Dwight’s Journal of Music, vol. 6, no. 25 (Boston, March 24 1855), 196-197.
It seems likely that this article is by Alexander Wheelock Thayer, the renowned Beethoven biographer, who was a regular Berlin correspondent for Dwight’s, and who came to know Joachim and the Arnims at that time.
Adolph von Menzel
Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann in the Singakademie, Berlin
December 20, 1854
Diary Abroad.—No. 12.
BERLIN. Feb. 5. — […]
“Im Saale der Sing-Akademie, Soirée von Clara Schumann und Joseph Joachim.”
I was at my thankless (almost hopeless, alas!) task, in the Royal Library, when a young man came in, somewhat above middle size, strongly built, face rather thin, though the leading features, nose, mouth, chin, are large, well-formed and noble; the forehead broad, but apparently not high, owing to the immense mass of black hair, which grows down low upon it; the eyes not very large and somewhat injured in their expression by near-sightedness, As he spoke with the Professor, the whisper passed round, “Joachim, Joachim!” In the afternoon I went to a distant part of the city to deliver a letter, and there upon the writing table were lying the original autograph scores of several of Beethoven’s works, among them that Quartet which contains the movement over which, in Beethoven’s own hand (in German), stands “Song of thanksgiving offered to the Deity by a convalescent, in the Lydian Mode.” While looking at this, Joachim entered. Of this unexpected interview I have nothing to relate, save that the love and reverence for the great master, which he exhibited, wrought upon me somewhat as Jenny Lind’s reverence for her Art seems to have operated upon so many among us, who generally think more of music than of executants.
Of the three concerts given by the two artists together I heard two. The programmes were: for Dec. 16th—
At the first of these two concerts I had an excellent seat on the centre passage-way, and not far from the stage, and it was truly pleasant to the eye for once to see the Sing-Akademie’s hall full, the auditorium having no seat unfilled, and the eighty voices (about) of the Stern Society, with twenty or thirty auditors, filling the stage so far as to prevent a sense of emptiness. For a concert of this kind I know no hall finer. The audience, I saw at a glance, was of the chosen people of Berlin, musically speaking—not a few of them, also, biblically speaking— men and women to whom the styles and excellences of every great pianist and violinist for thirty years back were perfectly familiar. For novices, or second-rate performers, what an ordeal to pass! Sh! there they come. The first appearance of a virtuoso—I mean the manner in which he or she comes forward to the task—goes no small way with me in my feeling toward them. I could ask nothing better here. It was just as it should be. Clara Schumann and Joachim came forward together from behind the choir as calmly as if in their own room—as if every one knew them and they knew every one. There was no bowing and scraping, and fidgeting and fussing, and simpering and smirking, until every person of common sense was almost “sick unto death.” They came forward to the piano-forte, when she quietly took her seat, and he just as quietly took one of the unoccupied chairs near. When she finished her Sonata, she quietly sat down by him, and there they sat and listened, both quietly, to the Lieder by the choir. This air of quiet and repose was so refreshing! Then the audience sat and chatted a few minutes, and so did they; and then he rose up to give us the Prelude and Fugue for the violin alone. Well, he played it. There was no flourish about it, he laid his violin lovingly to his cheek, and his instrument sang old Bach’s music so clearly, distinctly, powerfully, gently, and with such perfect ease, that one felt as if that was no very difficult thing to do! You see in Joachim’s entire personal appearance that he thinks not of showing what he can do; he loves Bach and enters into the very soul of his music, and means that his hearers shall also. I do not believe that there is the slightest difference between his playing that piece when alone and here before the public—unless be happens to be more in the Bach mood, in one case than in the other. But to think of playing a regular fugue on the violin! When it was finished he sat down again by Frau Schumann and chatted away; he had done nothing extraordinary. Her appearance pleased me as much as his. I know not how, but somehow I had expected to see a woman at least of middle age, perhaps a little grey ready (think how many years we have been reading about Clara Wieck and Clara Schumann!) of course rather muscular, else whence the power for which she is so renowned ?—and could hardly believe my eyes when Joachim first came in with—as Mrs. —— always says—”the dearest little woman.” In her whole appearance is something most winning, and were she not the great artist she is, she could win all suffrages. The common medallion profile of her (with her husband) is excellent, though her face is now thinner than when it was taken, and it does not—cannot of course—do justice to her large, full, splendid dark eyes. At the second concert I had a seat on the stage hard by the piano-forte, and the impression made upon me by both artists was but strengthened. Each has so completely overcome all the technical difficulties of his or
her instrument, that you forget totally that virtuosos are before you—instead of thinking of them, you commune with Bach and Beethoven—you learn to appreciate Bach—his thoughts become yours, and a pure musical enjoyment is the result, instead of stupid wonder at “How can they do it?”
You never heard such a tone! One violinist of great display excels in imitating a flute; another can transform (in the “Carnival of Venice,” which Joachim did not play) his instrument into a hurdy-gurdy, and into a triangle and cymbals, for aught I know—Joachim always plays the violin—and that too, I guess, in passages in which our hurdy-gurdy friend would be right glad to do the same. One, who shall be nameless, rather prides himself upon being able to sing in falsetto just like his antique and venerable grandmother. His friends, though, consider Salvi’s or Perelli’s tenor as of much more value. I suppose the principal characteristics of Joachim’s playing may be summed up in—extraordinary purity and fullness of tone, the most perfect intonation, an un-rivalled (by any living violinist) mastery of all and singular, the difficulties of his instrument and a complete understanding of and sympathy with his author, be he Bach, Beethoven, Spohr, Paganini, Mendelssohn or David.
I do not suppose we shall ever hear him in America. He does not like the concert room. I am not aware that during my three winters in Germany he has been away from his post except by a special invitation to play for the Gustav Adolph Verein in Hamburg and for Clara Schumann and her sick husband here. I doubt whether he would make out well with our public. He would play no clap-trap; would cut no violin capers, which would make the angelic Cecilia with a fiddle (of Raphael) weep. He would not give the “Carnival” with variations, and then play to the encore Yankee Doodle bedevilled. He is an earnest, sincere, noble artist, in whom is no humbug. Would though, that that increasing class of true musical hearts and souls in Boston and New York could have Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim with them one winter! I declare I cannot forget the simple, unaffected ease of their appearance before that audience; how each sat down with the audience to listen to the other, and how they seemed to enjoy their music, as if it was all new. But then their music was music. So the other night magnificent JOHANNA WAGNER sang in the same place for HANS VON BULOW, and when she had sung stepped down to some friends in the audience; sat with them until her turn came again, and then stepped back and sung—O how gloriously!
It will be seen that several pieces by Robert Schumann were given. The more ambitious ones did not take; those of a simpler and gentler character pleased much. I have my doubts in relation to him. Some of the pillars of the musical world here seem to think that Joachim is injuring himself by the amount of study he bestows upon the works of Schumann and the school to which he belongs.
N. B. Since the above was written I have had the pleasure of an interview with an intimate friend of Joachim, and all hope of our ever hearing him in America has vanished. There is no longer any special satisfaction to him in his violin. All that has been done with the instrument he has done. Every difficulty he has conquered. All that has been written for the instrument he knows, and his thoughts now turn only to the grand orchestra. He has a positive dislike to playing in public, and I was right as to his recent appearances being merely for a charitable and friendly purpose. He is now Royal Concert-master In Hanover, and lives much as Haydn did with Esterhazy. When he wishes to try one of his orchestral compositions, a splendid orchestra is at his disposal; be cares nothing for money and his salary is sufficient for his wants. His ambition now lies only in the new path of composer, and I cherish strong hopes that Joachim, who has so captivated me, may prove an exception to the general rule that violinists remain violinists.
“Total forgetfulness of self will alone develop that which is most desirable in ourselves, either as Artist or Man; and by that humility and forgetfulness will many a feeble man leave a deeper mark on his time than the egotist or mightier power.” — Crayon
RWE: This quote is from an article entitled “Beauty and its Enemies” in the March 14, 1855 issue of The Crayon, (New York) vol. 1, no. 11, p. 161:
“The instant that pride or a desire for self-display enters into the composition of any work of Art, the perception of the Beautiful becomes clouded, and, in all things, we mingle our own imperfections and weaknesses with the purity and beauty of Nature. Perfect humility before nature will alone lead us to those perpetually opening mazes of new beauties and wonders which always exist for the Artist. Total forgetfulness of self will alone develop that which is most desirable in ourselves, either as Artist or Man; and by that humility and forgetfulness will many a feeble man leave a deeper mark on his time than the egotist of mightier power. Pride is indeed Beauty’s worst enemy, and more dangerous from being often her child; and from the very gift which should beget thankfulness and humility, arise arrogance and inordinate self-esteem.
It one of the problems for the moralist to study out—for us we have only to show to those who are, or would be, seekers of Beauty either as manifest in themselves—the noblest form of artistic action—or as shown in the works of creation, that the most extreme humility will develop in them the highest talent, while its opposite will chain them to a circle perpetually growing less. All that gives token of vanity in Art disfigures and weakens. All undue love of execution or of manifestations of mere power, or of any quality in fact, the root of whose preference lies in the fact of its belonging to one’s self, strikes at the root of the Artist’s greatness. There is a working out of one’s own mind in Art which is glorious; but this is unconscious always, and shown by necessity, because some rare faculty had been given, or some peculiarity of temperament bestowed, by which the conceptions of the Artist become tinged, as though seen through a beautifully colored glass, giving a sweeter harmony than we ourselves see; but this no man can render who does not equally forget himself, and represent Nature as he sees it entirely. The intrusion of self for Pride’s sake brings only deformity and darkness.
A less dangerous enemy is Sensuality, less dangerous, because more readily understood, and because it more rarely befalls great minds. While Pride stiffens and congeals the soul of the Artist, Sensuality clouds and chokes it; and he who is content to follow his sensual perceptions delighting in them for their own sake, stands ever in danger of having all that is noble buried by the material elements of his Art. Color, for instance, noble and essential in its place, becomes base and degrading, when cared for for itself alone.”