From: Esther Bright, The Ancient One: To the Young Folks at Home, London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1927, pp. 46-59.


Esther Bright


I HAVE always loved music. I began to play the fiddle as a small child. My brother played the ‘cello. He was very musical. We loved our instruments, and would get up at 5.30 every morning, enjoy a cup of tea in the kitchen with old Ann, and then work from 6 to 7.30 or 8; real, steady work, we thought it. We made friends with the young organist of a neighbouring village church, who was a fine pianist, and helped us much. We met often, and performed the trios of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Haydn in quite a creditable fashion for young children. We gave concerts every Sunday evening to our parents, and charged them each 6d. entry. Sometimes we had refreshments in the interval of the concert. It was all very delightful. We also played in village concerts, and were applauded by the natives, and felt we were musicians.

My mother said to me one day: “I am going to take you to hear the greatest violinist in the world — Joachim.” So, in the Free Trade Hall, at a Hallé Concert, I was brought first under the influence of the greatest of musicians, not only of a great violinist. To-day we have fine fiddlers who are not musicians, many of them. . . . Joachim! What memories that name calls up !

It is over forty years since the first night when I listened entranced to his music, yet it seems like yesterday. He stood so quiet and still, was so big, simple, dignified, humble. He thought of himself as the interpreter of a master’s idea. Music was his religion. In later years I grew to know him well and love him, but I always remember that night in the old Free Trade Hall when as a child I listened to his music for the first time and felt that I had found, or refound, a friend who was very near to me. The wild, wonderful Hungarian dances — I remember the G minor especially — the warmth, the depth, the bigness of the tone, the pathos, the humour, the tenderness, were a revelation, and I made up my mind then that I would get to him and learn from him!

A year or two later I went to Italy with my parents, and kneeling down in the great cathedral at Milan, I prayed a very earnest, simple prayer: “God, let me go to Joachim and learn from him.” The prayer was answered in later years.

When I was eighteen years of age I went to Berlin and studied in the Hochschule, of which Joachim was Head. I got through the exam, when others, who played far better than I, failed. I did not realise how little I knew, and so was not afraid. I took no accompanist with me, and played the first movement of Tartini’s “Trille du Diable.” The room was full of, to me, old spectacled professors, sitting round a table with pencils and paper in front of them; but to me they were non-existent. Joachim was there; and my thought of him was so holy and other-worldly, so ideal and beautiful, that I played without fear and as well as I could. I think they were rather amused at the English girl with a big pigtail down her back, who had brought no music and no accompanist. At any rate, Joachim came up to me afterwards in a very friendly, delightful way, shook hands, and said he would come and call on my parents next day. I was in heaven!

He came to our hotel, as promised, and said to my father : “She played very bravely.” Dear old Jo! he could not say anything else, for I know now how


little I knew then and how badly I played. Anyway, I got in. My parents settled me in a funny kmd of lodging house — 100 marks a month for everything — in Potsdamer Street, just opposite the Hochschule. I had a very lively time there for some months. The landlady was not a lovable person; she scolded her little boy, beat her servants, who were continually running away, and sang the most rollicking songs very late at night. Altogether, she was a very lively person, though most polite to me, for I was “the rich English girl” who paid 100 marks a month, all found!

A little Spanish friend of mine paid only 60 marks for a tiny room, board and lodging. She had failed in the examination, though a better player than I. But I got rather badly starved there, for I was a vegetarian and could not touch the dreadful variety of cooked and raw Wurst which everybody else enJoyed. A professor who frequently dined at our table boasted of drinking thirty bottles of beer a day. I was a very frank and fearless young person, and I told him what I thought of him in plain language, and, curiously enough, he seemed to respect me for it.

There were two other girls in the house besides myself studying the fiddle. We were a very merry trio, but all bent on work. One day a young student came to enquire for a room. The landlady, Frau Lieutenant L., showed him the room next to mine, and every word they spoke was audible to me. “I want perfect quiet,” said the young man; “I’m working for an exam.” “Certainly, absolute quiet you shall have,” said she; “not a sound will you hear. You can study in peace.” This was too much;  I rushed to my fiddle case, got out my fiddle,


and began playing scales as loudly as I could! Then I listened. Dead silence in the next room. What excuse she made, I do not know, but he engaged the room.

We had many funny experiences in that house. I moved out and got into pleasanter quarters later.

I stayed at the Hochschule for something over two years. A happy, happy time. The joy of life was strong, love of music filled every hour of the day. Joachim put me to study under Professor Kruse, that splendid teacher and grand musician. “I think you will be comfortable with him,” was the remark he made.

I was immensely interested and inspired by the long hours spent in that classroom, for we were ten or twelve pupils, and we all listened to each other’s lessons, thereby learning much. I was a duffer at technique, but during my stay in Berlin I lived deeply in music. Kruse got the best out of his pupils, and put his best into them. I remember the beauty he opened up for us in the study of the Tartini sonatas, Bach and Handel. He gave his pupils a good grounding. I attended Joachim’s quartette lessons, and his class also, for the sake of learning all I could. It was wonderfully interesting, but he could not teach, actually teach, as Kruse could. He would lean back in his chair, take up his fiddle now and then and play a passage for his pupils, his big hands holding the fiddle so quietly, so lightly — wonderful hands, soft, flexible, tender. “So, so! I can do it. Why can’t you?” he said once to an unhappy young man called Venus.

One boy I remember, Popelka, who had a terrible facility on the fiddle, terrible, because he could play anything through at sight, but never got any better.


He relied on this and never practiced at all. Once he brought a concerto in to Joachim and told him how many hours he had practiced on it, and found, turning the second page, that the copy had not even been cut. Joachim’s face! . . . and the look he gave the unfortunate lad! He just leaned back in his chair, sighing heavily, and let the boy play.

He took me into his class after my second year at the Hochschule — not that I deserved it. I was about the only pupil who was not going in for music professionally. He had from the first been very kind to me, and I loved with devotion and reverence, both man and musician. He introduced me to his girls, and I went sometimes to his lovely home near the Tiergarten. One most painful experience I had with him, which gave me the keenest suffering. My lesson was at 9.30, but I usually sat listening to the boy who came before me at 9. One day, I was feeling very nervous, and thought I would go into an empty room to play over my concerto once more before my lesson. At about 9.20, the door suddenly was thrown violently open and Joachim appeared on the threshold in a state of heated indignation. “Wo sind Sie denn? It suche Sie überall.” “I have been running over the whole school looking for you!” The boy who took his lesson before me had not turned up, so Joachim was waiting for me.

I was rushed into his classroom. He sat in his chair. I, unfortunate and most unhappy girl, stood in front of him and listened — it seemed to me for half an hour; it may have been five minutes — while he denounced me! “I do not give my lessons by the yard!” he kept saying when I tried to explain that my actual hour was 9.30. It was no good, so I just stood quiet and very icy and cold in


my heart, bearing the avalanche which swept over me. At last he grew quiet “Na, na, kommen Sie nur.” And I was expected to play after that! I suppose I did play, somehow or other. He was then very soft and gentle, and at the end of the lesson, perhaps realising my inwardly prostrate condition, though I tried to appear calm and dignified, asked me to come to lunch the next day. I left the classroom. Enough for the day!

That was the only time Joachim ever ill-used me. It was very distinctly ill-usage, and I think he realized it. Next day, I went to lunch at his house, and he showed his remorse by presenting me with a cadenza he had composed specially for me to the Nardini Sonata I was studying with him! It was copied out in his own handwriting. I was touched and surprised and grateful, but the suffering of that half hour lasted a long while. I have the cadenza framed. He had signed it “From Joseph Joachim,” and put my name on it.


The Joachim Quartett was a delight. We pupils were always allowed to attend the last rehearsal. I gained a true idea of what quartette playing could be. The rehearsal was a wonderful feast of glorious sound — we heard Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Haydn, Mozart, Cherubini and many others. Joachim lived in each old master. From the tragic greatness or humour of Beethoven, the mysticism of Brahms, he could turn to the joyous simplicity of Haydn and Mozart.


I realised music deeply. It has been a path to me, all my life, to a higher world. It is indeed an interpreter of Divine Ideas, for it expresses what no words can convey; a harmony is brought into our rough life here, a message which each can accept and interpret in his own way. And Joachim, with his great ideal, his childlike simplicity, his deep, pure love of art, was the messenger.

I saw him much in later years. He came to London every spring, and was always a good friend to me. Occasionally he had to make a speech in public — a thing he dreaded and hated. He said to me once: “I am nearly as nervous as you used to be when I taught you!” His golden jubilee was a great event in the old St. James’s Hall. Fifty years since he had appeared as a small boy in London — “a small, fat boy!” so Piatti described him, much to the amusement of Joachim himself and the great audience. He told us how on that occasion he had played the Beethoven Concerto — a little fellow of eleven years of age! — and all the world of music has read how that child played Beethoven’s masterpiece on that occasion. Now, at this golden jubilee, he played it again to us, a younger generation. It was a wonderful evening. Such love and veneration were showered on him. “The ugly man with the beautiful face,” he has been called. He was happy in the love of his many friends; “Uncle Jo,” or “the Uncle,” he was to us.

He could always enjoy a joke against himself. On one occasion he, Hallé and Piatti were giving a concert of chamber music in St. James’s Hall. They began with a Beethoven Trio, but before it was over an old fellow in the front row of the stalls yawned loudly and went out. An hour and a half afterwards


he returned to his seat. The musicians had just seated themselves for another Trio, and they heard the weary old gentleman in the stalls say distinctly: “What! Are those three old bogies still at it!” It was not encouraging. […]


*   *   *   *   *

The following description of a journey to Weimar with Joachim, to a Bach celebration, is taken from my diary. He had invited me to accompany him.


“April 5th

“Joachim called for me at my Pension, 146, Kant Street, Berlin, this morning at 7.30 with his son Paul and we drove to the station together. He bought papers and we settled ourselves comfortably down in opposite corners. First we spoke about Goethe and Schiller. ‘Jo’ said how modest Schiller was, and how splendid was the friendship between the two. After a bit, he went to sleep, and lay back with his grand old lion-like head against the cushion, as simply as a child. I look at him with delight. He pleases me immensely. Simple, unassuming, unaffected, childlike, easily ruffled but easily set right again, with very kindly, noble instincts and a desire to help others. I love being with him. . . . Then he wakes up. ‘Are you warm?’ he says. ‘Are you hungry?’ and takes an apple out of his pocket and some bread-and-butter and gives them to me.

“Then we read and talk. He lived in Weimar from 1849-52. I tell him I am interested in the beginnings of the ‘Hochschule,’ at which he gives me one of his beaming looks and tells me ‘I began it in 1859 [sic. It was 1869]; there were 12 boys, violin and piano. I sent for Rudorff and for Schulze. Then the wind instruments came on. There was some disagreement about Rudorff. The minister was displeased with him, Rudorff, for wanting “Urlaub” or something, and told me to dismiss him. I said in that case I would go too! I was engaged by the old King, the old Wilhelm; he was always good to me. He was then in Versailles. I wrote to him, telling him what the minister was trying to do with Rudorff. The old Wilhelm wrote back to me at once: “If they


dismiss Rudorff, I will call him back again!” and he gave me (Joachim) more power and more responsibility in the School. It was a blow for the minister.’ He told me of an interesting new boy pupil whom he had got. Wirth wanted him, but he did not wish this and so kept the boy entirely to himself. He thinks he will be good.

“He gave me the names of two good German books. He showed me where his boys had been to school. Years ago he was introduced to Carlyle, and after some conversation he asked him if he knew Sterndale Bennett. ‘No,” said Carlyle, ‘I don’t care for musicians; they are all empty wind-baggy kind of people!’

“At Weimar we were met by his two grandchildren, dear girls of 6 and 8, and drive to this hotel (Hotel Erbprinz) and get lunch with the old composer, Lassen. Joachim goes to his room to have 40 winks, and tells me to go for a walk in the Park, and asks Frau —— to show me round. Sun and hail-storms greet us in the Park. It is charming, undulating and full of trees. The Ilm flows tranquilly through the green meadows. See the place where Goethe bathed every day, his well of clear water and his ‘Gartenhaus’ (most interesting and absolutely simple and tiny), his bed-chamber, ‘Arbeitszimmer,’ ‘Empfangszimmer,’  and kitchen! The old garden full of stone seats and tables. I could see the young Goethe working and thinking, joking and laughing. He must have been a very charming personality, capable of falling in love with a young girl at the age of 75! God understands such feelings, if men and women laugh. Also we saw the one-roomed wooden hut which Goethe had made for Karl August. There the most


serious matters were discussed for the people’s good, and also the maddest pranks were played.

“The rehearsal in the church was fine — A minor concerto, Bach.

“Back to the Hotel, and I gave Joachim and Frau von —— coffee in my bedroom. Then we drove to the church at 5.30 for the concert. J. J. played finely. The Bach Aria he also gave us. Drove with him back to a big dinner — 50 or 60 people — in Hotel. Speeches. He had to answer. He does hate it! He looks so terribly mournful before speaking, and so happy after! I say good-bye as he and his children set off at 9.30 for Jena, where I am to join them to-morrow.

“‘Be sure you lock your bedroom door at night,’ he said.

“April 6th,

“A most interesting day in Weimar; visited Goethe and Schiller house and Archives. I went back a century in thought.

“Joined Joachim in Jena and had a delightful journey with him to Berlin. Knowing him is one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I am sure he likes me. Grand old Jo! Bless you.

“He spoke of the Hungarian concerto: ‘I can’t play it in public now, I am too weak,’ holding up his old hands; ‘but I must say, although I wrote it, there is a great deal of feeling in that piece, and even now, when I play it, I feel it very much,’ and he lifted up his head and seemed lost in a memory. I took my courage in my hands and said: ‘Will you play it for me sometime in private?’ I told him how I loved it, so full of passion and longing and yet resignation. ‘I was longing to go home to Hungary


at that time,’ he said, ‘but could not get leave, and so I wrote it.’ I told him I was glad he had not got leave! at which he smiled. He told me many interesting things about the Emperor, and how much he liked him. Altogether we had a most delightful journey, sitting opposite each other at the little table, drinking coffee. The Uncle said: ‘The time has gone very quickly!’ I asked him if I might treat him to tea, but he said, ‘No, I will treat you.‘ He drove me home and got out and helped me, and his old face shone like the sun as he said: ‘Good-bye. I will communicate with you.'”

*   *   *   *   *

Joachim was amused by simple little things. I remember once, in St. James’s Hall, after he had left the platform on the occasion of a “Saturday Pop,” two ladies jumped down from the orchestra seats and fought for a hair or two he had torn off his bow during the concert. I told him afterwards, and he roared out: “Nein, nein!” in protestation at such foolish hero-worship. Once for fun, later on, he gave me some of his old strings in an envelope, with “Joseph Joachim, Saiten vom Konzert Stradivarius” written on the cover. He wrote me many charming, friendly letters. I always like to remember that he understood and valued my love for him, for he said to a mutual friend in his last illness, speaking of me, “Sie hat ein goldenes Herz” — she has a heart of gold.

Dear old Jo, you still live in our hearts, and never will a time come when you will be forgotten. . . . I went to Berlin to be near him at the end, but he was too weak; I might not go into his room. And afterwards, he lay in peace, the big, soft, tender


hands crossed over his breast, his face calm and quiet. . . . The music he loved must surely be around him now.

Joachim! Master Musician!

Esther Bright (1868 – 1957) was a pioneer in Co-Freemasonry in Britain in 1902 and a helper and close friend of Annie Besant. She was born on February 19, 1868, daughter of Rt. Hon. Jacob Bright, British member of Parliament and Ursula M. Bright. A member of the Theosophical Society, she was an active worker for many humanitarian movements.