A Portrait of his Life
(* Semlin an der Donau, Nov 29, 1859; † Berlin, Oct 7, 1925)
New, revised and expanded edition
In two volumes
Verlag der Deutschen Brahms—Gesellschaft m. b. H.
Translation © Robert Whitehouse Eshbach, 2024
Foreword to the First Edition
On a cold winter’s day around the mid-eighties, I crossed the square in front of the Potsdamer Tor on my way to give the daughter of a family living in the Tiergarten Hotel her first violin lesson. Loud shouts from a car heading for the Potsdam train station interrupted my pedagogical musings. Since its occupants stopped and invited me to get in, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation. The passengers were Joachim, Rudorff and Kruse, on their way to take the next train to Magdeburg, to give a concert there with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
The frequent trips that Joachim made at that time with the Philharmonic to the larger provincial cities of northern Germany, together with the concerts that took place under his direction in the Residenz, were vital for the continued existence of that excellent orchestra, which plays such an important role in the musical life of Berlin.
When I arrived at the station platform, Kruse, in answer to my question as to what program would be performed in Magdeburg, pressed a ticket into my hand that he had bought in the meantime, pushed me into a wagon of the train that was ready for departure, and whispered to me: “You can come too and hear how Joachim plays the Beethoven concerto, and how we play Schumann’s D minor symphony and the third Leonore overture.” That was a persuasive, and — since the train had meanwhile started moving — urgent request from my friend, who was at that time the concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra.
There were two paramount reasons why I did not regret this little trip: first, the concert, which went off brilliantly and is one of those memories one does not easily forget, and second, the pleasant get-together with the three artists after the performance. The day before had been Rudorff’s birthday, and to celebrate it properly, Joachim had a few bottles of the sparkling wine brought in, which, under the name of “house key,” is called upon to play a certain role in my presentation. Just as an exquisite drop at the right time could thaw even that most taciturn of musicians, Robert Schumann, I have never seen Joachim in such an expansive mood as he was that evening after the concert in Magdeburg. We saw pass by us by in the flesh all the splendid artists who had sheltered his youth, encouraged his aspirations with their sympathy, and imparted such delightful enrichment to his whole life through the memory of the “hallowed hours” spent together with them.
When we parted in the early hours of the morning, the idea occurred to me of uniting the individual pictures that our raconteur had brought before our inner eye into a whole, in order that wider circles might gain an insight into Joachim’s rich artistic life. My delay in carrying out this intention has in any case had the advantage that I have been able to include the last decade of Joachim’s work in the scope of my portrayal. The lively personal contact with the master, whose pupil I am proud and grateful to call myself, the frequent music-making with him, and the circumstance that I have, for more than a decade now, faithfully served him as an assistant teacher at the Hochschule, place me in the fortunate position of being able to describe the external course of his life with a guarantee of absolute fidelity; and to be able confidently to portray him as an artist based on intimate familiarity with his spiritual views, gained through continuous discussion.
Had it required an incidental reason to wreathe the flowers which fortune has so generously strewn on his path — I could not think of a more beautiful occasion than the “Sixty Years’ Jubilee” of the master’s artist career, on March 17, 1899. Rejoicing over the youthful freshness that still invigorates Joachim’s art, loyal students and friends dedicate this book to him as an offering on this exceptional celebration.
An individuality can only be fully understood when the circumstances from which it has emerged are clarified and the ends to which it has developed are made known. The many influences to which Joachim was exposed from earliest childhood made it necessary to examine his artistic ancestors and contemporaries in sufficient detail to arrive at a proper appreciation of the service he has rendered to the artistic life of his time. In describing Joachim as a man, I had in mind Goethe’s dictum (to Heinrich Meyer, February 8, 1796): “All pragmatic biographical characterization must give way to the simple details of an important life.” With the extensive material that has been placed at my disposal, it would have been easy to make a much larger book; however, I have set a higher value on the attempt to create a rounded portrait of the master than on the aim of being exhaustive.
For my historical and statistical data, two works have served me excellently: Hanslick’s Geschichte des Konzertwesens in Wien and Wasielewski’s Die Violine und ihre Meister. All the letters to Liszt, which can be found in the chapters “Weimar” and “Hanover”, are taken from the book by La Mara, Briefe hervorragender Zeitgenossen an Franz Liszt; those of Hans von Bülow from his Briefe und Schriften, edited by Marie von Bülow.
I have not lacked for friendly encouragement and supportive involvement in my work. I am particularly grateful to Professor Dr. Julius Otto Grimm, Hofkapellmeister Albert Dietrich, and Professor Ernst Rudorff, who have kindly allowed me to access and partially publish their letters from Joachim. The most fruitful source for the clarification of relations in the distant past, however, has been Joachim’s letters to Avé Lallemant, which show his relations to Johannes Brahms in such a beautiful light.
Though no one will fail to appreciate the love I put into my work, I have come to realize while doing it that desire and ability are fundamentally different things. What sustained my self-confidence in such an unfamiliar occupation as authorship is to a practical musician was recalling Robert Schumann’s remark that he “often values a simple curse from a musician more highly than entire aesthetics.” Since I have endeavored in my presentation to aestheticize as little as possible, but rather to let the musician do most of the talking, I hope that my attempt at writing will be treated and judged with appropriate sympathy. I am, after all — “only a fiddler.”
Berlin, September 1898
Foreword to the New Edition
The friendly reception of the first version of this biography, which was at first only a somewhat extended commemorative volume on the occasion of Joachim’s sixtieth artist’s jubilee, has prompted me to thoroughly rewrite the book and to continue it through the passing of the master, which occurred on August 15th of this year. If I succeeded in condensing my presentation into a single volume with the first edition, this was no longer possible due to the abundance of material that has since become available. The new edition’s division into two parts is arranged in such a way that the first volume concludes with Schumann’s death, the second with Joachim’s passing.
While the first four chapters, which cover Joachim’s formative years, have not undergone significant revisions, they do contain additions that I consider enhancements. The succeeding sections, however, have been so transformed that, for example, “Hanover” has assumed a scope perhaps three times longer than the original. Various factors have contributed to this expansion: first, my acquaintance with the highly commendable source work by Dr. Georg Fischer, Opern und Konzerte im Hoftheater zu Hannover bis 1866 (Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hanover and Leipzig, 1899), which not only frequently confirmed my own inquiries, but also provided insight into many hitherto only suspected events in the Guelph residence; second, Max Kalbeck’s Johannes Brahms (published by the Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft mbH, Berlin); third, the Literarischen Werke of Peter Cornelius, edited by his son, Carl Maria Cornelius (Breitkopf und Härtel, 1904), the first volume of which illuminates Joachim’s sojourn in Weimar and his relationships with Liszt in a unique manner; then the Neue Folge of the Briefe Robert Schumanns, edited by F. Gustav Jansen (ibid., 1904); further, Clara Schumann; ein Künstlerleben, nach Tagebüchern und Briefen, by Berthold Litzmann (ibid, 1906); also Joachims letters to Schumann, which the master himself made accessible to me a few years before his death, and are printed here for the first time; and finally, the correspondence between Brahms and Joachim, the publication of which is to be completed after this “life’s picture” through my efforts.
Although I generally feel that the frequent inclusion of letters and diary entries adversely affects the flow of a narrative, I thought it necessary to overlook this concern in the chapter “Hanover.” The correspondence between Schumann and Joachim, for example, provides such a vivid picture of the artistic and personal matters discussed between the two men that even the most skillful paraphrase would diminish the impact that reading the letters themselves conveys. On the other hand, the correspondence is not extensive enough to warrant a special edition. No matter how much opinions may differ regarding the form of its publication, however, there will be unanimous agreement among all who love and admire Joachim and Schumann as two of the most magnificent artists who ever lived in feeling glad that it has been preserved to us.
When a father sends one of his children into the world, no matter how often this may happen, he typically accompanies it with blessings and with recommendations to friends and acquaintances. Following this paternal tradition, I now send my conceptual child into the world with the mission and wish that it should express gratitude for the acceptance it has received — thanks, especially, to Professor G. Jansen in Hanover for valuable guidance — and that many new friends may join the old, not so much for its own sake, but rather for the sake of the personality to which its content is dedicated. For I have not only admired Joachim as an incomparable teacher, not only looked up to him as a divinely gifted artist, but also lost in him a fatherly friend, whose memory is engraved in my heart, indelible, deep, and true. And when I exclaim with Hamlet:
“He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again,”
I know whereof I speak!
Berlin, November 1907
On a vast plain about an hour’s walk south of the old Hungarian coronation city of Pressburg lies the small hamlet of Kittsee, whose name is well known to our school children through Otto Hoffmann’s story Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter (“Prince Eugene the Noble Knight”). In the spring of 1683, Emperor Leopold I held a military review on Kittsee’s land with the troops designated to oppose the Turks and Hungarians; and it was here that Prince Eugene of Savoy offered his services to the Emperor, which were gladly accepted in view of the perils of the impending war.
Today, Kittsee is officially known by the Hungarian name of Köpcsény. Nevertheless, the residents almost exclusively speak German in their daily lives; they are diligent, hardworking Swabians whose ancestors immigrated in earlier centuries from the German Empire. They have not only not forgotten the language, customs, and traditions of their old Heimat, but have managed to preserve them with such purity that, when associating with the locals, one feels transported back to the land of their origins.
[About Kittsee, see: https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/14/323/
About the Kittsee Kehilla (Jewish community), see: https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/16/the-kittsee-kehilla/ — RWE]
Among this stalwart Swabian community, Joseph Joachim first saw the light of the world on June 28, 1831. [This date, now commonly accepted, has never been conclusively authenticated. — RWE] He was the seventh of eight children with whom the couple Julius and Fanny Joachim were blessed over the years. Since the parents were of Jewish descent, the children were also raised in the Jewish faith. The father, Julius Joachim, was a capable merchant of serious, somewhat reserved, character, but deeply devoted to his family. Through diligence and continuous effort, he had achieved a certain level of prosperity that enabled him to provide his children with a good education that matched their abilities. Fanny was a loyal helper to her husband, a loving and tender mother to the children, and, with her simple nature, she fit harmoniously into the framework that encompassed the picture of a warm and happy family life. Not burdened by worldly riches, the family nonetheless lived in such well-ordered circumstances that all physical necessities could be easily acquired. The question of the children’s intellectual education proved more challenging, however, as the educational resources of such a small community as Kittsee were quickly exhausted. Business considerations, and the desire to provide a more rigorous education for his children, led Julius Joachim to conceive a plan to leave Kittsee and relocate to a larger city. By 1833 the Joachim family was already in Pest. Accordingly, the Hungarian capital is the actual setting for the childhood and early youth of little Joseph — or rather, “Pepi,” as we must continue to call our little one, according to the prevailing Austrian custom.
[About Joachim’s immediate family, see: https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/16/454/ — RWE]
Music did not initially play a significant role in the Joachim family; they enjoyed listening, but had no deeper interest in it. Only the second eldest daughter, Regina, had such a pleasant voice that her parents arranged for her to receive singing lessons. This awakened little Pepi’s musical awareness; he listened with rapt attention to every note, and then tried to play his sister’s song on a child’s violin. A friend of the family, a medical student named Stieglitz,1 played the violin enthusiastically in his leisure time. Stieglitz had purchased the toy violin at a fair and gave it to Pepi for his fourth birthday.
[Immense trade fairs were held four times a year in Pest: on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), Medardus (June 8), St. John’s Day (August 29) and on St. Leopold’s Day (November 15). For a description, see: “Pesth,” https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/15/391/ — RWE]
During his occasional visits, he introduced Pepi to the fundamentals of violin playing. The child’s musical intelligence and astonishing progress soon prompted Stieglitz to draw the parents’ attention to their son’s promising talent, and advise them to provide him with regular tuition from a knowledgeable source. Here, the father’s good judgment appears in the best light: rather than simply hiring an available, inexpensive teacher — as is common to do for beginners — he approached the best teacher in Pest, the concertmaster of the local opera, Serwaczyński.
(New York Public Library Digital Collection)
Serwaczyński (*1791 – †1862), who was born and died in Lublin, was a capable and clever artist who took his role as young Pepi’s teacher very seriously, advancing him with incredible speed. He did not limit himself to giving practical violin lessons, but as he gradually became a close friend of the Joachim family, he also exercised an influence on his student’s moral development. Pepi was a timid child, and afraid of the dark.
[It seems likely that young Joachim’s fear of the dark stemmed from having recently lived through a disastrous nocturnal flood that killed many, and left his family homeless. See: “The Flood,” https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/16/the-flood/ — RWE]
This displeased Serwaczyński, who decided to help him overcome this weakness. One evening, he deliberately asked the child to fetch something from another room; but nothing would induce Pepi to walk through the unlit corridor to the remote room. Serwaczyński first tried to persuade him — and then he scolded him, ultimately leaving the house, saying that he no longer wished to teach such a coward. When after several days the teacher did not appear at the usual time, the child went to apologize to him and promised not to be fearful and foolish in the future, if only he could have his beloved violin lessons again. The teacher’s experiment succeeded: the pupil faithfully kept his word.
Apart from the violin, the boy’s general education was not neglected. Pepi spent his first year in the public elementary school; later, he participated in a private circle that brought together a number of boys of the same age at the home of the future concertmaster of the Royal Kapelle in Stuttgart, Edmund Singer.
Pepi made such impressive progress on the violin that Serwaczyński persuaded his parents to take him to the opera, to broaden his musical horizons. This visit made a significant and lasting impression on the little boy. C. Kreutzer’s Nachtlager in Granada was performed, and Serwaczyński played the violin solo. During the intermission, Pepi was allowed to approach the orchestra and get his first glimpse of the arrangements that would later become so familiar to him. On this occasion, Serwaczyński showed his young pupil the instrument on which he had just played, and the image of this violin imprinted itself so firmly in his memory that he recognized it at first glance more than thirty years later, when, during a concert tour in Sweden, it was offered to him for purchase by the Polish violinist Biernacki, who had acquired it from Serwaczyński’s estate. Joachim acquired the instrument, a well-preserved specimen from the elder Guarneri’s early period, and always carefully preserved it as the violin of his first teacher.
Naturally, this first visit to the opera was followed by others, for once young Pepi realized that there was other music being made in the world outside of his violin lessons, he developed a true hunger for it. The Pest Opera was not bad for that time; it drew on traditions and memories that many more prominent temples of the muses might envy. Indeed, Beethoven had composed the music for King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens for the dedication of the Pest theater in 1811. The orchestra gave commendable performances, and the singers were highly regarded. Half a century later, as Joachim recounted his earliest childhood memories in intimate conversations, he still recalled the disputes that had unfolded among the audience regarding two of the female singers, leading to curious spectacles among those involved. One of the two singers, Agnes Schebest, later became the wife of David Strauss, the author of Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus).
Meanwhile, Serwaczyński had developed his young pupil through the study of violin schools by Rode, Kreutzer, and Baillot, as well as etudes by R. Kreutzer, to the point where Pepi could effortlessly play pieces by de Bériot, a violin concerto by Cremont, and compositions by Mayseder. In light of these excellent results, and in order to reward his pupil’s efforts with public recognition, Serwaczyński decided to introduce him to a larger audience. On March 17, 1839, teacher and student performed a double concerto by Eck in a concert at the “Adelskasino,” and Pepi played Pechatschek’s “Variations on Schubert’s Trauerwalzer” as a solo.
[About the début, see: https://josephjoachim.com/2013/06/16/debut/ — RWE]
Anyone looking critically at these pieces will see that a considerable technique is necessary to play them well, and Serwaczyński would have demanded a good deal more from his talented pupil than a simple mastery of the notes. Serwaczyński appears to have been an excellent teacher for the left hand; however, he devoted only little attention and care to bow technique. We shall see in the next chapter what notable consequences this oversight would have.
Pepi’s appearance in the Adelskasino was indeed a brilliant success for the teacher and student alike. The lage gathering cheered the blond-haired, seven-year-old violinist with their encouragement and honored him by calling him out several times. In later years, his only the memory of his début was that he was immensely proud of the sky-blue coat adorned with mother-of-pearl buttons that he wore for the occasion!
Joseph Joachim at the time of his début in the Adelskasino in Pest
[About this painting, see: https://josephjoachim.com/2019/05/20/jakab-marastoni-jacopo-antonio-marastoni-the-young-joseph-joachim/ — RWE]
The Pest magazine Der Spiegel devoted the following lines to the memorable event in its issue of March 21, 1839:
“In Pest wurde am 17. März im Saale des Nationalkasinos ein besonders interessantes Konzert veranstaltet, welches durch eine zahlreiche Zuhörerschaft mit ihrer Anwesenheit beehrt wurde. Es gelangten zum Vortrage: a) G. Onslows schönes 15. Quintett. — b) Deutsches Männerquartett, Komposition des Pester Musikers Herrn Merkel — c) Friedrich Ecks Doppelkonzert für zwei Violinen; vorgetragen nebst Quintettbegleitung durch den vortrefflichen Stanislaus Servaczyński und durch seinen achtjährigen Schüler Joseph Joachim. Von diesem letzteren Wunderkinde können wir nichts weiter sagen, als daß wir in ihm und an ihm ein wahres Wunder sahen und hörten. Sein Vortrag, die tadellose Reinheit der Intonation, die Bewältigung der Schwierigkeiten, die rhythmische Sicherheit entzückten die Zuhörer dermaßen, daß sie unaufhörlich applaudierten, und daß jeder einen zweiten Vieuxtemps, Paganini, Ole Bull aus ihm prophezeite.”
“A particularly interesting concert was held in Pest on March 17 in the hall of the National Casino, which was honored by the presence of a large audience. The following pieces were performed: a) G. Onslow’s beautiful 15th Quintet. — b) German Männerquartett, composed by the Pest musician Mr. Merkel — c) Friedrich Eck’s double concerto for two violins; performed together with quintet accompaniment by the by the excellent Stanislaus Servaczyński and his eight-year-old pupil Joseph Joachim. Of this latter child prodigy we can say nothing more than that we saw and heard in him and from him a true marvel. His performance, the impeccable purity of his intonation, his mastery of the difficulties, and his rhythmic security, so delighted the audience that they applauded incessantly, and one and all prophesied that the child would become a second Vieuxtemps, Paganini, or Ole Bull.”
This first public concert was of considerable significance for Pepi, as it gained for him the acquaintance and interest of Count Franz von Brunswick and his sister Therese, as well as Herr [Adalbert] von Rossi, members of two distinguished noble families in the Hungarian capital, who simultaneously opened their homes to him. Beethoven dedicated his piano sonata Op. 57 (Appassionata) and the Fantasia Op. 77 to Count Franz, and his Op. 78 to Therese. It is an acknowledged fact that Beethoven was on intimate terms with the Count for thirty years, and that his “Immortal Beloved” can have been no one other than Countess Therese. [This is no longer an “acknowledged fact.” — RWE] Herr von Rosti later became the father-in-law of the great Hungarian poet and later Minister of Culture Eötvös.
Quartet playing was regularly cultivated in both these houses — primarily the classics, but also much Onslow, who was at that time quite popular among quartet players. Thus, in his earliest years, through frequent listening to good chamber music, Joachim came into close contact with the genre of music in which he would later excel as a performer. And therein lies a certain foreshadowing: that, even as a child, the future greatest interpreter of Beethoven’s music associated with individuals who not only spoke the name Beethoven with reverence but had also been personally and spiritually close to the great genius.
As the gentle dawn kisses the young day, still dreamy and burdened with dew, not yet aware that, in a few hours, the radiant sun will illuminate it in full glory in the firmament, so the lofty name Beethoven greeted Joachim’s earliest childhood memories, and the child did not sense that this name would, after a few years, illuminate and warm his artistic career in radiant beauty!
In the summer of 1839, the Joachim family received a visit from a beloved relative, Fanny Figdor from Vienna. She was the daughter of Pepi’s eldest uncle on her mother’s side, a musical woman who made music solely for her own pleasure but was nevertheless a quite accomplished pianist.
Cousin Figdor took the greatest delight in her young cousin, who, despite his early youth could already play the violin so charmingly, and together with Serwaczyński, she encouraged his parents to have Pepi trained as a virtuoso. For the parents, however, this meant the separation from their beloved child. While the musical circumstances in Pest were quite satisfactory for that time, Cousin Fanny insisted that Pepi should go to Vienna. There, better teachers were available, music was cultivated in a much more extensive manner, and in general a different atmosphere prevailed than in the still culturally remote Pest. The move was made easier by the presence in Vienna of Pepi’s grandfather Figdor, with whom he could live, and the relatives there also offered to bear the costs of raising and educating the promising child.
And so, with the mother’s blessings, the three travelers — Herr Joachim, Fanny Figdor, and Pepi — set out cheerfully for the imperial city on the Danube, which was to become the little violinist’s second home for the next five years.