The Joachim Quartet was a Berlin institution from 1869-1907. Made up of the violinist Joseph Joachim and his hand-picked colleagues from the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, this ensemble gave eight “classical” concerts a year at the venerable Singakademie. For thirty-seven years their programs never varied from presenting three quartets, which always included at least one Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven work. The other mainstays were the chamber works for strings by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms. While the group was criticized for being conservative and academic from the beginning, it was revered, with their always sold-out concerts famous for being faithfully attended by celebrated artists, statesmen, and members of Berlin’s high society. Paradoxically, there was a cosy, familial atmosphere at the Singakademie, with the fatherly Joachim making the audience feel at home.

The Joachim Quartet’s fame only grew as it grew old. Joachim himself was in his seventies before they started giving performances of all sixteen Beethoven quartets in five consecutive concerts. Whether it was in Bonn at the 1903 Beethoven-Haus Festival, or Rome (1905), London (1905), or Vienna (1907), they received rave reviews. Critics strongly associated the Quartet with late Beethoven specifically,  and the Quartet in C# minor, Op. 131, in particular. During a time when modernism and romanticism were both pushing as far as they could into the unknown, the self-effacing Joachim Quartet stayed true to the austere message of Beethoven, which was exactly what an elite audience wanted to hear.

It goes without saying……

Music Critics on the Joachim Quartet over the years

1879: “A critique of their performance is unnecessary, and to enumerate everything that their wonderful program brings would likewise only take up pointless space.”1“Eine Kritik über ihre Leistungen ist überflüssig, und alles Das aufzuzählen, was ihre schönen Programme bringen, würde gleichfalls nur unnütz Raum fortnehmen…” Musikalisches Wochenblatt (1880): 29 (dated 15 December 1879).

1881: “On the marvelous performance of these works…it is not necessary to utter one word of praise, for everyone knows what kind of a performance it must have been.”2BERLIN. (1881). The Musical World, 59(44), 701-702. Retrieved from Oct 29; quotes the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung.

1883: “Anyone who knows the pleasure of the reproductive revelations of this master- and model- quartet knows that a critique can only offer words of thanks, and can lay aside the critical pen.”3“…denn Jeder, der die reproduktiven Offenbarungen dieses Meister- und Muster-Quartetts aus eigenen Genuss kennt, weiss, dass die Kritik hierbei nur Worte des Dankes zu äussern vermag, die kritische Feder dagegen ruhig bei Seite legen darf.” MW 14 no 49 (29.11.1883): 612. (On the Quartet’s performance in Leipzig.)

1885: “in these concerts every word about the performance is superfluous.”4“über die Ausführung ist in diesen Konzerten jedes Wort überflüssig.”

1890: “In view of such artistic perfection the critic is put in a difficult situation. The purpose of criticism is not admiration and so when confronted with this kind of artistic achievement it can only strive to characterize it and search for its cause.”5“Angesichts solcher künstlerichen Vollendung hat die Kritik einen schweren Stand; das Bewundern ist nicht ihre Sache und sie kann, befindet sie sich derartigen Kunstleistungen gegenüber nur noch das Bestreben haben, dieselben zu charakterisieren und nach ihren Ursachen zu forschen.” F.W., Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1890): 138.

1890: The Quartet’s performance provided “an enjoyment about which the best report is to fall completely silent.”6“…ein Genuß, dem gegenüber ein gänzliches Verstummen das beste Referat bildet.” NZfM (1890): 276.

1891: “Their ensemble offers something so superlative that a critique of it would probably be superfluous.”7“ihres Ensembles bieten so… Unübertreffliches, daß gegenwärtig eine Kritik derselben schon ganz überflussig sein dürfte.” MW (1891): 50.

1899: “I see in the Joachim Quartet the highest conceivable achievement of the quartet style in general. It seems petty to me to require evidence for the simplicity of the performance, the nobility of the sound, the admirable phrasing. Anyone who knows how to listen must sense all of this, and anyone who doesn’t sense it is beyond help.”8Wilhelm Kienzl, Essays, 230.

1905: The works were performed “with an artistic perfection before which any critique must throw in the towel.”9“…in einer künstlerischen Vollendung dargeboten, vor welcher jede Kritik die Tegel streichen muß.” Die Musik 1905 (Mozart E-flat Quintet for Piano and Winds, C minor Piano Quartet of Brahms, and Schubert’s F major Octet).


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