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8.554733 - JOACHIM, J.: Violin Concerto No. 3 / Overtures, Opp. 4 and 13

Joseph Joachim (1831-1907)

Violin Concerto No.3 in G major • Overture 'Hamlet', Op. 4

Overture 'In Memoriam Heinrich von Kleist', Op. 13

The violinist Joseph Joachim has a secure place in the history of violin playing and in the wider history of music, as a result 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 in Kittsee (now Köpscény) near Pressburg, the old Hungarian Coronation town (the modern Bratislava), the seventh of eight children born to Jewish parents Julius and Fanny Joachim. With the encouragement of his parents, he started to learn the violin at the age of five, studying with Serwaeczyéski in Pest, to where the family had moved in 1835. In 1839 Joseph played in public, with his teacher, the double concerto by the Mannheim violinist Eck, and in the same year was sent to Vienna to study with Miska Hauser. He later studied with Hauser's own teacher, Georg Hellmesberger, a leading figure in the Viennese school of violin playing in the nineteenth century. It was, however, from Joseph Böhm, a man who played for Beethoven and Schubert, that he was to learn the foundations of his technique and repertoire. A move to Leipzig, where Mendelssohn directed the Gewandhaus Orchestra, enabled him to study with Ferdinand David from 1843 and also to benefit from the opportunity to work with Mendelssohn. In August 1843 Joachim played at a Gewandhaus concert in the distinguished company of Pauline Viardot (Turgenev's innamorata), Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn, performing a work by Bériot. In the same year he played Ernst's Othello-Phantasie at another concert in the Leipzig series, and in 1844 made his first visit to England, a country with which he established a connection that was to last until the end of his life.

Joachim's career took him in 1849 to Weimar, as leader of the Grand Duke's orchestra. The position resulted in a close involvement with Liszt, who was established in the Duchy as Director of Music Extraordinary. Three years later Joachim accepted the position of violinist to King George V of Hanover, and it was there, in 1853, that the violinist Reményi, a school friend of Joachim, introduced him to the young Brahms. It was to be through this introduction that Joachim was able to arrange for Brahms to be received by Liszt at Weimar, and late, by Schumann in Düsseldorf. His own friendship with Brahms was only later marred by disagreement, when Brahms sided with Joachim's estranged wife, the soprano Amalie Weiss, in divorce proceedings instigated by Joachim.

Joachim's association with Brahms and his sympathy with the classicism of Mendelssohn and Schumann led to the famous breach with Liszt and the so-called neo-German school, with its broader and less purely musical ambitions. As a player, indeed, he was the antithesis of the virtuoso Liszt, his performance studiously avoiding any suggestion of technical brilliance for its own sake. The Viennese critic Hanslick, writing of Joachim's first adult appearance in Vienna in 1861, praised his modest unadorned greatness, while suggesting that the playing of others might appeal more to the heart than Joachim's unbending, Roman earnestness.

In 1868 Joachim moved to Berlin as head of the Hochschule für Ausübende Tonkunst and it was there that he remained for the next 39 years, active in the duties of his position while also continuing his career as a player. In particular, he was leader of the Joachim Quartet, a new ensemble of great distinction which was renowned for its performances of the later Beethoven quartets and which demonstrated a natural affinity with the chamber music of Brahms.

As a composer Joachim wrote primarily for the violin; the second of his three concertos, the so-called Hungarian Concerto, was for a long time part of the standard violin repertoire. His first violin concerto, in G minor, was written during his time in Hanover and was performed in Leipzig in 1855. The Violin Concerto No. 3, in G major, expresses clearly enough the classical seriousness of Joachim. It was written in mourning for the death of Frau Gisela Grimm, the daughter of Bettina von Arnim, the sister of Clemens Brentano. It was performed in England in a Crystal Palace concert in 1875, and in Berlin in 1889. The concerto received its American première in 1891.

The first movement of the concerto makes use of a song by Bettina von Arnim as its principal subject. The solo violin enters, after the briefest of orchestral introductions, to repeat the theme with its own elaborations of increasing technical complexity. The whole movement, while conceived in the spirit of Schumann, has distinct traces of the kind of idiom that would have proved popular with English audiences. The second movement, an Andante, was conceived as an elegy for Frau Grimm, solemnly announced, with a figure that may remind us of Mozart's herald of death in Don Giovanni. The music that unfolds is imbued again with the kind of noble serenity which was suitable both to the subject and to the temperament of the composer. The Finale possesses the energy and mood of its marking, Allegro giocoso energico, perhaps reminding us, at certain moments, of Joachim as a pioneer of Beethoven performance in the nineteenth century, with his playing of the violin concerto at the age of thirteen in Leipzig. The echoes are only momentary, since the movement is conceived in a spirit which derives rather from Spohr. Whose concertos Joachim had studied with Ferdinand David. It forms a conclusion of fitting brilliance and technical difficulty to a concerto that makes strenuous demands on the violinist.

Joachim always showed a considerable interest in matters of general cultural importance, and was never limited in this respect as some of those who show early talent as instrumentalists may be. Brahms had been deprived, by his background, of the kind of opportunities that Joachim enjoyed, but during their early friendship they were able to share something of Joachim's wider literary preoccupations. Something of this is demonstrated in the early overtures written by Joachim to Hamlet, Demetrius and Henry IV, the latter two arranged for piano duet by Brahms. Joachim wrote his concert overture Hamlet, Op. 4 in 1853, the year in which he introduced the young Brahms to Schumann in Düsseldorf. Schumann praised the poetic conception of the work, with its deep-sounding French horns. The Elegiac Overture, Op. 13 'In Memoriam Heinrich von Kleist' was composed during the later part of Joachim's career, after he had established himself in Berlin. Undated, it seems to have been written around the time of the Kleist centenary in 1877, followed as it is by the Scenes from Schiller's Demetrius, which were written for his wife: in 1878. The music of the Overture speaks for itself, in clear, classical terms. The man it commemorates, Heinrich von Kleist, had committed suicide in 1811 at the age of 34, leaving a legacy that was to prove of the greatest importance in the development of the Romantic movement in Germany. His work has served as a source of musical inspiration, particularly the patriotic Hermannsschlacht, Penthesilea, and the Novelle Michael Kohlhaas.

Keith Anderson

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