Paul David, “Joseph Joachim,” A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450-1889), Sir George Grove (ed.), London and New York: Macmillan and Co. 1894, pp. 34-35.
JOACHIM, Joseph, the greatest of living violin-players, was born at Kittsee, a village near Pressburg, June 28, 1831. He began to play the violin at five years of age, and showing great ability he was soon placed under Szervacsinsky, then leader of the opera-band at Pesth. When only seven years old, he played a duet in public with his master with great success. In 1841 he became a pupil of Boehm in Vienna, and in 1843 went to Leipzig, then, under Mendelssohn’s guidance, at the zenith of its musical reputation. On his arrival at Leipzig as a boy of twelve, he proved himself already an accomplished violinist, and very soon made his first public appearance in a Concert of Madame Viardot’s, Aug. 19, 1843, when he played a Rondo of de Bériot’s; Mendelssohn, who at once recognised and warmly welcomed the boy’s exceptional talent, himself accompanying at the piano. On the 16th of the following November he appeared at the Gewandhaus Concert in Ernst’s fantasia on Otello; and a year later (Nov. 25, 1844) took part in a performance at the Gewandhaus of Maurer’s Concertante for four violins with Ernst, Bazzini and David, all very much his seniors. The wish of his parents, and his own earnest disposition, prevented his entering at once on the career of a virtuoso. For several years Joachim remained at Leipzig, continuing his musical studies under Mendelssohn’s powerful influence, and studying with David most of those classical works for the violin—the Concertos of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Spohr, Bach’s Solos, etc.—which still constitute the staple of his répertoire. At the same time his general education was carefully attended to, and it may truly be said, that Joachim’s character both as a musician and as a man was developed and directed for life during the years which he spent at Leipzig. He already evinced that thorough uprightness, that firmness of character and earnestness of purpose, and that intense dislike of all that is superficial or untrue in art, which have made him not only an artist of the first rank, but, in a sense, a great moral power in the musical life of our days.
Joachim remained at Leipzig till October 1850, for some time side by side with David as leader of the Gewandhaus orchestra, but also from time to time travelling and playing with ever-increasing success in Germany and England. On the strong recommendation of Mendelssohn he visited London for the first time as early as 1844, and at the 5th Philharmonic Concert (May 27) played Beethoven’s Concerto (for the 4th time only at those concerts) with great success. His first actual public appearance in this country was at a benefit concert of Mr. Bunn’s at Drury Lane on March 28. After this he repeated his visits to England in 1847, 49, 52, 58, 59, 62, and ever since. His annual appearance at the Monday Popular, the Crystal Palace, and other concerts in London and the principal provincial towns has become a regular feature of the musical life in England. His continued success as a solo- and quartet-player, extending now over a period of more than thirty years, is probably without parallel. Since the foundation of the Monday Popular Concerts he has been the principal violinist of those excellent concerts, which have perhaps done more than any other musical institution in England towards popularising that highest branch of the art—classical chamber-music.
In 1849 Joachim accepted the post of Leader of the Grand-Duke’s band at Weimar, where Liszt, who had already abandoned his career as a virtuoso, had settled and was conducting operas and concerts. His stay in Weimar was not however of long duration. To one who had grown up under the influence of Mendelssohn, and in his feeling for music and art in general was much in sympathy with Schumann, the revolutionary tendencies of the Weimar school could have but a passing attraction. In 1854 he accepted the post of Conductor of Concerts and Solo-Violinist to the King of Hanover, which he retained till 1866. During his stay at Hanover (June 10, 1863) he married Amalia Weiss, the celebrated contralto singer [see WEISS] In 1868 he went to Berlin as head of a newly established department of the Royal Academy of Arts—the ‘Hochschule für ausübende Tonkunst’ (High School for Musical Execution,—as distinct from composition, for which there was already a department in existence). Joachim entered heart and soul into the arduous task of organising and starting this new institution, which under his energy and devotion not only soon exhibited its vitality, but in a very few years rivaled, and in some respects even excelled, similar older institutions. Up to this period Joachim had been a teacher mainly by his example, henceforth he is to be surrounded by a host of actual pupils, to whom, with a disinterestedness beyond praise, he imparts the results of his experience, and into whom he instills that spirit of manly and unselfish devotion to art which, in conjunction with his great natural gifts, really contains the secret of his long-continued success. In his present sphere of action Joachim’s beneficent influence, encouraging what is true and earnest, and disregarding, and, if necessary, opposing what is empty, mean, and superficial in music, can hardly be too highly estimated. It will readily be believed that in addition to the universal admiration of the musical world numerous marks of distinction, orders of knighthood from German and other sovereign princes, and honorary degrees have been conferred on Joachim. From the University of Cambridge he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music on the 8th March, 1877. No artist ever sought less after such things, no artist better deserved them.
As to his style of playing, perhaps nothing more to the point can be said, than that his interpretations of Beethoven’s Concerto and great Quartets and of Bach’s Solo Sonatas are universally recognised as models, and that his style of playing appears especially adapted to render compositions of the purest and most elevated style. A master of technique, surpassed by no one, he now uses his powers of execution exclusively for the interpretation of the best music. If in latter years his strict adherence to this practice and consequent exclusion of all virtuoso pieces has resulted in a certain limitation of répertoire, it must still be granted that that repertoire is after all richer than that of almost any other eminent violinist, comprising as it does the Concertos of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, four or five of Spohr’s, Viotti’s 22nd, his own Hungarian, Bach’s Solos, the 2 romances of Beethoven, and in addition the whole range of classical chamber-music, to which we may now add the Concerto of Brahms, played for the first time in England at the Crystal Palace Feb. 22, 1879, and given by him at the Philharmonic on March 6 and 20.
Purity of style, without pedantry; fidelity of interpretation combined with a powerful individuality—such are the main characteristics of Joachim the violinist and musician.
As a composer Joachim is essentially a follower of Schumann. Most of his works are of a grave, melancholic character,—all of them, it need hardly be said, are earnest in purpose and aim at the ideal. Undoubtedly his most important and most successful work is the Hungarian Concerto (op. 11), a creation of real grandeur, built up in noble symphonic proportions, which will hold its place in the first rank of masterpieces for the violin. The following is a list of his published compositions:—
Op. 1. Andantino and Allegro Scherzoso (Violin and Orchestra).
- 3 ‘Stücke (Romanze, Fantaisiestück, Frühlings fantasie)’ for Violin and Piano.
- Concerto (G minor) ‘in einem Satze’ for Violin and Orchesta.
- Overture to ‘Hamlet,’ for Orchestra.
- 3 Stücke (Lindenrauschen, Abendglocken, Ballade) for Violin and Piano
- Hebrew Melodies, for Viola and Piano.
- Variations on an original Theme for Viola and Piano.
- Hungarian Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.
- Notturno in A for Violin and small Orchestra.
- Overture, in commemoration of Kleist the poet—for Orchestra.
- Scena der Marfa (from Schiller’s unfinished play of Demetrius), for Contralto Solo and Orchestra.
Two Marches in C and D, with Trios
N.B. Op. 6, 7, 8, Overtures to Demetrius, Henry the IVth, and a Play of Gozzi’s respectively, are still in MS.
Paul David (1840-1932) was the son of Joseph Joachim’s mentor, the Gewandhaus concertmaster Ferdinand David. In his later years, he was the first Director of Music at the Uppingham School in Uppingham, Rutland, England. Joachim’s last performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto was at the dedication of the [Paul] David Concert Room at Uppingham School, May 23, 1905.