The Athenæum, No. 2577 (March 17, 1877), pp. 361-362.




Cambridge, March 10, 1877

[…] The reasons which led to this degree being conferred on the German violinist are simple. Prof. Macfarren is an enthusiast in his art, and has always been anxious to raise the status of musicians. As it is not the custom for our Government to bestow crosses and orders on musical men, as is done in most continental countries, Prof. Macfarren suggested that honorary degrees should be awarded to Herr Brahms, Herr Joachim, Sir John Goss, and Mr. Arthur Sullivan, and the University authorities readily adopted the suggestion.

[…] There would be considerable difficulty in finding artistic reasons for making Herr Joachim honorary Mus. Doc., if we looked only at his compositions. They are few in number, although they are clever and scholarly; but signs of genius there are none. We know here his March and Trio in c, his Hungarian Concerto, and his Dances (associated with Brahms). He has also composed Overtures to ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Henry the Fourth,’ and to the ‘Demetrius’ of Schiller, [1] and he has written songs, but there is really nothing in them to distinguish him from other clever composers, masters of the grammar of their art, but who possess neither fancy nor imagination enough to impress us with their individuality. Why, then, Mus. Doc. of Cambridge? Because as an executant he occupies an exceptional position — it may be added an unparalleled one. There have been violinists who have surpassed him in the creation and in the execution of difficulties, but there has never been another artist who possessed, so to speak, such a creative faculty in the interpretation of great classical works. He has the essential elements of perfect intonation, of a magnificent tone, of acute sensibility, and of a


thorough command of the most intricate scales. His self-possession enables him to play without extravagance of action; he manages the gradations of sound, to the softest pianissimo, without any apparent effort. His intellectuality and poetic temperament, combined with his classical taste in the concertos of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Spohr, have developed points and effects from innermost passages which had escaped all previous executants. When it is added that his career has been consistent throughout, that he has always aimed at introducing music by the masterminds, never pandering to popular prejudices, always encouraging artists as well as amateurs to cultivate a sound school, and that for a series of years, during his visits to this country, he has not only gratified but instructed the general musical public, enough has been stated to justify the University officials in selecting an executant for the first time for a musical degree. And so thought, evidently, the large assemblage gathered in the Senate House, when the Vice-Chancellor, the Master of Clare, greeted the new doctor. Besides being supported by the presence of so many professors and conoisseurs from London, Herr Joachim had University feeling on his side; the undergraduates, ready as they were at whistling music-hall tunes, including the ‘Rogues’ March,’ after the passing of the Mus. Doc., M.A.s, and B.A.s — for there were several — cheered the German artist repeatedly; but their sense of the ridiculous was touched when the orator associated Herr and Madame Joachim with Orpheus and Eurydice, and they supplied at once an Offenbach air.

To turn to the evening concert. Herr Joachim’s MS. Elegaic Overture, in commemoration of Heinrich von Kleist, — the patriot, poet, and dramatist, who committed suicide with a Frau Vogel in 1811, — can boast of little that is suggestive in its subjects, which are dry and formal, ably and vigorously developed as they are. The composer conducted his own work, and did the same duty for the MS. Symphony of his friend, Herr Brahms. […] In addition to the two novelties, the Overture, ‘The Wood-Nymphs,’ Op. 20, by Sterndale Bennett, so genial and graceful, and full of charm; the ‘Song of Destiny’ (Schicksalslied), Op. 54, by Herr Brahms; and the Violin Concerto of Beethoven, Op. 61 (wondrously played by Herr Joachim), were ably conducted by Mr. C. Villiers Stanford, organist of Trinity.  […]

[1] The overture is actually to the ‘Demetrius’ of Herman Grimm.