A Letter to Wagner 6 April 1854

Joseph Joachim to Richard Wagner, Hanover, 6 Apr 1854
Folder 392-09-010, Special Collections Records, New York Philharmonic
Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital Archives ID: 392-09-010  

In October, 1853, Joachim traveled with Liszt and a number of other Liszt disciples, to Basel, Switzerland, to visit Wagner, who was in political exile there. They spent time together at the Hotel Les Trois Rois — Wagner read aloud from his new Nibelung poem (Siegfried), and they ended up drinking the intimate “Du” to one another (something Bülow subsequently had a hard time making himself do with Liszt). Joachim was smitten with Wagner, and the elder man, for his part, promised Joachim that he could play concertmaster when the Ring cycle was eventually premiered.

This letter, written the following April, mentions Joachim’s resolve to perform Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Hanover — still a rather daring thing to do, given Wagner’s poor reputation with the music director there (Marschner), with the public, and especially Wagner’s status as a political radical (had Wagner attended, he would have been arrested, tried as a traitor, and risked a death sentence).

[Marschner on Wagner: “If Wagner were a real composer (apart from a spiritually rich person) and possessed all the natural gifts necessary for such a composer, he would certainly not have had to make such noise and resort to such means in order to achieve the fame as a tone poet that his ambition (or is it something else?) makes him thirst for.”]

A Wagner devotée, Joachim succeeded in pushing it through with the Crown and the theater intendant (who made the programming decisions) and Tannhäuser was indeed performed on January 21, 1855, with Niemann singing the title role. The Hanover opera house was new at that time, and considered one of the best in Germany. A prestigious performance.

Hannover, am 6ten April

Lieber Freund

            Endlich erhältst du mit
vielem Dank die Lohengrin=Stücke
die hoffentlich noch zeitig genug ein=
treffen fürs Musikfest der Eidgenossen.
Meine Hoffnung, vor Schluß der Saison
noch eine Aufführung derselben und
der 9ten Sinfonie zu erbitten, ist
vereitelt — wie es eben meist mit
den besten Wünschen geht, hat man


Mich auf den nächsten Winter mit auch
diesem Lieblingswunsch vertröstet.
Eine gute Nachricht ward mir indeß
zu Theil: die Aufnahme deines Tannhaü=
ser in unser Opern=Repertoire. Da
der neue Intendant, Graf Platen, keine
Mühe scheut, gute Sänger zusammen
zu kaufen (leider der passendste Aus=
druck!) so darf ich für den kommenden
Winter wohl auf eine gute Ausführung
Deiner Oper rechnen, denn das Orchester
hier ist in vielen Stücken wohl das


beste Norddeutschlands.
Deine Freunde müßen schon einstweilen
mit den deutschen Theatern zufrie=
den sein, bis du sie zu den Nibe=
lungen zu dir in die Schweitz rufst:
Du vergißt doch nicht, daß Du mich
mit der Concertmeisterei bei dem
Orchester betrauen wolltest? Ich
werde Dich noch daran erinnern! Ob
ich aber im kommenden Sommer
nach Zürich komme, kann ich noch
nicht mit Bestimmtheit sagen —


außer der Lust, die vorhanden ist, fehlt es mir an
manchen Dingen dazu; aber vielleicht
wird es noch ausführbar. Vor der Hand
bleibe ich den April über hier, um
einen versprochenen Besuch Liszt’s
abzuwarten. Später gehe ich wahrschein=
lich nach Göttingen: nicht um mich
für ein Doctor=Examen zu prepari=
ren! Es ist aber hübscher gelegen
als das öde Hannover, und ich
möchte gerne einiges Musikalische
aufschreiben. In verehrungsvoller
Ergebenheit Dein

Joseph Joachim

Hanover, 6th April 1854.

Dear Friend,

At last, you are receiving the Lohengrin scores with much gratitude, which will hopefully arrive in time for the Swiss Music Festival [Music Festival of the Eidgenossen]. My hope to request a performance of the same and the 9th Symphony before the end of the season has been thwarted — as is often the case with the best wishes, they are usually delayed. I have been consoled with the promise of fulfilling this favorite wish of mine in the upcoming winter.

However, some good news has come my way: the inclusion of your Tannhäuser in our opera repertoire. Since the new intendant, Count Platen, spares no effort to buy good singers (unfortunately, the most fitting expression!), I can count on a good execution of your opera for the coming winter. The orchestra here is, in many respects, one of the best in Northern Germany.

For now, your friends will have to be content with the German theaters until you summon them to the Nibelungen in Switzerland. You haven’t forgotten that you intended to entrust me with the concertmaster position in the orchestra? I will remind you of it again! However, I cannot say with certainty yet whether I will come to Zurich next summer. Apart from the desire that exists, some things are still lacking; but perhaps it will still be feasible. For the time being, I will remain here throughout April to await a promised visit from Liszt. Later, I will likely go to Göttingen: not to prepare for a doctoral exam! Nevertheless, it is more pleasantly situated than the desolate Hanover, and I would like to write down some musical things. In admiring devotion, your

Joseph Joachim

Hanover Opera House