jj-initials1-e1395761217629His sister’s songs, and the dances of local gypsies and street musicians, are said to have been Joachim’s first musical impressions. His early attempts at reproducing them on the violin were encouraged and guided by a family friend, a medical student and amateur violinist named Stieglitz. After a mere four weeks, impressed by the child’s unusual gift for music and aware of his own limitations as a teacher, Stieglitz encouraged the Joachims to find Joseph a proper instructor. A memorial article in the Pester Lloyd, ostensibly by one of Joachim’s former students, asserts as “a little-known fact” that Joseph received his first formal violin lessons from Gustav (Gusztáv) Ellinger (1811–98), a first violinist and later concertmaster with Pest’s German Theater. (This is echoed in an entry on Joachim in Emil Vajda, A Hegedü, Gyôr, 1902, p. 283). Reportedly, young Joseph took his lessons together with another student, “Karl M.,” who subsequently became a noted writer. When Ellinger repeatedly criticized Joseph, comparing him unfavorably to his companion, the Joachims took their son to another teacher: the concertmaster and conductor of the opera in Pest, Stanisław Serwaczyński, who gave him a thorough grounding in the modern French Méthode de Violon, the work of Viotti’s successors, Rode, Baillot and Kreutzer.

hp_scanDS_45171242246Stanisław Serwaczyński

Joachim grew up in comfortable upper middle class circumstances. However, the family fortunes were significantly interrupted in March 1838, when the Danube overflowed its banks, destroying much of the city of Pest. The Joachims lost their home, and were forced to find refuge across the river in Buda. The flood hit just days before the Spring fair was due to take place, with all of the city’s storerooms filled to capacity, making it likely that Julius Joachim’s business sustained substantial financial losses.


Joseph Joachim at the time of his Adelskasino debut

This priceless historical artifact was erroneously sold by Stair Galleries on September 13, 2008 as “Joseph Joachim Guernier — The Young Violinist,” “Oil on panel, 8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in. Provenance: Property from the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.” It’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

The following year, Joseph’s success in repertoire by de Bériot, Cremont, and Mayseder was such that Serwaczyński arranged for him to make his debut appearance, on 17 March 1839, at the National Casino (Nemzeti Casino), nicknamed the Casino of the Nobility (Adelskasino), in Pest. Joseph’s successful debut brought him to the attention of an important benefactor: Count Franz (Ferenc) von Brunsvik, a liberal aristocrat and a pillar of Pest’s musical community. [1] At the same time, it won him the enthusiasm of the count’s sister Therese (Teréz), and of Brunsvik’s friend, Adalbert Rosti. In Pest during the winter months, the Brunsviks hosted chamber music soirées several times a week, in which the best professional musicians took part—including, later in 1839, Franz Liszt, and in 1842 the twelve-year-old Anton Rubinstein. [2] After his debut, Joseph became a regular guest at these evenings, and on several occasions, he was asked to sit in on the music-making. [3]

At the same time, Serwaczyński was preparing to leave Pest, and it was decided that Joseph should go to Vienna to study. Joseph’s grandfather lived in Vienna, as did his uncles Nathan and Wilhelm Figdor. Wilhelm’s daughter Fanny, who would later play a decisive role in his upbringing, arrived in April for a short visit, returning later that Summer to take Joseph to Vienna to live.

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© Robert W. Eshbach 2014

[1] Brunsvik, the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, op. 57, had been among the earliest performers of Beethoven’s string quartets. Beethoven was also particularly close to the count’s sister, Therese, to whom he dedicated his op. 78 sonata, and who has been proposed at various times as a candidate for the composer’s mysterious “Immortal Beloved.”

[2] Among the regular auditors was the respected composer Robert Volkmann. “I . . . experienced beautiful musical pleasures at Count Brunsvik’s, where string quartets, quintets, duos and piano trios were played very artistically,” he wrote in 1841. “The count . . . plays cello very well, and his wife is an outstanding pianist, who plays with great brilliance, power and spirit. Her interpretation of various composers, Beethoven, Hummel, Chopin is exceptional.” Quoted in Maria Hornyák, Ferenc Brunszvik, ein Freund von Beethoven, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, T. 32, Fasc. 1/4. (1990), p. 231.

[3] According to Mária Hornyák, the Brunsviks played “above all works of the Viennese classic composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Hummel and Spohr. But they also liked to play works by Cherubini, Onslow, Bernard and Andreas Romberg, and, among the Romantics they liked primarily Chopin and Mendelssohn.” The Brunsviks’ music library, consisting of 560 pieces—solo, chamber music, orchestral and operatic works— was taken over by the Musikhochschule Franz Liszt in 1937–38. See Hornyák, Ferenc Brunszvik; and also Moser, Joseph Joachim, Vol. 1, p. 10.