“JOSEPH JOACHIM, HERMAN GRIMM and AMERICAN TRANCENDALISM: ENCOUNTER WITH RALPH WALDO EMERSON”

 

Abstract

When Joseph Joachim left Weimar, in 1853, after three years in close association with Franz  Liszt and his circle, it was to take the position of  Conductor of Concerts and Solo Violinist to King George V of Hanover.  The pay would be better, the conditions generous: five months free in the summers, permission to travel for concert engagements during the rest of the year, and an orchestra at his disposal.  He could expect his career to flourish. But Hanover was not the cultural center that Weimar had been. In Weimar he had mingled with some of the biggest musical personalities and best young talents of the time; made deep friendships; had been bedazzled by Bettina von Arnim and her two daughters; and was already widely known as a solo violinist of the highest rank.  But in Hanover, he was lonely, depressed, and as his letters to Gisela von Arnim display, by the end of the year he was close to a nervous breakdown.  Letters to others confirm his sense of isolation. Particularly painful was his difficulty to compose as he wished.     In Weimar he had established friendship with Herman Grimm (1828-1901), later to become an important German essayist and art critic.  Grimm developed an intense appreciation of the essays of America’s first great man of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and was Emerson’s first German translator.  While Joachim’s friendship with Johannes Brahms has been widely explored – Brahms appeared that summer of 1853 just as Joachim was using his newly-gained  summer freedom to study at Göttingen – the real soulmate of this period was Grimm, to whom he announced his conversion to Christianity in 1855 while pledging him to secrecy. By that time he and Grimm had shared Emerson’s essays in detail.  My talk will explore Emerson’s Trancendentalist philosophy and its implications for Joachim. 

Biography

Styra Avins, born and educated in New York City, is a cellist and author.  She holds B.A in Sociology from the City College of the City University of New York, an undergraduate degree in cello from the Juilliard School, and a MS degree in Cello from the Manhattan School of Music. Her book Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, Oxford U. Press, is the only comprehensive collection of  the composer’s letters in any language.  She has contributed chapters to books on Brahms published by Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge Universities, and presented talks and given classes at numerous universities and music conservatories in the United States, Germany, and Australia.  A member of the New York City Opera orchestra, and the American Symphony under Leopold Stokowski, she was Adjunct Professor of Music History at Drew University, and is presently on the faculty of the Bennington Chamber Music Festival in Vermont. She sits on the Board of Directors of the American Brahms Society.

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