Joachim July

Posted on July 8th, 2010 by


Practising Joachim Etudes in St Paul Minnesota 8th July 2010

…the passage of time leaves no trace on all the essential things in Dr. Joachim’s playing, nor is there any change in the extraordinary perfection of ensemble with which his colleagues reproduce every tinge of his moods. All his many long years of intimate love of the great music have resulted now in a style of extraordinarily ripe and mellow beauty lifetime of thought and reverence behind every note he plays, and at the age of seventy-five he can still teach us the last word in the art of interpretation. And yet there is nothing in the least degree stereotyped about his conceptions: absolutely faithful as they have always been, they are yet creative, and have varied, and still vary, to a considerable extent. On Thursday he was in a, on the whole, somewhat specially quiet and meditative vein : when we next hear him again, he might very possibly, in the same works, reveal to us different but equally great treasures from his inexhaustible store. The Oxford Magazine Volume 25 1907

 The Joachim project now involves a large number of colleagues and institutions; Jan Philip Schulze from the Hanover Hochschule, Aaron Shorr at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, many colleagues and students at the Royal Academy of Music-Roderick Chadwick, Neil Heyde, Chris Redgate, Sarah Callis, Roy Howat, and of course, the Kreutzers.    

“Votre jeu est si chaud et si sage en même temps.” Gounod to Joachim       

George Bernard Shaw ‘On the Subject of Fiddling’ The Star, 28 February 1890.       

“I must first mention, however, that Joachim was never to me an Orpheus. Like all the pupils of Mendelssohn he has seldom done anything with an allegro except try to make speed to duty for meaning. Now that he is on the verge of sixty he keeps up the speed at the cost of quality of tone and accuracy of pitch; and the results are sometimes, to say the least, incongruous…Of course, you cannot really play a fugue in three continuous parts on the violin: but by dint of double stopping and dodging from one part to another, you can evoke a hideous ghost of a fugue that will pass current if guaranteed by Bach and Joachim. That was what happened on Tuesday. Joachim scraped away frantically, making a sound after which an attempt to grate nutmeg effectively on a boot sole would have been as the strain of an Eolian harp. The notes which were discernible enough to have any discernible pitch at all were horribly out of tune. It was horrible-damnable! Had he been an unknown player, introducing an unknown composer, he would not have escaped with his life. Yet we all-I no less than the others-were interested and enthusiastic. We applauded like anything, and he bowed to us with unimpaired gravity. The dignified artistic career of Joachim and the grandeur of Bach’s reputation had so hypnotised us that we took an abominable noise for the music of the spheres.” Shaw’s Music, Ed. Dan H Laurence, The Bodley Head, London, 1981, Volume 1, Pp.933-4      

The 1698 Strad owned by Joachim (from the RAM collections), is the starting point for the project. This has now been joined by the Tourte bow which Joachim bought from the widow of Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. The first opportunity to hear these two instruments reunited, will be at Wilton’s Music Hall on the 8th August, when I will play the Bach Sonatas and  Partitas  on both instruments. Of course, these works were popularised in the 19th Century by Joachim, his performances of them dominated until his death. I will be linking the Bach works in this concert with solo works by Joachim himself.   

Joseph Joachim

Joachim with one of his beloved Stradivari: “He preferred the frank and lovely freshness of the E string of a Strad violin to notes played in the high positions of the A.” W W Cobbett, in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic survey of Chamber Music, Volume II, W W Cobbett, OUP, London, 1930, P.38

  1. I am sorry I am not able to go to Hamburg, dearest fiddles, but my fiddle and my fingers require too much practice for the Music Festival. To Johannes Brahms, LEIPZIG, 15th [May  1860

18 months ago, I gave my first concert on the 1698 Stradivari owned by Joseph Joachim. Up till that time, I had been ignoring the challenge which he offers. However, I am aware that serious consideration of his approach to the instrument was an inevitability given the trajectory of the projects on which I was enaged-Paganini-Viotti-Tartini-? Joachim was and is the natural consequence of that unfolding story, and the very first notes which I drew from the violin in public made that clear to me.    

  That first concert began, appropriately enough, with Felix Mendelssohn’s Adieu a Berlin Op 4. There is no record that Joachim ever played this piece, yet the Mendelssohn circle, and Felix himself, were extraordinarily important in stimulating the mind and the fingers of the young violinist. There was even a correlation, in his mind, between the deaths of Schumann, and his first great mentor.    

Joachim to Gisela von Arnim, Dusseldorf,  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.      

But it was clear to me, with the shock of the first notes that emerged from this violin, that I could not duck his challenge any longer. And of course, he is always with us-some of the first serious music under my fingers when I was in my early teens, was his-his cadenzas and ornaments for the Viotti Concerto 22, his cadenzas and bowings for the Mozart D Major Concerto K218, which I played as if there were part of the concerto itself, and of course, his laconic cadenza for the Brahms D Major Concerto Op 77. But it was clear that there was so much to do.    

  So over the past year, I have been exploring the Joachim-question from a number of standpoints-dissecting his 4 recordings, so as to be able to reproduce, for instance, the action he uses to play his C Major Romanze. Working with Roderick Chadwick, I have explored his work with Liszt-most particularly, their joint version of Liszt’s 12th Hangarian Rhapsody, and all of his transcriptions of the Brahms Hungarian Dances. The Kreutzers have been looking carefully at the repertoire and the configuration of the Joachim quartets, and the repertoire choices of those groups have formed the basis of programmes and rehearsals. And much more…    


  Here is the slow movement of Brahms C minor Quartet Op 51 No 1-an example of the sound world we are exploring. Kreutzer Quartet at Wilton’s Music Hall February 28th 2010 (Engineer Colin Still/OpticNerve)    

    Brahms Op51 (Slow)    


  Now I am taking the opportunity offered by a summer recess to explore the implications of the unaccompanied works contained in his method. These yield what might be seen as ‘mountains of data’, but most excitingly provide a portal into the practice room of this dedicated musician, an opportunity for us to hover their, instruments in hand, and try things out for ourselves.    

Joachim, on the contrary, practised a great deal; and during his concert tours he played in the compartment of his railroad coach. Whether this was because he found it necessary to keep his fingers moving, or because he was nervous in general, I cannot say. It is a well known fact that Joachim, when teaching, always had his Stradivarius in his hand, and illustrated practically all that he had to impart, playing himself, to the great benefit of those of his pupils who were able to profit by his great example.   

Violin playing as I teach it, Leopold Auer (1921),  Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1975.  

  Returning to the Bach cycle, in the midst of this focus on Joachim, has been a small revelation. At the end of the day’s work, I found myself running through the cycle of Sonatas and Partitas.  I am playing the whole group in August, interspersed with the solo Joachim works which I am working on here in the US. And something had happened…. 

…to my shock, the whole cycle was nearly twenty minutes faster than the last time that I played it. Often musicians will talk about the ‘five mile boots’ effect. That had suddenly happened. Nothing felt fast-But, I found that I was stepping in much larger harmonic strides than previously, that it was almost as if Joachim had berated me for my unseemly lingering, my ducking and swooning. And then I re-read Leopold Auer. 

 He rarely made his meaning clear in detail, and the only remark which he would utter at times, after having demonstrated a point would be: “So müssen Sie es spielen!” … accompanied by an encouraging smile.  Violin playing as I teach it, Leopold Auer (1921), Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1975. 

The sheer rigour of his etudes, their harmonic laconicism, their insistence of a unity of line and structure, Joachim’s clear intolerance of any slackness, had had its effect. He has reconfigured my whole approach to the cycle, without my asking. As Auer reminded me: 

Joachim was, by the way, the first to cultivate the principle: “The virtuoso exists for the music, not music for the virtuoso.”  Violin playing as I teach it, Leopold Auer (1921), Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1975. 


Ysaye at the time that he wrote the Solo Sonatas

In the midst of practising the ‘study in all the positions-my hand stumbled across a passage that is recognised. I am going to offer it here, to remind myself how all composers, all performers, sing from the same hymnsheet, or as Tolkein might have it, use the same ‘wheel of stories’.  Here is the passage which struck me.  

From Joachim Study ' in the all the positions.I have bracketed the passage in question. It is unlike the rest of the study, in that it uses a form of chromatic ‘slippage’ which Joachim has eschewed in the rest of this tonally straightfoward Etude. So it stood out-and the key of the piece alerted my attention still further. It is clearly the source for the following: Now, I do not wish to suggest for a moment that Ysaye was stealing-this is, of course, from the first page of the Solo Sonata which he dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, the fourth. The material which is related to the Joachim above bridges betwen the opening rhetoric, into the more formal thematic subsatnce of the the first movement.
However, as is clear from this extract from Ysaye’s manuscript, he had a little trouble with this passage. I wonder, if while wrestling with this, Joachim’s little sequence popped into his mind, and provided the way out. This Sonata, after all, is fraught with references to other pieces-from Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro, to the Biber “Der Schutzengel als Begleiter des Menschen” , so this obscure riffing on a Joachim exercise, is hardly a standout. I just enjoy the idea of a quiet conversation between this two giants, as private as can be, unwittingly sharing material. Ysaye at the time that he wrote the Solo Sonatas.
This is not scholarship, just an idea that popped up in the practice room, where the company of such gentle giants is always welcome…. 

To his Wife, ZURICH, October 29, [1866] – Brahms went on an earlier train, says he is going to  practise, believe it who may ! He makes a new resolution to do so every day. I am curious to see how he gets on this week at the four concerts ;   the other day at Schaffhausen his playing got freer and finer with every piece, but, all the same, it is not the same Brahms whom we know at home. Adieu. I must still my raging hunger at the table d’hôte ;  they have dinner here at 12.30. 

July 17th. It is impossible to practise Joachim in the US, without thinking of his legacy here. And that would have to be the first truly great American violinist, Maud Powell, who came to study with him in Berlin in 1885. My friend Guy Gallo introduced me to the ShafferGreenwood biography of this most pioneering of early modern violinists, and I picked it up again last night, whilst working on the Brahms Op 67 Quartet, the most Joachim-esque of all of Brahm’s quartet writing. 

Powell was a fervent admirer of Joachim’s artistry and spirit, but less so of his teaching. Her concerns about his teaching methods echoed those of Leopold Auer. 

“Joachim was a far greater violinist than a teacher. His method was a cramping one, owing to his insistence of pouring all his pupils into the same mold, so to speak, of forming them all on the Joachim lathe.”Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist, Karen Shaffer & Neva Greenwood, Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1988, P. 69

Auer’s criticism was less astringent, but he clearly attempted to remedy Joachim’s verbal deficiency in his own teaching.

Joachim very rarely entered into technical details, and never made suggestions to his pupils as to how they were to gain technical facility, how they were to carry out a certain bow stroke, how a certain passage might best be played, or how to facilitate its execution by using a given fingering. Throughout the lesson he kept his violin and bow in his hands, and whenever he was dissatisfied with the way a student played a passage or a musical phrase, the master would draw his bow and play the passage or phrase in question himself in a manner truly divine. Violin playing as I teach it, Leopold Auer (1921), Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1975.

Perhaps the truth is that Joachim was the first great player to attempt to unify idealistic playing and conducting with an all-embracing pedagogy. Whilst all of his pupil’s commented on the irregularity of his lesson giving, it is inescapable that he profoundly influenced an extraordinary diversity of pedagogies, that his was a centrality, which in the long term, has to be seen as being as profound as Viotti’s or Tartini’s. His, if you like, was the ‘School of Nations’ for the 19th Century.

Maud Powell, the heir of Joachim's mantle of 'Servant of Art'.

Joachim’s study ‘in all the positions’-a wonderful guide to the ‘poise of the hand’

Joachim's Study for the 'porte de voix'. His fingerings offer a fascinating insight into the 'rules' of how the line should be 'carried' with carefully balanced portamenti.

“When I arrived at the Hochschule the morning of the examinations, I found that the boys were to play first and later the girls would be put thru their paces. I sent in my card to Fr Joachim to the horror of the whole room full of prospective pupils. He came out presently, and with the kindest manner explained that I would be heard immediately after the lunch hour, and that my turn would have order of precedence over all the other ‘girl fiddlers’. Sure enough, I was called into the long, bare, terro inspiring examination hall, ahead of the other girls, many of whom had been waiting for hours. I was put thru the tests of violin and piano playing-absolute pitch and sight reading, at the end of which the gray haired ogres, who had been surrounding me, sat down at the long table, and began scribbling while Dr Joachim came up to me, and said: “You will please come to my class on the first Monday morning after the opening of school. In the meantime, you will have to get your papers and class hours from the secretary.” He was kindness itself, and true to his word.[Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist, Karen Shaffer & Neva Greenwood, Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1988, P.67


Yet another of these concerts was notable for the fine performance of Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ by Miss Jelly d’Aranyi. A few excessive accents in the opening bars would have caused consternation to her distinguished relative, Joseph Joachim, but in other respects the performance was worthy of his pupil. (The Musical Times. April 1st 1920-Page 248

The Joachim Bow hand in action. Joachim's great-niece-Jelly D'Aranyi by Charles Geoffroy-Dechaume,painting,1920s? (Detail) NPG 5735