Early American Performances of Joachim’s “Hungarian” Concerto, op. 11
10 December, Harvard Musical Association, Boston, (first movement) Bernhard Listemann, violin.
25 November, Boston Symphony Orchestra, open rehearsal, Boston Music Hall, Bernhard Listemann, violin, George Henschel, conductor.
29 October, Boston Symphony Orchestra, (first movement) open rehearsal, Boston Music Hall, Franz Kneisel, violin, Wilhelm Gericke, conductor.
4, 7 November, New York Philharmonic, Albert Spalding, violin, Walter Damrosch, conductor.
Program Note, Boston Symphony Orchestra, 11,12 April, 1902. (Philip Hale)
FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE HUNGARIAN CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA, OPUS 11
(Born at Kittsee, near Pressburg, June 28, 1831; now living at Berlin.)
From 1853 to 1868 Joachim was in the service of blind George V. at Hanover. He was solo violinist to the King, conductor of symphony concerts, and he was expected to act as concert-master in performances of the more important operas, that the strings might thereby be improved. His yearly vacation was five months long, and he was allowed in winter to make extended concert tours. It was at Hanover that Joachim wrote his overtures, “Hamlet,” “Demetrius,” “Henry IV.,” an overture to a comedy by Gozzi, and one to the memory of von Kleist; the Third Violin Concerto (G major), Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 12), Variations for Viola and Piano, Hebrew Melodies, pieces for violin and piano, and the Hungarian Concerto.
The Hungarian Concerto, dedicated to Johannes Brahms, was written in the fifties. Joachim played it at the first of the London Philharmonic Concerts in 1859, early in April. He played it at Hanover, March 24, 1860. Dr. Georg Fischer, in “Opern und Concerte im Hoftheater zu Hannover bis I866,” speaks of the work as one of “great seriousness and deep passion, execdingly difficult, abounding in double stopping and three-voiced passages. It is also very long: it lasted forty minutes.” Joachim played it in 1861 in Vienna, Budapest, and other towns. Hanslick wrote: “The first movement, which is the broadest and most richly developed, is striking on account of the well-sustained tone of proud and almost morose passion. In its unbridled freedom it sometimes assumes the character of a rhapsody or prelude.” The Pesth Lloyd Zeitung exclaimed: “this is the means by which the type of Hungarian national music will ripen into artistically historical and universal significance; and we have a double reason for being delighted that Hungary possesses in its patriotic countryman a great instrumental artist, who bears the spirit of Hungarian music upon eagle’s pinions through the wide world.” Many rhapsodies have been written upon this theme. Here is a favorable example, which I quote without correction: “Every idea of displaying virtuosity foreign to his intention, he flew to his violin on the contrary as his most faithful friend and companion to clothe in outward form what resounded and vibrated in his soul, combining with the violin, however, the orchestra, on at least a footing of perfect equality.” The following paragraph from the Illustrated Times (London), 1862, shows that Joachim was then strongly Hungarian: “To put Herr before the name of Joachim the musician, who by simply playing the Rakoczy march on his violin raises the patriotic enthusiasm of his compatriots to the highest pitch, and thus produces as great an effect as the most successful orator could obtain, is not only a mistake, but almost an insult.”
Andreas Moser, in his “Joseph Joachim” (Berlin, 1898),—a long drawn-out and fawning eulogy,—speaks of this concerto as follows: “It is the mature outcome of Joachim’s intimate knowledge of the national music of his native country. In his childhood scarcely a day passed in which he did not hear the intoxicating strains of gypsy music, and the repeated visits which he paid to his home only tended to strengthen his love for the characteristic melodies, harmonies, and rhythm of the Magyar folksongs and dances.” Moser mentions the technical difficulties, and adds: “It taxes severely the player’s physical strength and power of endurance. … But another difficulty exists in addition to these for all those not Hungarian by birth: that of bringing out adequately the national characteristics of the concerto.”
The first movement of this concerto was played by Mr. Bernhard Listemann at a concert of the Harvard Musical Association, Dec. 10, 1868. Mr. Listemann played the whole concerto on Nov. 26, 1881, at a Symphony Concert. Mr. Kneisel played the first movement at a Symphony Concert, Oct. 30, 1886.
The concerto was played at Berlin, March 1, 1889, at the concert in honor of Joachim’s jubilee. The first movement was played by Hugo Olk, the second by Johann Kruse, the third by Henri Petri, all of them pupils of the composer.
Program note, NY Philharmonic, 4,7 November, 1926
Kitseee, 1831 Berlin, 1907
Joachim spent the greater part of his time from 1853 to 1868 in Hanover. He was solo violinist to the blind king, George V. and conductor of the symphony concerts. He was
expected to act as concert master in all the principal opera performances so as to improve the quality of the strings. He busied himself with chamber music and teaching. He had occasional leave of absence for concert tours in winter and five months vacation in summer. Without slighting his other labors he managed also to write a surprisingly large amount of music. The “Concerto in the Hungarian Style” provoked loud reverberations. Even Brahms (to whom it is dedicated) and Clara Schumann hailed it extravagantly. Clara was moved by it “to tears of joy” — the same Clara, who as late as 1864 was protesting that she could find in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” not one page of what she regarded as music! Hans lick acclaimed it rousingly in Vienna and across the Hungarian border the “Pester Lloyd” newspaper cried out: “This is the means by which the type of Hungarian national music will ripen into artistically historical and universal significance!” and spoke of Joachim as bearing the message of Hungarian music on eagle pinions through the world. Today the concerto has almost dropped from the repertoire. Its last performance here was a concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March, 1916. Anton Witek, then concert master, was the violinist. Dr. Karl Muck conducted.
The work was written in the summer of 1857. Joachim first played it at a concert of the London Philharmonic, May 2, 1859. The following year he revised it, retaining the themes but making fundamental alterations in the solo part. This version he brought out at the Düsseldorf Festival and in Hanover. The leading critic of the last named city saluted it as “a work of great seriousness and deep passion, exceedingly difficult, abounding in double stopping and three-voiced passages.” He also added with respectful awe: “It is very long, it lasts forty minutes.” The London “Illustrated Times” said that the concerto “made it almost an insult” to put “Herr” before the name of so perfect a Hungarian as Joachim.
In America the first movement was played by Bernhard Listeman [sic] of Boston, as early as 1861. In subsequent years the interpreters of the concerto included besides Mr. Listeman Messrs. Winternitz, Hess and the late Franz Kneisel. Philip Hale recalls a singular performance in Berlin given as part of Joachim’s jubilee ceremonies in 1889 at which Hugo Olk, Johann Kruse and Henri Petri, all pupils of the composer, played a movement each.
The principal, theme, of melancholy character, is enunciated by the ‘cellos at the outset and then reiterated by the violins. The second theme appears in the wood-wind and the solo violin enters with passagework afterwards taking the first melody. A characteristically Hungarian cadence is a feature of this theme and figures prominently in the development. There is abundant passage and decorative work for the soloist and an elaborate, partly accompanied cadenza.
In the romanza the violinist introduces the theme and then adorns it. The finale is an alla zingara, oscillating between D major and D minor, which Moser compared with the flashing “friska” of a Hungarian rhapsody.