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“Das Quartett=Spiel ist doch wohl mein eigentliches Fach”: Joseph Joachim and the String Quartet





Although widely celebrated as one of the greatest violin soloists of the nineteenth century, Joseph Joachim’s contributions and artistry as leader of string quartets have received much less attention. They are, however, equally significant. His expertise with quartets began as a student in Vienna and Leipzig, matured throughout his years in Weimar and Hanover, was enriched by performing in London with Thomas Alsager’s Beethoven Quartet Society, and culminated during his long tenure as director of the Berlin Music Conservatory. Joachim’s correspondence—especially the ca. nine hundred letters to his brother, accessible in the Lübeck Brahms Institute since 2018—reveals important aspects of this evolution. For example, already at the age of twenty he considered playing quartets to be his “real specialty,” and, when, on arrival in Berlin, he established a permanent faculty quartet with an annual series of eight concerts, he was realizing a long-nourished ambition. He maintained this demanding schedule for thirty-seven years, while also frequently touring abroad with his quartet, and traveling every year to England for concerts with his “London Quartet.”   Joachim conceived his quartet series with the mission of educating the conservatory students and the public, as well as promoting imperial nation-building—he fervently supported Bismarck’s unification of Germany—by enriching the musical life of the capital. To these ends he cultivated repertoire by earlier composers, premiered works by numerous living ones, and energetically championed a wider acceptance and appreciation of Beethoven’s late quartets. His hieratic stage demeanor and the informal salon-like aura of his concerts contributed to his success. Incorporating evidence from his correspondence and from contemporary journalism, this paper provides a nuanced picture of Joachim’s life-long cultivation of the string quartet.                     




Robert Riggs Robert Riggs is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Mississippi (Oxford), where he taught music history and studio violin. He received A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in musicology from Harvard University, and his publications include: articles on Mozart, aesthetics, and historical performance practice in the Musical Quarterly, Journal of Musicology, Mozart-Jahrbuch, and College Music Symposium; and two books with the University of Rochester Press in its Eastman Studies in Music series: Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, and Teacher (2010), and The Violin (2016). Riggs studied violin at the University of New Mexico (with Kurt Frederick and Leonard Felberg), at the Meadowmount School in New York (with Dorothy DeLay), and in Boston (with Emanuel Borok). His professional performing experience includes five years with the orchestra of the Lower Saxon State Opera in Hanover, Germany, ten years of free-lance work in Boston, and thirty years with the Oxford Piano Trio.


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