JOACHIM: Violin Concerto No. 3 / Overtures, Opp. 4 and 13 (Meir Minsky/ Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Takako Nishizaki) (Naxos: 8.554733)
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Violin Concerto No.3in G major Overture 'Hamlet', Op. 4
Overture 'In MemoriamHeinrich von Kleist', Op. 13
The violinist Joseph Joachim has a secure place in the history of violinplaying and in the wider history of music, as a result of his close associationwith Brahms and his clear influence on the latter's writing for the violin andon his techniques of orchestration.
Joachim was born in 1831 in Kittsee (now Kopsceny) near Pressburg, theold Hungarian Coronation town (the modern Bratislava), the seventh of eightchildren born to Jewish parents Julius and Fanny Joachim. With theencouragement of his parents, he started to learn the violin at the age offive, studying with Serwaeczyeski in Pest, to where the family had moved in1835. In 1839 Joseph played in public, with his teacher, the double concerto bythe Mannheim violinist Eck, and in the same year was sent to Vienna to studywith Miska Hauser. He later studied with Hauser's own teacher, GeorgHellmesberger, a leading figure in the Viennese school of violin playing in thenineteenth century. It was, however, from Joseph Bohm, a man who played forBeethoven and Schubert, that he was to learn the foundations of his techniqueand repertoire. A move to Leipzig, where Mendelssohn directed the GewandhausOrchestra, enabled him to study with Ferdinand David from 1843 and also tobenefit from the opportunity to work with Mendelssohn. In August 1843 Joachimplayed at a Gewandhaus concert in the distinguished company of Pauline Viardot(Turgenev's innamorata), Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn, performing a work byBeriot. In the same year he played Ernst's Othello-Phantasie at anotherconcert in the Leipzig series, and in 1844 made his first visit to England, acountry with which he established a connection that was to last until the endof his life.
Joachim's career took him in 1849 to Weimar, as leader of the GrandDuke's orchestra. The position resulted in a close involvement with Liszt, whowas established in the Duchy as Director of Music Extraordinary. Three yearslater Joachim accepted the position of violinist to King George V of Hanover,and it was there, in 1853, that the violinist Remenyi, a school friend ofJoachim, introduced him to the young Brahms. It was to be through thisintroduction that Joachim was able to arrange for Brahms to be received byLiszt at Weimar, and late, by Schumann in D??sseldorf. His own friendship withBrahms was only later marred by disagreement, when Brahms sided with Joachim'sestranged wife, the soprano Amalie Weiss, in divorce proceedings instigated byJoachim.
Joachim's association with Brahms and his sympathy with the classicismof Mendelssohn and Schumann led to the famous breach with Liszt and theso-called neo-German school, with its broader and less purely musicalambitions. As a player, indeed, he was the antithesis of the virtuoso Liszt,his performance studiously avoiding any suggestion of technical brilliance forits own sake. The Viennese critic Hanslick, writing of Joachim's first adultappearance in Vienna in 1861, praised his modest unadorned greatness, whilesuggesting that the playing of others might appeal more to the heart thanJoachim's unbending, Roman earnestness.
In 1868 Joachim moved to Berlin as head of the Hochschule f??r Aus??bendeTonkunst and it was there that he remained for the next 39 years, active in theduties of his position while also continuing his career as a player. Inparticular, he was leader of the Joachim Quartet, a new ensemble of greatdistinction which was renowned for its performances of the later Beethovenquartets and which demonstrated a natural affinity with the chamber music ofBrahms.
As a composer Joachim wrote primarily for the violin; the second of histhree concertos, the so-called Hungarian Concerto, was for a long timepart 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 classicalseriousness of Joachim. It was written in mourning for the death of Frau GiselaGrimm, the daughter of Bettina von Arnim, the sister of Clemens Brentano. Itwas performed in England in a Crystal Palace concert in 1875, and in Berlin in1889. The concerto received its American premi?¿re in 1891.
The first movement of the concerto makes use of a song by Bettina vonArnim as its principal subject. The solo violin enters, after the briefest oforchestral introductions, to repeat the theme with its own elaborations ofincreasing technical complexity. The whole movement, while conceived in thespirit of Schumann, has distinct traces of the kind of idiom that would haveproved popular with English audiences. The second movement, an Andante, wasconceived as an elegy for Frau Grimm, solemnly announced, with a figure thatmay remind us of Mozart's herald of death in Don Giovanni. The musicthat unfolds is imbued again with the kind of noble serenity which was suitableboth to the subject and to the temperament of the composer. The Finale possessesthe energy and mood of its marking, Allegro giocoso energico, perhapsreminding us, at certain moments, of Joachim as a pioneer of Beethovenperformance in the nineteenth century, with his playing of the violin concertoat the age of thirteen in Leipzig. The echoes are only momentary, since themovement is conceived in a spirit which derives rather from Spohr. Whoseconcertos Joachim had studied with Ferdinand David. It forms a conclusion offitting brilliance and technical difficulty to a concerto that makes strenuousdemands on the violinist.
Joachim always showed a considerable interest in matters of generalcultural importance, and was never limited in this respect as some of those whoshow early talent as instrumentalists may be. Brahms had been deprived, by hisbackground, of the kind of opportunities that Joachim enjoyed, but during theirearly friendship they were able to share something of Joachim's wider literarypreoccupations. Something of this is demonstrated in the early overtureswritten by Joachim to Hamlet, Demetrius and Henry IV, the lattertwo 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 Schumannin D??sseldorf. Schumann praised the poetic conception of the work, with itsdeep-sounding French horns. The Elegiac Overture, Op. 13 'In MemoriamHeinrich von Kleist' was composed during the later part of Joachim'scareer, after he had established himself in Berlin. Undated, it seems to havebeen written around the time of the Kleist centenary in 1877, followed as it isby the Scenes from Schiller's Demetrius, which were written forhis wife: in 1878. The music of the Overture speaks for itself, inclear, classical terms. The man it commemorates, Heinrich von Kleist, hadcommitted suicide in 1811 at the age of 34, leaving a legacy that was to proveof the greatest importance in the development of the Romantic movement inGermany. His work has served as a source of musical inspiration, particularlythe patriotic Hermannsschlacht, Penthesilea, and the Novelle MichaelKohlhaas.