I, Family Portrait.
Palais Todesco, Vienna
[v] Ludwig August Frankl (ed.), Sonntagsblätter, Vol. 5, No. 3, (January 18, 1846), pp. 59-60.
[vi] M. G. Saphir (ed.) Der Humorist, Vol. 10, No. 11 (January 13, 1846), p. 43.
[vii] Ferdinand Ritter von Seyfried (ed.), Der Wanderer im Gebiete der Kunst und Wissenschaft, Industrie und Gewerbe, Theater und Geselligkeit, Vol. 33, No. 11 (January 13, 1846), p. 44.