Concerning Joseph Joachim, From Blackstick Papers, by Mrs. Richmond Ritchie (Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie)


Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919)

Daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray

Published: The Critic, Vol. 38 (January-June, 1901), pp. 344-349

Before life was experience — when it was curiosity, hope, speculation, all those desires with which existence begins — the writer was sent by her father to some musical meetings, which are now so long over that the very rooms in which they first originated do not exist any more. They were Willis’s Rooms, out of St. James’s Street. The Musical Union was the name given to the concerts, which were an admirable invention of Mr. Ella’s to try to raise the standard of music from certain shallow depths to which it seemed gradually to be sinking. There used to be an encouraging picture of a lyre on the programme, and a pretty little sentence — “Il più gran omaggio alla musica sta nel silenzio” — printed in colored letters at the end of it. This, alas! is not yet the universal opinion; promiscuous clap-trap applause and boisterous encores, often before the last notes have died away, being still in fashion.


The Ballroom, Willis’s Rooms

I believe the Musical Union eventually migrated to St. James’s Hall, but it was in Willis’s cool and stately halls, with the faded velvet seats, that the writer  for the first time heard those familiar and delightful strains of Joachim’s violin, which have so happily sounded on through the latter half of a century of change and perplexity, ever bringing truth and strength and tranquillity [sic] among them.



Thackeray’s House, No. 2 Palace Green

Currently the Embassy of Israel

Illustration by James S. Ogilvy, 1902

When the writer first personally knew Dr. Joachim, it was in her father’s house at Palace Green. She can remember seeing him coming in one rainy afternoon in springtime, and entering the long light-blue drawing-room. He was a young man then. He was carrying a rolled-up scroll — it was an original score of Beethoven’s which some one had just given him; he showed us the cramped, fierce writing, the angry-looking notes of those calm harmonies. I have never again seen a Beethoven MS.; but the remembrance is distinct of that one, as well as of Joachim’s talk of Beethoven himself, of his mighty self and his protesting nerves, and his impossible difficulties with housekeepers and maids-of-all-work. I have sometimes heard Joachim speak of Schumann with the gentlest affection and reverence, and then of Brahms, — above all of Brahms, and of his meeting with him, one of the greatest emotions of his life.

We had once the happy opportunity of hearing the Joachim quartet at Dresden. It seemed to me then, as now, that I had never heard music before, so beautiful, so exquisite did it sound in that dark, bare Gewandthaus [sic] by the Elbe. It may be a foolish fancy, but to the writer’s mind music never sounds so well as when there is flowing water within reach, whether it is best for those who listen by the Rhine at Bonn or by the Elbe at Dresden matters little; or shall we write of a Romance of Schumann’s, a Concerto of Mozart’s, that were sounding but a few days ago in an old Chelsea house? Joachim was not there, but it was his teaching and inspiration that called forth the harmony. One of his most faithful followers was at the piano; his friend and pupil, Mrs. Liddell, had brought her violin. To the writer, hurrying home afterwards with happy pulses, the very mists of winter seemed to bear the beautiful impression along with them, and the tides of the stream to repeat it.

But perhaps of all places the Hochschule at Berlin is the place we like best to remember Dr. Joachim, and to think of him in the midst of his young pupils, as they sit in serried rows in the concert room. It is a sight to satisfy the touched spectator, for so much that is personal goes into music that to watch the master gravely facing the pupils, and that vast young assembly eagerly attentive and following his guiding hand and glance, seems a revelation to the music itself. Many of the scholars are scarcely more than children, but they play as if they were men and women grown, and they answer in a moment to his sign. Some especial bar or cadence does not go rightly; he makes them repeat it again and again; suddenly, with a flash along the line, they understand correctly, and then the music goes on once more. It was Beethoven’s great concerto for the violin that they were playing when we were there. A few parents and friends sit listening, a daughter of Mendelssohn’s among them. As the countless bows sweep up and down, an up-springing wave of swelling sound seems to spread from one end to the other of the great hall. They young, serious musicians bring the movement triumphantly to its close; the master looks approving; then comes a moment’s pause. “Miss Lenora Jackson will play the solo,” he says, and a girl of sixteen, in a straw hat, with a long plait of hair, steps quickly forward, lays her straw hat upon a chair, tosses back her fair hair, and begins to play.

It was a child playing to the others, a child with perfect taste and sure handling; the young orchestra listened and approved, and when she finished burst into gay, delightful applause. The master joined, too, clapping his two hands. It was a happy moment for everybody.

This Hochschule, as we know, is perhaps Joachim’s greatest interest in life, and to it we owe the spread of his wise and beautiful teaching.