Arthur Hartmann, Claude Debussy as I Knew Him and Other Writings by Arthur Hartmann, Samuel Hsu, Sidney Grolnic, and Mark Peters (eds.), Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2003, pp. 210-211.



Joachim’s Death


On the afternoon of 15 August 1907, I was in my home in Berlin giving an American girl a lesson. The sultriness was intense, and presently a terrific thunderstorm with rain broke over the earth. Terrified by it all, I commented to the young woman, “What a storm, eh? What a time for Joachim to die, just like Beethoven!” The lesson terminated and the storm died. I took my hat and went for a walk. Passing a small music store not far from my house, I glanced into the window and there saw the proprietor beckoning to me. Entering, I at once noticed his bloodshot eyes, his tear-stained face. “What is it? What’s the matter with you?” I asked with sudden concern. He choked, sobbingly, “But didn’t you hear? Joachim died this afternoon!” and leaning against the wall, he wept unrestrainedly.

I waited for several days, knowing that hundreds of people were streaming to his house to see the Grand Old Man before burial. And one day I, too, presented myself in Charlottenburg and asked the maid if I might enter. I found myself quite alone in the large rooms and heard the maid say, “There is a gentleman here who asks to see the Meister.” Presently a lady appeared and asked me, “Were you a pupil of my father?” “No, Madame,” I answered quietly, but also without adding any polite words of regretting not to have been. “Your name?” she asked curtly, and I gave it. She inclined her head and with her left hand invited me to advance. And finally I stood at the foot of the casket and gazed long at that calm face, those crooked and twisted fingers, those large tufts of hair protruding from the top of his nose and near his ears, and fervently I prayed: “O, great God Almighty, if only I could take up where he left off, and carry on!” The room was piled high with wreaths from Emperors, Kings, Academies, Artists, and Pupils. I approached closer, and leaning over him gazed at him long — long — all alone with the great, dead Joachim! Then I bowed to him and backed out of the room.