Birthplace: Kittsee, Austria-Hungary
Location of death: Berlin, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Violinist, Composer
Executive summary: Virtuoso violinist, Joachim Quartet
Hungarian/German violinist and composer, born at Kittsee (Kopèany), near Bratislava, on the 28th of June 1831, the son of Jewish parents. His family moved to Budapest when he was two years old, and he studied there under Serwaczynski, who brought him out at a concert when he was only eight years old. Afterwards he learned from the elder Hellmesberger and Joseph Böhm in Vienna, the latter instructing him in the management of the bow. In 1843 he went to Leipzig to enter the newly founded conservatorium. Felix Mendelssohn, after testing his musical powers, pronounced that the regular training of a music school was not needed, but recommended that he should receive a thorough general education in music from Ferdinand David and Moritz Hauptmann. In 1844 he visited England, and made his first appearance at Drury Lane Theatre, where his playing of Ernst's fantasia on Otello made a great sensation; he also played Beethoven's concerto at a Philharmonic concert conducted by Mendelssohn. In 1847-49 and 1852 he revisited England, and after the foundation of the popular concerts in 1859, up to 1899, he played there regularly in the latter part of the season. On Franz Liszt's invitation he accepted the post of Konzertmeister at Weimar, and was there from 1850 to 1853. This brought Joachim into close contact with the advanced school of German musicians, headed by Liszt; and he was strongly tempted to give his allegiance to what was beginning to be called the "music of the future"; but his artistic convictions forced him to separate himself from the movement, and the tact and good taste he displayed in the difficult moment of explaining his position to Liszt afford one of the finest illustrations of his character.
His acceptance of a similar post at Hanover brought him into a different atmosphere, and his playing at the Düsseldorf festival of 1853 procured him the intimate friendship of Robert Schumann. His introduction of the young Johannes Brahms to Schumann is a famous incident of this time. Schumann and Brahms collaborated with Albert Dietrich in a joint sonata for violin and piano, as a welcome on his arrival in Düsseldorf. At Hanover he was königlicher Konzertdirektor from 1853 to 1868, when he made Berlin his home. He married in 1863 the mezzo soprano singer, Amalie Weiss, who died ih 1899. In 1869 Joachim was appointed head of the newly founded königliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. The famous "Joachim quartet" was started in the Sing-Akademie in the following year. Of his later life, continually occupied with public performances, there is little to say except that he remained, even in a period which saw the rise of numerous violinists of the finest technique, the acknowledged master of all. He died on the 15th of August 1907.
Besides the consummate manual skill which helped to make him famous in his youth, Joachim was gifted with the power of interpreting the greatest music in absolute perfection: while Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms were masters, whose works he played with a degree of insight that has never been approached, he was no less supreme in the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann; in short, the whole of the classical repertory has become identified with his playing. No survey of Joachim's artistic career would be complete which omitted mention of his absolute freedom from tricks or mannerism, his dignified bearing, and his unselfish character. His devotion to the highest ideals, combined with a certain austerity and massivity of style, brought against him an accusation of coldness from admirers of a more effusive temperament. But the answer to this is given by the depth and variety of expression which his mastery of the resources of his instrument put at his command. His biographer (1898), Andreas Moser, expressed his essential characteristic in the words, "He plays the violin, not for its own sake, but in the service of an ideal."
As a composer Joachim did but little in his later years, and the works of his earlier life never attained the public success which, in the opinion of many, they deserve. They undoubtedly have a certain austerity of character which does not appeal to every hearer, but they are full of beauty of a grave and dignified kind; and in such things as his "Hungarian concerto" for his own instrument the utmost degree of difficulty is combined with great charm of melodic treatment. The "romance" in B flat for violin and the variations for violin and orchestra are among his finest things, and the noble overture in memory of Kleist, as well as the scena for mezzo soprano from Friedrich von Schiller's Demetrius, show a wonderful degree of skill in orchestration as well as originality of thought. Joachim's place in musical history as a composer can only be properly appreciated in the light of his intimate relations with Brahms, with whom he studiously refrained from putting himself into independent rivalry, and to whose work as a composer he gave the cooperation of one who might himself have ranked as a master.
Wife: Amalie Weiss (soprano, m. 1863, d. 1899)
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