Dickens and Joachim, a ‘Freak’ on the Violin

Posted on June 14th, 2012 by


 

 Dickens and Joachim, a ‘Freak’ on the Violin (Text of talk given on 14th June 2012)

‘Music has become a pleasure, which, like the Plague of Egypt, pervades our kings’ chambers and our working men’s houses-a freak on or about the violin family… and the music prepared for the same, may not be altogether untimely.’ (Charles Dickens 1866)

London, March 3rd 1862, the violinist Joseph Joachim wrote to his wife, the singer Amalie Schneeweiss:

‘I am to hear Dickens read tonight. I made his acquaintance at dinner the day before yesterday, and I was delighted with his vigorous unaffected manner; a contrast to my neighbour on the right who was none other than Bulwer. What would I not have given for your wife’s album?  There was an occasion!! ! [In English]. B. is pedantic, vain and affected, not uninteresting, of course, with haut gout blasé.

Joseph Joachim-Duetto Pastorale (SOUNDBOX discussion)

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Autumn 2011 SOUNDBOX discussion/workshop-Royal Academy of Music Museum/Peter Sheppard Skaerved & Mihailo Trandafilovski (Violins)

A talk about Dickens and Joachim might see to present slim pickings indeed. They practised different professions, and only met a few times. However, it becomes clear, that they were both cited, often in tandem, the ne plus ultra of accomplishment in their respective fields, having successful negotiated the treacherous ground between populism and erudition. In January 1868, Punch noted:

Try this style of conversation when next you are dining or dancing out: if it succeeds, you will go home a happier man than you have felt for a long time, if it fails, you can but fall back on your reserve of Robertson’s Plays and Burnand’s Burlesques; and the Ballet in the Pantomimes and the Ballot at Elections; and the Election Petitions, which fill the papers to weariness, and the new halfpenny paper, the Echo, ); and The Ring and the Book, and the Report of the Marriage Law Commission; and the Convention with America, and Reverdy Johnson, and the Alabama claims; and the Christy Minstrels ^ and Joachim’s playings; and Dickens’s Readings; and the new edition ot Carlyle’s Writings; and the Derby Course, and the course Disraeli will take; and Government cutting down the clerks in the public departments, and that the Government quill pens may also be cut down; and the reduction in the establishment at Greenwich Hospital; and the Beggars in Belgravia; and the First Commissionership of Police; and Carbolic Acid, &c.

Chamber music, as seen by Punch

Both of them, in their own way, redefined the art of the entertainer, in the manner demanded by the readers of The Popular Educator or subscribers to the Globe Encyclopaedia , which celebrated Joachim, in his lifetime, as the ‘most brilliant and powerful violinist of the century’. Perhaps what they both shared was an ability to enthral their listeners tout seul without the need to resort to charlatanism. Dickens proved to be as allergic to musical mountebanks, as Joachim was to literary flaneurs.

Joseph Joachim was a letter writer of no little poetry, whose descriptive tendencies sometimes seem to mirror Dickens’s own. Aged 22, he wrote to Gisela von Arnim, in 1853:

(COLOGNE, December 20, 1853)’it is still early morning, day has hardly broken in this sacred town, which seems to vibrate like a violin’.

He later waxed lyrical about Britain’s soggy weather, and the warming propensities of Brahms’s music, in the forlorn hope that his friend would visit:

EDINBURGH, March 22 [1893]’I have much pleasure in sending you a greeting from this land of fog, and in telling you how the glow of your genius has penetrated here, and is warming and illuminating and ever-widening circle.’

But Joachim’s German friends intensely disapproved of his love of England, and there is more than a hint that they felt that he was displaying a want of patriotism. But Joachim had embraced Britain like the 19th Century English intellectuals ‘found themselves’ in Italy (he liked to spend holidays at Broadstairs). He was enraptured by the countryside. In 1867, he wrote his wife:

“Tomorrow I am off again to Bath, Clifton, and Torquay, and shall not be back until Friday. Follow me on the map with your finger. This time I am going through lovely country.”

Johannes Brahms wrote Clara Schumann, pooh-poohing the English culture that enthralled their friend:

July 3, Sunday Evening 1859. I don’t like to hear, nor do I like to think, of Johannes Anglo-mania. Is it all going to end in marriage? … I don’t think that for moment that I shall ever go to England… in spite of all the Handel Choirs of 3000 voices, and all the wonderful scenes and battle pieces in Shakespeare plays.”

'Messiah' at Crystal Palace,1857

Two years earlier Hans Christian Andersen, visiting the UK, had three priorities: 1-Visiting Dickens at Gads Hill (not been a success), 2-seeing a choir of 2000 perform Messiah  at Crystal Palace, and 3-seeing Charles Kean in The Tempest.

Indeed, Joachim suffered when he was away from what he called the city he called ‘London the magnificent’. In 1860, he wrote Clara Schumann:

To Clara Schuman, [HANOVER, April i13, 1860.]-And so you will play the dear island folk another visit? Sometimes I dell positively homesick for the fine old trees in the squares, and the variegated life and the peculiar feeling of isolation which comes over one in the midst of the turmoil and draws one to the parks. In short there is much that is glorious in dear, dear London!

But it was the huge popularity of the newly fashionable chamber concerts which enthralled Joachim the most. To his wife, 1867:

[LONDON] early Monday morning [February 25, 1867] – I always enjoy the pop. Concerts very much. They are always packed, and I have to play something extra every time; the London public is very faithful. We have a different kind of programme each time. The day before yesterday it was Beethoven’s C major Quintette and Schubert’s B[flat] major trio; today Mendelssohn’s A minor Quartette and Schubert’s Forellen Quintette, which I have only played once in my life.

 Kreutzer Quartet with Guest Artist Diana Matthews/Beethoven-Quintet Op 29 (2nd Movement)/Recording Courtesy of Colin Still (Optic Nerve)

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Charles Dickens noted the profundity of Joachim’s approach to Beethoven:

 “…whether it be Beethoven’s loftiest inspirations, or Spohr’s Scena Drammatica, or Mendelssohn’s lovely Concerto, this magnificent artist leaves nothing to be desired.”

Joseph Joachim’s London debut in 1844, under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn had become the stuff of legend. He was not received as a prodigy, but as one offering a new expectation of what Art, could achieve, and setting a new ethical standard to which musicians aspire to this day. His teacher Mendelssohn wrote of the 13 year old boy:

‘His manner of playing all modern and classical solos, his interpretations, his perfect comprehension of music, and promise in him of a noble service to art, will, I am sure, lead you to think as highly of him as I do.’

The young Joachim

Joachim and Mendelssohn had taken a risk, playing Beethoven’s unpopular Violin Concerto, earlier been dismissed by The Harmonicon as ‘a fiddling affair’. In one fell blow, Joachim established his own credentials and put the Concerto in the centre of the repertoire, a piece associated indelibly with him to this day

Felix Mendelssohn-Etude for a violin to Joseph Joachim in Friendship-Berlin 11th March 1844/Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Workshop recording 2nd June 2012)

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There were, undoubtedly, times when the intensity of popular concert giving in London exhausted even Joachim:

To Bernhard Scholz [LONDON, March 3, 1862.] – I am playing a great deal, in fact the other evening I procured a wraith for myself, as I had promised to play at St James’s and the Hanover Square Rooms at the same time! Seriously, I drove to and fro twice so as to fulfil my obligation, as you will see from the enclosed programme. I played my own Concerto yesterday evening. The second and last movements went very well, but the first was not sufficiently rehearsed. But the audience was very kind; most of the musicians in London were amongst the 2000 who were present, I am glad to say. People treat me here as though I were an old friend, with sympathy and cordiality, and that is always pleasant.

 

Concert at the Hanover Square Rooms, 1843

It is clear, that there were limits to Joachim’s populist outlook, as he outlined in 1857:

To Clara Schumann, [HANOVER, January 15, 1857.]- I have been offered an engagement in London to commence on July 22 for 3 or 4 weeks, by Surrey Gardens Company. A new hall has been built there which holds 7000 people, and I should have to bind myself to play there every evening- the music to be chosen by me; for this I should receive £60 a week. To be quite honest I am very much attracted by it; but there is a drawback-Jullien’s orchestra. ON most evenings, certainly, only good music will be played, but on others, there will be Polkas.

 

Jullien's 'Comet Galop' at Surrey Gardens

Dickens and Joachim’s paths crossed on a number of occasions-their names appear in a number of the albums of the fashionable musical and intellectual salons which they frequented in London, particular those kept by Eliza Wesley. But we have only one account of Joachim visiting Dickens at home, in July 1862. Joachim wrote to his great friend, the Michelangelo scholar, Herman Grimm:

To Hermann Grimm, [LONDON] Tuesday, the 15th [July 1862]-Last week I spent two days in Dickens’s house, near Rochester, an hour’s railway journey. You and Gisel would enjoy being there; the house stands on Gadshill, where Falstaff’s knavery, of jovial memory, took place.’

 

Gad's Hill Place, Dickens's Home

No wonder Joachim’s was excited.  His Anglomania (of which Brahms so thoroughly disapproved) led him to compose two ‘Shakespeare Overtures’:

Robert Schumann to Clara, Endenich, 18th September, 1854 – You write to me of Joachim, so greet him. What have Brahms and Joachim composed? Has the overture for Hamlet appeared? Has he finished others?

This first of these was his Op 4, the overture to Hamlet. It is notable, that in 1854, Schumann regarded both Brahms and Joachim as being composers, whereas by 1866, Dickens could write:

“…he has been driven, beyond any of the artists hitherto named, on the interpretation of other men’s compositions. In this occupation he has been equalled by no predecessor.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s son also wrote of an extraordinary evening that his father spent with Joachim:

‘My father … took the great musician to smoke with him in his ‘den’ at the top of the house. There they talked of Goethe, especially praising a poem of Goethe’s old age, Der West-Östliche Divan, and then my father read The Revenge …he asked Joachim, “Could you do that on your violin?”’ There was no more reading, however, for he suddenly said, “I must not read any more, else I shall wake up the cook, who is sleeping next door.”

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Dickens averred that in at least one aspect, the instruments of the violin family were blessed with an emotional directness beyond any others:

‘The human voice has little more expressive power-even with the advantage of verbal declamation to help it-than the violin’

Dickens felt that in some mysterious way, this ‘expressive power’ was linked to a symbolic value which attached to the instrument even when silent, which set it apart from almost all other means of expression:

‘…the instrument when mute has characteristics which give it a place of its own. Whereas every other one of its comrades is worsened the fiddle is bettered by age and use…How many centuries have passed since the world was first edified by the sound of fiddle? This is a question for the Dyrasdusts;-not to be dismissed lightly here.’

The Dryasdusts were the spurious and tedious authorities coined by Sir Walter Scott-hence those who present facts without emotion: A whole chapter of Carlyle’s Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches is given over to the “Anti-Dryasdust.” Carlyle writes:

“To Dryasdust, who wishes merely to compile torpedo Histories of the philosophical or other sorts, and gain immortal laurels for himself by writing about it and about it, all this is sport; but to us who struggle piously, passionately, to behold, but in glimpses, the faces of our vanished Fathers, it is death!”

Apollo playing a violin-shaped object (as seen by Raphael)

Dickens continued, with the apotheosis, quite literally, of the violin:

Old painters-how far inspired by tradition or not, who shall say?-have put it into the hands of Apollo on the hill of Parnassus: and following their example, the other day, Mr Leighton, in his Picture of  Music, put it into the hands of Orpheus as the magical instrument by which Eurydice was given back to life.’

Dickens pointed to the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s’ idealisation of string instruments-they, perhaps more than other British artistic movement, re-established of the image of the violin as classical ideal. The violin figures large in the work of both Leighton and G F Watts, both of whom would later become very close to Joachim, in whom they glimpsed an artistic purity, the absolute classical ideal , in music, to which they aspired. In 1876, Joachim expressed his admiration for Leighton:

To Robert Schöne, [BERLIN, May 1876] – What I admire in him is that he never ceases to strive after perfection even in the minutest details, and I admire this all the more because he is in a fair way to be spoilt by attention and flattery. But I think he has delicacy and versatility as an artist to an unusual degree.

But back to Dickens and the violin-here, a wonderful metaphor-and extraordinary observation to boot:

 I am at present a middle-aged man of a broadish build, in cords, leggings, and a sleeved waistcoat, the strings of which is always gone behind. Repair them how you will, they go like fiddle-strings. You have been to the theatre, and you have seen one of the wiolin-players screw up his wiolin, after listening to it as if it had been whispering the secret to him that it feared it was out of order, and then you have heard it snap. That’s as exactly similar to my waistcoat as a waistcoat and a wiolin can be like one another. (Dr Marigold P. 1)

I have become excited by the idea of observing the world of string playing, as viewed from London, from Dickens’s very personal perspective. In A Freak on the Violin (perhaps best understood today, quite literally, as ‘A Freak-out about the Violin’ , published in 1866, he lays out his view of the importance of the instrument, before moving to  a celebration of the artists that he was able to hear in London from his early 20s onwards. He noted that fundamentally, for instruments of the violin family:

‘No improvements have been effected, save in the making of the bow-a condition of things without parallel in the fabrication of musical instruments-which has been universally a story of discovery and progress. Think of a Broadwood, or an Erard Concert Grand Pianoforte, as compared with the meek and weak little clavichord, which sufficed; think how the powers of King David’s instrument, the harp, have been extended by pedals and double action since the days of the Bards, nay, and even of such modern celebrities as Krumpholtz and Madame de Genlis, and Madame Spohr the first. … No fate of the kind has befallen the violin.’

Dickens returns repeatedly to the notion of the violin in its ‘primal’ form-this of course, reflecting  a Renaissance ideal which had initially swept through the world of architectural theory, for a second time, during the Enlightenment.

Antonio Averlino’s 1461 Treatise on Architecture posited Adam himself as the ‘first architect’ of this ‘primal’ form, and the idea was revived by Marc-Antoine Laugier (1713-63).  The frontispiece of his 1775 Essai sur l’architecture showed a woman sitting on classical ruins, pointing to a more ‘natural’ building, the ‘Primal Hut’, emerging from a stand of trees. This, she indicates, is the way forward for French architecture; Rousseau in wood. Laugier noted, with a flourish, “& voilà l’homme loge.”  Frederick von Schlegel (1772-1829) warned against such folly: “The Ancients are neither the Jews, nor the Christians, nor the English Poets.  They are not a people of artists elected arbitrarily by God, nor do they alone posses a beatifying fruit in Beauty; nor do they hold a monopoly on poetry.”

Benjamin Laborde’s ground-breaking, if fanciful, Essai sur la Musique of 1780, acknowledged that the violin’s origins were so obscure that “To know so little is to know nothing,” evoked the connection to this ‘primal hut’.

William Sandys’s 1864 in his History of the Violin, a book which Dickens enjoyed, and referenced, offered evidence of the success of this fiction.  “The approach to the present shape of the violin was probably gradual; the first makers of the violins being also makers of viols.  Dickens, a fan of Sandys’ work, takes up the theme:

The best workmen are those who best imitate the men who wrought three hundred years ago. In its form, in proportion, in the addition to its means, no improvement has been made; and less so in some points of decoration which assists in the preservation of the instrument. The secret of the old varnishes, which are essential to the well-being of a violin, as is manipulated clay of delicate quality to the texture of china, seems, if we are to believe common testimony, irrevocably lost. /…the only artist of modern times who is said to counterfeit the works of the great Italian makers, M Vuillaume, has done so mainly by a most careful selection of materials. Many a roof and panel from Swiss chalets have found their way into his workshop. Be the grain ever so good, the material must have undergone the slow action of time…..But the Violin is nothing without its bow; and the perfected bow is an invention dating nearly two centuries later than the perfection of the instrument which it ‘bids to discourse’.

He was powerfully aware that the legacy of Cremona had been allowed to moulder. In his travel book, Pictures from Italy, he described this decay in terms familiar to anyone who has read Bleak House. His route through northern Italy, he wrote:

‘…lay through mist, and mud, and rain, and vines trained low upon the ground, all that day and the next; the first sleeping-place being Cremona, memorable for its dark brick churches, and immensely high tower, the Torrazzo—to say nothing of its violins, of which it certainly produces none in these degenerate days; Then we went on, through more mud, mist, and rain, and marshy ground: and through such a fog, as Englishmen, strong in the faith of their own grievances, are apt to believe is nowhere to be found but in their own country: until we entered the paved streets of Milan…’

Dickens’s understanding and regard for the intrinsic value of cremonese violins found its way into his novels-in Our Mutual Friend we read;

“… He had been carried to another office where his life was assured for somebody not wholly unconnected with the sherry trade whom he remembered by the remarkable circumstance that he had a Straduarius violin to dispose of, and also a Madonna, formed the sum and substance of Mr. Twemlow’s narrative.”

There has been a certain degree of commentary about Dickens’s use of musicians in his novels. What fascinates me more is use of the social side of playing, and particularly string playing, as commentary, as metaphor in his writing. There is no doubt a memory, and maybe a painful one, of his reported failure as a violinist-he had no aptitude, and no love of music was able to replace from that. (There was a bizzarrerie at this year’s Hay on Wye Festival, when Clare Tomalin announced that Dickens was ‘a performer’. How is that news?)

(Martin Chuzzlewit)‘To say that Tom had no idea of playing first fiddle in any social orchestra, but was always quite satisfied to be set down for the hundred and fiftieth violin in the band, or thereabouts, is to express his modesty in very inadequate terms.’

Niccolò Paganini’s visits to London, from 1831, to 1834, when the young Dickens heard the Genoan ‘apparition’ as he called him, which had established the primacy of the Cremonese masterworks in the popular imagination. In 1831, The Playgoer noted:

“We are informed that an illustrious player on the fiddle, at present in London; having been requested to perform in a particular house, gave for answer, the he could not comply with the invitation, but that if one of his cremonas were of any use, he would lend it for the occasion.”

It is worth noting, that even twenty years after Dickens’s death, the primacy of the Cremonese instruments, and of Stradivari in particular, was by no means a given amongst players. Joachim would write to Karel Halir (who had replaced de Ahna in his ‘German’ quartet, and who would later give the premier of the Sibelius Violin Concerto):

(HEINSTEIN BEI EISENACH, September 11 [1896]) ‘I am particularly glad to be able to be of use to you by lending me my English violin, it will be charming bond between us whilst we are separated. One could confide anything to the care of your reverent, artistic hands! I am delighted to see that you are converted to Stradivarius, as his is the ideal tone to my mind also. No other maker has such real elasticity. I might almost say versatility of tone. I hope your success will soon enable you to have a violin like this of your own, meanwhile please make use of your friend’s. We might perhaps discuss the advisability of insuring your violin before you start.’

 

Delacroix paints Paganini, 'l'Homme de Peste'

From the moment he played his first notes in London, in June 1831, Paganini’s impact had been profound. One might argue, that from the time of his arrival, performance in Britain would never be the same again, and indeed, that he redefined the very notion of celebrity, just at the moment that the popular artists of the Victorian era, most especially, Charles Dickens, like Paganini a true solo performer with, whose first play, the Bloomsbury Christenings, was produced by the Adelphi Theatre, in 1835, the year after Paganini left.

In writing about violinists, Dickens announced that there was little point in talking about the well documented players of the past but:

‘I shall be content myself with rummaging my own peculiar stores of recollection regarding some of the great players of this 19th century.’

By this, of course, he meant that he would confine himself to those he had had heard, and those he had met.

Of course, the first of these to be named is Paganini; but the man whom to name, so as to give any distinct record of the impression made on me by him, is most difficult. One may well talk of ‘apparition; in Paganini’s case; because the intense and eccentric personality of the man had its share in the attention his performances excited. A Vampire in an orchestra is not an everyday sight; and never did man by dress and gesture make more of a ghostly aspect than did he, neither more obviously thereby invite the fabrication of the marvellous anecdotes which Fancy makes out of nothing, for Scandal to repeat. …I could not rid myself when I heard him, though I was then inexperienced and liable to be carried away by what is astonishing, of a conviction of the player’s eccentricity… His execution was limitless; his tone was thin, and chargeable with a certain abuse of trembling vibration, which, for a time, became tiresomely fashionable; but the tone was unimpeachable in purity. …./to sum up, whether his strength was that of health or fever, whether his taste was always unimpeachable or the reverse, whether he was more powerful to surprise than to move, or not-as an executive artist, whose genius left his impress on  his generation, Paganini stands unparagoned. Sham Paganini’s appeared by the score, and made concert-music hideous.

Isaac Collins-'the English Paganini'

Isaac Collins, styling himself the ‘English Paganini’, set up his concerts as a spoiler to Paganini’s first visit in 1831.  Momentarily he took the wind out of his sails. He shamelessly branded of his offspring, as ‘Lindley’ and ‘Viotti’ Collins, showing how desperate was his need for the ‘oxygen of publicity’. One picture of Collins shows him demonstrating some of (to quote Dickens) his trick music, playing sitting down with his bow tied between his angles, holding the violin against the bow with both hands. If nothing else, this shows the lengths that other performers had to go in order to draw any attention from Paganini.  Later in the Century, his son ‘Viotti’ Collins ended up working for  Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roche Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noël Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien, about whom Joachim would write:

“My original feeling against such an association with an undisguised charlatan and speculator triumphs over all arguments to the contrary. What relation can remain sacred to me in life if I cheapen my art by active association with a mountebank?”

Dickens celebrated Joachim as:

 The reigning king of violinists…. whose popularity his without one dissenting voice, and whose excellence as a player is without alloy. Avoiding, for the most part, what may be called trick music….

Within weeks of Paganini’s arrival in the London, the previously mentioned Collins was announcing works with ‘gothic’ titles such as The Limehouse Hulk, which depicted one of the convict moored in the Thames estuary, and the groans of the unfortunates therein.

The 'Limehouse Hulk' as seen by the prodigious composer/painter/RAM principal,William Crotch

‘By the light of the torches, we saw the black hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains, the prison ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like the prison.’(G.E. P.30)

Dickens immediately moved to the wondrous matter of Joachim’s Bach playing. It is worthy of note that Joachim performed unaccompanied Bach, on his very first visit to London in 1844-the Chaconne.

Whether the matter in hand be the wondrous inventions of Sebastian Bach-ancient but not old, and with all their formalities of former times, more romantic and suggestive than most of the ravings of today, which are set forth as profound and transcendental poetry…

Dickens wrote repeatedly of the impression that Joachim’s performances of unaccompanied Bach made upon him.

‘This great genius, who divined so much, and the value of whose experiments to the world of musical poets has only come to be appreciated within a comparatively recent period, can have en countered no one, I suspect, in the least able to present on the violin his difficult and recondite fancies. His Sonatas, Chaconnes, Variations, as good as buried till Mendelssohn disinterred them, tax a player to the amount which few players, save of the calibre of a Spohr, a Joachim, and a Molique, can afford to be taxed.’

“Molique is for the Violin — not always spontaneous, but always interesting by ingenuity and distinct individuality.” (Charles Dickens)

The old saw, that Bach’s solo works unknown prior to Joachim, does not bear repeating-in 1802, George August Polgreen Bridgetower and Samuel Wesley were bickering about who had their copy of the C Major Solo Sonata. But Dickens noted, that Bach’s:

“…unaccompanied violin solos, but for Herr Joachim and the Monday Popular Concerts, would have been sealed treasures to our connoisseurs.”

As he acknowledged, it was Joachim who drew Bach’s Sonatas& Partitas out from the salon, and onto the ‘popular’ stage.

Dickens’s admiration of Joachim’s performances of Bach was matched by that of the Munich born violinist and composer Bernard Molique, a fixture in London, and much admired by Dickens:

From B.Molique, 30 Harrington Square, NW, December 2, 1862-My dear Friend Joachim-Accept my sincere thanks for the pleasure which your magnificent playing gave me last night. … I must confess to you that you have made yourself indispensable to me as a violinist. I shall never listen to S.Bach again unless you come back to London and I am still alive, because I shall not let the impression your playing has made upon me be spoilt by anyone else…

George Bernard Shaw writing under the pen-name of corno di bassetto, was eloquent on the subject of Joachim’s Bach:

14 February 1876 ‘. The great violinist also played for a solo Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. Being encored, he played a familiar gavotte by the same master, whose music he treats in a peculiar style.’

Dickens clarified quite what set Joachim apart from other players, even those, that he admired so much:

With a purer taste than Paganini-with more feeling than Spohr-with more earnestness, and almost as much elegance as, de Beriot-with more certainty than Ernst, Herr Joachim presents a combination of the highest intellectual, poetical, and technical qualities. In the rendering of music he is without peer.

Yet again, the emphasis is on ‘rendering’-Joachim, as the first internationally acclaimed violinist to become primarily know for his interpretations of other composers: Dickens probably did not realise it, but in this celebration, he completed the silencing of Joachim, the composer.

But it becomes clearer to me, the more I think about this subject, the that a very small percentile of Dickens’s work lay in expressing a new seriousness about popular entertainment, and the popular success of this mission was mirrored in the cult of a new kind of performer, one who found a way to communicate with the broadest audience, without compromise, and without condescension. Dickens was powerfully aware of the ability of certain musicians to quite literally transport their listeners.  Writing about Paganini, who made his last visit to London when Dickens was twenty-three years old, he wrote:

“There are people of genius who rule by disturbing, not subjugating, the spirits of those who listen to them. One of these (to cite a parallel in music) was Malibran was compared with Pasta; another, the great Genoese violinist, who convulsed Europe by his triumph, as no instrumentalist (the Abbe Liszt not excepted) has done or since his apparition.”

There is always the underlying impression that Dickens sought to ‘disturb the spirit’ of those who listened/read him. Perhaps it was in the stage presence of certain virtuosi, that he witnessed this universal appeal, without ‘playing to the gallery’.

Charles Dickens’s daughter wrote about Joachim’s 1862 visit to Gad’s Hill Place:

“I never remember seeing him so wrapt and absorbed as he was then, on hearing [Joachim] play; and the wonderful simplicity and un-self-consciousness of the genius went straight to my father’s heart”

Joachim’s visit was certainly more successful than Andersen’s, five years earlier. After the great Dane had left, Dickens stuck a note on the bedroom mirror. ‘H C Andersen stayed for 5 weeks in this room, which seemed to the family AGES!’

Joachim noted that Dickens was particularly struck by Giuseppe Tartini’s G minor Sonata ‘The Devil’s Trill’. I wonder if there was a degree of recognition here. Dickens was fascinated with the idea of ‘apparitions’ as he mentioned with regard to Paganini. I cannot resist the idea that the two of them discussed a link between the nocturnal visitations in A Christmas Carol and the famous genesis of Tartini’s Sonata-who can resist it, Ebenezer Scrooge as Tartini! So I will leave you with two images, one from the 1843 first edition of Dickens’s story, and the Boilly engraving of ‘Tartini’s dream’. One can just imagine the conversation….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s finish with the violin in its proper place in the household-again from Christmas Carol.

 In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. (C.C. P 33)