9 May 1907

The Quartet's last time in Bonn
Bonn, Beethovenhalle, Kammermusikfest 1907

The concert season of 1907 is over, but summer festivals are beginning. The chamber music festival at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn took place every other year in May. The 1907 festival ran from 5-9 May. Joachim was the lifetime honorary President of the Beethoven-Haus Verein, and his Quartet had been at the center of all its festivals since the first in 1890.

The previous festival in 1905 had featured two groups from Paris: the La société des Instruments Anciens and La société des Instruments à Vent. The French performers introduced some pre-Classical works and some chamber music for winds. But the 1907 festival brought in only instrumentalists from the Berlin Hochschule (the Schumann-Halir-Dechert piano trio, pianist Ernst von Dohnányi), and the program consisted mostly of chamber music classics by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms. 

While there was grumbling about the lack of imagination in the programming and references to the Joachim Quartet being beyond its prime, critics still emphasized how Joachim’s group could convey the substance of the music beyond its mere sounds. One critic wrote that “even if Joachim’s technique–when it comes to the absolute purity of the highest range and fullness of tone–is not what it once was, this is a very insignificant deficiency compared to the extreme spirituality and inwardness of his playing.”1Musikalisches Wochenblatt/Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (1907): 492-93.

The review in the Neue Musik-Zeitung of Stuttgart expressed a similar admiration for the profundity of the expression that came through, despite the faltering technique:
“To give a review of the Joachim Quartet is pointless. It is well known that technically it can no longer compare with other groups of this kind, since besides Joachim, the violist and cellist can hardly satisfy the technical requirements that are expected in an artist of the first rank. And yet the quartet achieved the effect of a profound exploration through the truly intellectual exhausting of the musical content of each work. The style in which these artists perform the classical works has become absolutely exemplary. Above all one can hardly think of a more clarified and mature rendition of the Beethoven works as they occurred here, as long as one makes allowances for the technical unevenness and frequent shakiness that should be attributed to the physical fatigue of the players in question.”2“Ein Urteil über das Joachim-Quartett abzugeben, ist müßig. Man weiß eben sehr genau, daß es technisch den Vergleich mit andern Vereinigungen dieser Art nicht mehr aushalten kann, da außer Joachim der Bratschist und der Cellist wohl kaum noch den Ansprüchen in technischer Beziehung genügen, die man an Künstler ersten Ranges stellen darf. Trotzdem erreichte das Quartett sehr tiefgehende Wirkungen durch die wahrhaft geistige Erschöpfung des musikalischen Inhaltes eines jeden Werkes. Der Stil, in dem diese Künstler die klassichen Werke darbieten, ist geradezu vorbildlich geworden. Man kann sich vor allem die Wiedergabe Beethovenscher Werke kaum abgeklärter und reifer denken, als es hier geschieht, vorausgesetzt, daß man eben die technischen Unebenheiten und häufigen Schwankungen mit in den Kauf nimmt, die auf körperliche Ermattung der betreffenden Spieler zurückzuführen sein dürften.” Dr. Julius Hagemann, Neue Musik-Zeitung (1907): 394.

This was not quite the last performance of the Joachim Quartet. They traveled directly from Bonn to Munich to make up two concerts that had been scheduled for March, but were postponed due to Joachim’s illness. 

The review of the second concert in the Munich Allgemeine Zeitung described how the first work, the Brahms Quartet in B-flat, had lacked precision and clarity, and the second piece, the Mozart Quartet K. 499, wanted more color and depth. But the last piece, the Beethoven Quartet Op. 59 no. 3, “was a masterful performance in a technical as well as spiritual sense, as one will rarely hear it again. The finale in particular was a blaze of concision and powerful expressiveness that had a thrilling and elemental effect.” The review ended by noting how  “the great intellectual vigor with which the aged master Joachim fulfilled his artistic task was highly gratifying; may we encounter him and his fellow artists in the concert hall again very soon!”3“…eine Meisterleistung in geistiger wie technischer Beziehung, wie man sie nur selten wieder zu hören bekommen wird. Besonders das Finale war von einem Feuer, dabei von einer Prägnanz und Ausdruckskraft, die elementar wirkte und hinriß. Hoch erfreulich aber war an beiden Abenden die große geistige Frische, mit der der greise Meister Joachim seinen künstlerischen Aufgaben gerecht wurde; möchten wir ihm und seinen Künstlergenossen recht bald wieder im Konzertsaal begegnen!” Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 May 1907, p. 3.

That was the last concert played by Joachim with his quartet.

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