Felix Mendelssohn-Etude for a violin to Joseph Joachim in Friendship-Berlin 11th March 1844
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Workshop recording 2nd June 2012)
Joseph Joachim acquired near-legendary status with his debut in London, under the baton of Mendelssohn, in 1844. As was still the practice he arrived armed with letters of introduction to the Hanoverian Embassy, from Mendelssohn:
“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 think as highly of him as I do. But at the same time, he is a capital, healthy, well brought up, and altogether thoroughly good and clever lad, full of intelligence and very straight forward. Therefore be kind to him, look after him in Great London, and introduce him to those of our friends who will appreciate such an exceptional personality, and in whose acquaintance he, for his part, will also find pleasure and stimulation.’
Mendelssohn was effectively an honorary Londoner, so the combination of this letter and the other doors which he could open to his protégé, ensured, at the least, a social success. The rest was up to the musicians.
‘After its first performance by Eliasson at a Philharmonic Society concert on 9th April 1832, the violin concerto [Beethoven] was dismissed by The Harmonicon: ‘It is a fiddling affair, and might have been written by any third or fourth-rate composer.’ It was not until the youthful Joachim aged thirteen, performed it at a Philharmonic concert on the 27th May 1844, with Mendelssohn as conductor, that it was appreciated in London.’
Three years later, on the 3rd February 1847, Joachim then fifteen years later, celebrated Mendelssohn’s last birthday in Leipzig, in fine style. Ignaz Moscheles remembered:
‘The proceedings opened with a capital comic scene between two lady’s-maids, acted in the Frankfurt dialect by Cécile and her sister. Then came a charade on the word Gewandhaus. Joachim, wearing a fantastic wig a la Paganini, played a crazy impromptu on the G-string; the word Wand [wall] was represented by the ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ wall-scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; for Haus, Charlotte [Moscheles] acted a scene she had written herself, in which she was discovered knitting a blue stocking and soliloquizing on the foibles of female authoresses, advising the to attend to their domestic duties. By way of enforcing the moral, she summons a cook-that was me, and my appearance in cap and dress was the symbol for general uproar. Mendelssohn was sitting on a large straw armchair which creaked under his weight as he rocked to and fro, and the entire room echoed with his peals of laughter. The whole word Gewandhaus was illustrated by a full orchestra, Mendelssohn’s and my children playing on little drums and trumpets, Joachim leading with a toy violin, and my Felix conducting a la Jullien. It was splendid.
The death of Mendelssohn later that year left the teenage violinist bereft; he did not find a replacement for his great teacher for six years, when he met Johannes Brahms. In a letter to Gisela von Arnim, he would remember:
To Gisela von Arnim, Düsseldorf, August 8, 1856: ‘The wise and gentle expression which rests on the brows of the dead is remarkable; I noticed it in Mendelssohn too, the only person besides Schumann whom I have seen after death.’