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Marion Bruce Ranken on Joachim and Wagner

 M[arion]. [Bruce] R[anken]., Some Points of Violin Playing and Musical Performance as learnt in the Hochschule für Musik (Joachim School) in Berlin during the time I was a Student there, 1902-1909, Edinburgh: Privately Printed, 1939, pp. 73-75 n.

[…] had I not […] on arrival in Berlin had the inspiring experience of the Bayreuth festival already behind me, I should inevitably, in my ignorance, have concluded that the Wagner tendency in art was something that ran violently counter to all the fine things one met with in the Joachim environment, and especially to that spiritual attitude in Joachim’s own noble style of performance. That in fact the Joachim tradition and point of view formed a sort of bulwark against the flashy cheapness, flamboyance, striving after effect and “unclassical” bad taste which was assumed, apparently, to be the hall-mark of the “Wagnerite” attitude.

Yet to prove to oneself the utter falsity of this assumption it is only necessary to read Wagner’s own criticism of and advice to operatic singers and conductors, together with the accounts by others of the uncompromisingly exacting demands he made on those of them who came under his training to call to mind the stern, life-long struggle he waged not only against convention and the deadening force of habit in art, but against all the prevalent impurities, artificialities, and mannerisms of the operatic style in general, and his never-ending striving after simplicity, positive purity and natural spontaneity in performance.

In fact his aims seem to have been so essentially the same as those which Joachim himself, in a more restricted sphere, was striving after that one cannot doubt that through his connection as a young man in Weimar with Liszt, who introduced him personally to Wagner, Joachim must not only have known of but must have been powerfully influenced by this essential feature in the Wagner movement.

It is a melancholy thought, therefore, that the anti-Wagnerian blight which one suffered from in Berlin might never have arisen at all considering that the purely artistic differences which may have existed between Wagner and Joachim were not enough in themselves or of a nature to have produced it, had there not been besides these differences, and springing, it would seem, mainly out of the unhappy Jewish controversy, a personal animosity against Wagner on Joachim’s side.

There are people who complain of the propaganda which, they say, was carried on in the cause of Wagner.

After a fairly extensive reading of Wagner literature I have… failed to discover anything of the sort. In Wagner’s own writings one finds a passionate conviction of the rightness of his cause and of his mission which sweeps all before it. In those of his followers there is this same conviction combined with a devotion to their leader which often rises to the heights of adoration. But the patent sincerity of all this, to my mind, completely saves it from the stigma of the term “propaganda” which always implies a large alloy of insincerity.

With regret, on the other hand, I am obliged to record my own impression that the hostility to Wagner which I noticed in Berlin was not innocent of that stigma.

All the more do I say it because this hostility was seldom violently or even explicitly stated and when not merely implied tacitly by a shrug of the shoulder or else a look of superiority it was generally expressed with a peculiarly unpleasant brand of acid restraint that seemed to imply much more than was actually said and to leave the worst, as it were, in the vague, only hinted at, and this is the manner of all others best calculated to excite and influence the minds of young and ignorant people.

Altogether it is sad to think that a great artist like Joachim should have stood aside and caused many others to do likewise instead of taking part in what was probably one of the greatest vitalising movements in art which has ever taken place.

…it is my belief now as it was in those days that the anti-Wagnerianism in the Joachim entourage sounded a false note which was apt to lead to misconceptions not only as to the artistic tendency of Wagner but also, amongst those who did not know very much about him — as to those of Joachim himself.

For Joachim was not “academic” any more than Wagner was “unclassical.” Both showed intense interest in the style of performing great music, and both had, it seems to me, essentially the same aim, i. e.  an imaginative, non-dry, non-mechanical style of playing it.


Violinist Marion (Maria) Bruce Ranken (* September 9, 1884 in Arbroath, Scotland — † March 25, 1966) was the daughter of Hon. Frederick John Bruce and Katherine Fernie. She married Major Thomas Ranken in 1920. In her book, she claims that her “Hochschule instruction” included “six years of lessons with Karl Klingler who was for ten years, first as pupil and later as colleague, in close contact with Joachim himself — numerous chamber-music lessons with Arthur Williams, senior and most outstanding pupil of Hausmann, during the same period of six years, and finally, some years of orchestral playing and one summer of quartet lessons under Hausmann, cellist of the Joachim quartet. Also during four years I was constantly a listener at the Joachim quartet concerts and at the ‘General Proben’ (dress rehearsals) in the School Hall which always preceded these concerts.” [Ranken, p. 7] Marion Ranken had three brothers who likewise studied violin at the Hochschule: Charles (*February 23, 1883 — †September 18, 1958), James (*December 2, 1887 — †1917), and Lewis (*March 12, 1880 — †March 23, 1961).