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8.570991 - JOACHIM, J.: Violin Concerto, Op. 11, "In the Hungarian Style" / Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 3 (Suyoen Kim, Staatskapelle Weimar, Halasz)
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Joseph Joachim (1831–1907)
Violin Concerto in G minor in one movement, Op. 3
Violin Concerto in D minor in the Hungarian Style, Op. 11

 

The violinist Joseph Joachim has a secure place in the history of violin-playing and in the wider history of music because of his close association with Brahms and his clear influence on the latter’s writing for the violin and on his techniques of orchestration.

Joachim was born in 1831 at Kitsee, near Pressburg (Bratislava), part of the Esterházy domain, into a German-speaking family, the seventh of eight children of Julius and Fanny Joachim, and with the encouragement of his parents, not unusual in a Jewish family, made an early start on his musical studies. In 1833 the family moved to Pest, where Joachim had his first violin lessons with the leader of the Pest Opera Orchestra, the Polish violinist Stanisław Serwaczyński, with whom he made his first public concert appearance in 1839, performing a double violin concerto by the Mannheim violinist Johann Friedrich Eck. In the same year a cousin took him to Vienna to take lessons with Miska Hauser and then to the older Georg Hellmesberger, who refused to take him as a pupil. He was accepted, however, by Joseph Böhm, originally from Pest and a former pupil in Paris of Pierre Rode, an heir to the violin-playing tradition of Viotti. In Vienna he started playing quartets with the Hellmesberger children in what was known as the Wunderkinderquartett. In musical evenings at Böhm’s he grew to know something of quartet literature, not least the later quartets of Beethoven, a composer for whom Böhm had played. His technical training now complete, in 1843, at the age of twelve, he was taken by his cousin to Leipzig to meet Mendelssohn, with whom he played chamber music and in August that year appeared in a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert, with Pauline Viardot-García and Clara Schumann, playing an Adagio and Rondo by Charles-Auguste de Bériot. The following year Mendelssohn took him to London, where he played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a work then considered barely playable which became a constant element in his concert repertoire.

Mendelssohn’s sudden death in 1847 affected Joachim deeply. In 1850 he moved to Weimar with the intention of studying with Liszt, who advised him to compose. In Weimar he led the court orchestra from 1850 until 1852 and played in chamber music evenings. It was here that he wrote his Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 3, dedicated to Liszt. In 1853 he was appointed concert-master to the court in Hanover, a position he held until 1868, two years after the annexation of Hanover by Prussia. It was in Hanover that, through his Hungarian contemporary, the violinist Ede Reményi, he first met Brahms. This period of his life allowed him the formation of a new quartet, the opportunity to give concerts abroad, and the time to compose a large number of works, including four concert overtures and two violin concertos, in his search for what has been described as a compromise between the programmatic music of Liszt and the poetic music of Schumann, with whom he developed a close friendship before the latter’s final illness. He was baptized as a Lutheran in 1854, as Mendelssohn had been. The association with Schumann and his wife led to a gradual break with Liszt and the neo-German school he represented, a breach made definitive in a letter to Liszt in 1857 in which, while thanking him for his support, he expressed his repugnance towards Liszt’s music, feelings that were given public expression in the open attack on Liszt and Wagner leaked to the Berliner Musik-Zeitung Echo in 1860, a document to which Brahms and Joachim both put their names. Wagner’s published antisemitic reply ensured a hardening of attitudes on both sides. The breach between Joachim and Liszt lasted for some 25 years, but they did meet again in Budapest in 1880 and at the unveiling of the Bach memorial in Eisenach in 1884. According to the English press, at least, there was a full reconciliation between the two in London in 1886 on the occasion of a celebration in Liszt’s honour.

In 1863 Joachim married the singer Amalie Schneeweiss, who had appeared as a soloist at the Royal Opera in Hanover but left the stage after her marriage. In 1868 the couple moved to Berlin, where Joachim shortly afterwards established a School of Instrumental Music for the Royal Academy of Arts, from 1872 the Royal Musikhochschule, while his wife, in the intervals between bearing children, continued a concert career. In Berlin Joachim exercised a strong musical influence with his quartet evenings, collaborating also in the North Rhine Music Festival, the Bonn Beethoven Festival and Schumann memorial celebrations, among other activities. At the Hochschule he established an orchestra and was able to mount a series of performances of Handel oratorios. At the same time he continued his association with England, which he visited annually, appearing there as a soloist or in quartet performances. He enjoyed enormous success as a teacher and as a performer, but over the course of some forty years the Hochschule and its circle became a seeming bastion of antagonism to the school of Liszt and Wagner, identified with a certain conservatism. In the 1880s problems arose in Joachim’s relationship with his wife, from whom he sought a divorce. It was on this occasion that Brahms, with the lack of tact for which he was well known, sided with Amalie Joachim against her husband, a close friend and collaborator for so many years. The resulting breach in Joachim’s friendship with Brahms lasted a year, to be healed, partially at least, by the latter’s composition of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello.

Joachim died in Berlin in 1907. While his musical conservatism had isolated him from some contemporaries, his influence as a violin teacher had been very great, perpetuated not least by his many editions of violin literature and by his pupils. In childhood he had had lessons with Joseph Böhm, a pupil of Pierre Rode, heir to Viotti. In Leipzig he had had lessons from Ferdinand David, himself a pupil of Spohr. Among the many violinists who studied with him were Leopold Auer, Willy Burmester, Jenő Hubay and Tchaikovsky’s young friend Yosif Kotek. He had been of notable assistance to his friend Brahms in the violin-writing for the latter’s Violin Concerto and in other compositions. His wider influence is reflected in his performance repertoire, his advocacy of Brahms and promotion of string quartet repertoire. As a composer his works have held no secure part in current concert programmes, except, of course, for the cadenzas he provided for the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms.

The Concerto in one movement in G minor, Op. 3, dates from about 1851 and was dedicated to Liszt. It was published in Leipzig in 1854 and seems to breathe all the exuberance of a young virtuoso. The single movement is in broadly classical form. A short orchestral introduction leads to a cadenza for the soloist, after which the orchestra states the principal theme. The soloist’s version of the theme involves multiple stopping and virtuoso passage-work leads to a second theme, announced by the orchestra and developed by the soloist. The two main themes eventually return and there is an elaborate cadenza for the soloist. It seems that the major key of the second theme may triumph, but the concerto ends, in fact, with a reference to the G minor first theme.

Joachim wrote his Violin Concerto in D minor in the Hungarian Style, Op. 11, in 1857. It was published in Leipzig in 1861, the year in which Joachim made his first return to Vienna after his earlier studies there, and was included in the five concerts he gave at the Musikvereinsaal, with a repertoire that included Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and the Romances, his version of Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata, Schumann’s Fantasy, Op. 131, and works by Bach and by Spohr. The critic Eduard Hanslick recorded Joachim as having been for some ten years the greatest living violinist. His review of the Concerto in the Hungarian Style was more guarded, describing it as too expansive, complicated and striking in its virtuosity to be evaluated at a first hearing.

The first movement starts with a conventional orchestral exposition and a principal theme of Hungarian inflection. To this a second theme offers a contrast. The entry of the soloist leads to technical display before the first theme is stated again, to be elaborated before the soloist introduces a version of the second theme. The development and recapitulation both call for virtuosity, further displayed in the cadenza, partly accompanied. The second movement is a G major Romanze, its lyrical first theme contrasted with a more aggressive secondary theme. The movement ends with reminiscences of the first theme, with its characteristically Hungarian ending. The Finale alla zingara is an opportunity for assumed gypsy abandon, with themes suited to the prevailing mood and the greatest demands on the technique and stamina of the soloist.


Keith Anderson


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