Joseph Joachim’s Concept of Interpretation: “ein Ideal von Vollendung” (“an Ideal of Accomplishment”)*




For over 60 years Joseph Joachim was considered by contemporaries as the ideal performer of classical music. As much as this can be attributed to Joachim’s ingenuity, his “Klassikervortrag” – the interpretation of the classics – was based on a performance concept aiming to present the music in the most logical and comprehensible way possible, while creating the impression “as if the music were occurring to [the performer] just then for the first time”.**  Although there was no simple set of rules as to how this was to be accomplished, it was built on a form of musical grammar, a system of “trained intuitions”,***  based on an inner logic of the music itself. Teaching the intuitive use of this complex system of phrasing and expression was Joachim’s main concern at the Berlin Hochschule, and while Joachim can be seen as the last major exponent, the tradition goes back to such diverse musicians as Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Liszt, and refers to music from Bach to Brahms. This paper will explore Joachim’s performance and interpretation practice – including the phrasing concept referred to as “Gestaltungskraft”, the interaction of dynamic, agogic and expressive accents and other expressive means such as vibrato and portamento. Special emphasis will be given to the rubato concept referred to as “das Freispielen”, for which Joachim was greatly admired, and which is integral with the idea of “Gestaltungskraft”. Sound documents will illustrate how the concept contrasts with today’s performance practice, and how Joachim’s playing differed from that of his contemporaries.


*Hans von Bülow in a letter to Franz Wüllner, 1 December 1866, quoted in: Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Musikalische Interpretation Hans von Bülow, Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 46 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999), p. 21 (note 27).       

**M.[arion] R.[anken], Some Points of Violin Playing and Music Performance as Learnt in the Hochschule Für Musik (Joachim School) in Berlin during the Time I Was a Student There, 1902–1909 (Edinburgh, 1939), p. 34.       

***John Alexander Fuller Maitland, Joseph Joachim, Living Masters of Music, 6 (London u.a.: J. Lane, 1905), p. 26.



Johannes Gebauer read musicology at King’s College, Cambridge and studied baroque violin with Simon Standage. As a violinist he was a member of many period instrument ensembles (Academy of Ancient Music, Bach Ensemble New York, Cappella Coloniensis, and Aradia Ensemble  Toronto – as guest concert master). In 2003 he performed Bach’s D minor Partita in the Berlin Early Music Festival Alte Musik live; the concert was broadcast live on public radio RBB/Radio Kultur. In 2007 he founded the Camesina Quartett, which has been guest at many international festivals and recently recorded a third CD. For many years Johannes Gebauer worked as a musicologist and assistant for Christopher Hogwood and participated in many publications and editions. In 2012 he returned to research joining Kai Köpp’s team at the Bern University of the Arts. In 2017 he finished his PhD on Joseph Joachim’s “Klassikervortrag” (“Performance of the Classics”) at the Bern University with summa cum laude, to be published by the Beethoven Haus Bonn.

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