This project is an exploration of a music-historical moment when Berlin, the capital of the German Empire, could be called the “Capital of Absolute Music”–that is, instrumental music, and in particular, chamber music. The term “absolute music” was rarely used in this context, meaning in German-language music criticism around 1900. However, if there was something that could be said to embody the idea of absolute music, this “moment” would be the performances by the Joachim Quartet of the late Beethoven quartets in the Singakademie during its subscription concert series from 1869 to 1907. Again, though, the idea of absolute music was not a stable concept and it can be misleading to speak of “it.” So what I more precisely am interested in doing is documenting one idea of absolute music, as manifested in Berlin’s chamber music concerts, in context of an overwhelming array of other musical activities on offer. I see this as the other side of the coin of my previous work that focused on abstract philosophical aesthetics as opposed to actual music.
The pages on this website relate the history of the Joachim Quartet, its leader Joseph Joachim, and the Quartet’s cellist, Robert Hausmann (1852-1909). Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was a violinist who had a career lasting over sixty years. He is most famous to non-violinists as the friend of Johannes Brahms. Joachim played an important role in the development of musical life, much more than I realized. My interest was brought on by Beatrix Borchard’s rich and inspiring book Stimme und Geige, about Joachim and his wife, the singer Amalie Joachim.1Stimme und Geige: Amalie und Joseph Joachim – Frau und Mann. Biographie und Interpretationsgeschichte. Böhlau Verlag, Wien 2005, 2. Aufl. 2007 (= Wiener Veröffentlichungen zur Musikgeschichte, Band 5), ISBN 978-3-205-77629-1 Robert Eshbach’s Joseph Joachim website has also been an important impetus for this project.
Reading obituaries of Joachim and accounts of his funeral on August 18, 1907 raised my interest further. There was such an outpouring of loss that I wondered if the historical context would make better sense of it. (Short answer: yes!) A compilation of other musical events in Berlin in 1907, and then other cultural and political developments going on at the same time make up several webpages of what I consider incredible riches. They document the anxieties of the modern age about the future of art music, such as the fear about how far “maximalism” (to use Taruskin’s term, or as one British writer in 1901 put it, “jumbomania”) could go. I wondered if maximalism could also be thought of in terms of a saturation of the market for performances, and set to documenting all the performances at the main concert halls in Berlin for the year 1907 (currently I have about 800). Since so many newspapers, periodicals, and concert programs are being put online, this is a good time to look at artistic quandaries in an empirical way.
I have always been curious about Robert Hausmann, for whom Brahms wrote the second Cello Sonata, Op. 99, and the Double Concerto, Op. 102. Why was nothing known about him? Researching his life led me to the history of his relative from an earlier generation, Georg Hausmann (1813-1860). Georg was also a cellist who played a part in one of the most celebrated events of Joachim’s career, when he first came to London in 1844. The 13-year old Joachim performed Mendelssohn’s D minor Piano Trio with the composer at the piano and Hausmann playing cello. Georg and Joachim also played together that year in a concert of two late Beethoven quartets, Op. 130 and Op. 131. Taking a look at Georg’s career shows how much chamber music concerts developed during Joachim’s lifetime.
There is no doubt about it, the Joachim Quartet was something special, and I wish so much I could travel back in time to attend a concert. This project is the next best thing.
What people were saying about music in Berlin, “the musical capital of the world.” in English language sources:
The recently endowed Königliche Hochschule für Musik, over which Herr Joachim presides, is famous for its concerts and exercises great influence upon musical opinion in the most cultivated circles of Berlin society. It is here that symphony and quartet, Germany’s uncontested property, are in their highest perfection. Joachim’s chamber concerts are in fact beyond all praise.
Henry Vizetelly, Berlin under the New Empire, vol. 2, 1879.
I am about giving the readers of the Courier a summary of Berlin’s musical life, and to omit the Joachim Quartet concerts would be equal to a description of Venice without mention of the Grand Canal, or a visit to Yellowstone Park without a view of the geysers; for, despite the brilliancy of the Bülow concerts and the innumerable artist recitals of the highest order, the Joachim Quartet concerts stand foremost in the estimation of musical Berlin.
F.X. Arens, “Music in Berlin,” The Musical Courier, 1891.
The concerts in Berlin form alone a liberal education. There are first and foremost the subscription concerts of the magnificent Philharmonic Orchestra, until last winter under the batôn of Hans von Bülow, next season under that of Dr. Richter and Herrn Weingartner. No student in Berlin misses these concerts, or at least the general rehearsal which always takes place on the Sunday morning before, and is open to the public. Perhaps even a greater treat are the Quartet Evenings of Messrs. Joachim, De Ahna, Wirth, and Hausmann, of which there are generally five in the season.
E. Siepen, “Musical Life in Berlin,” The Musical Herald, September 1, 1892.
On the whole this city is an excellent place for the general development of the musical student, and although other countries and cities, may boast of celebrated composers, teachers, and performers yet it is a hard matter to find a city other than that of Berlin that may more justly be called the musical capital of the world.
F. W. Merriman, “A Berlin Letter,” Music 1895.
“There is, perhaps, no city in the world which enjoys such a high reputation for classical concerts as Berlin.”
Edith Lynwood Winn, “Glimpses of Berlin Concert Life,” The Musician vol. 2 (1897).
Better than beer!
I could go on ad bilitum or multilib and register German events of vast importance by the hundred that took place during the past two weeks, but the above examples give an idea of the tremendous musical life that is keeping Germany to the fore as the greatest of musical nations. The object lesson is of consequence if it can be instilled. All these thousands and millions of Germans are attaining a higher culture through this practice of making classical music the chief living art among themselves.
News and comments by the editor. Paris, December 28, 1906. The Musical Courier, 1907.
- Based in Berlin in 1907
- Chamber music concerts before the Joachim Quartet: the case of Georg Hausmann
- General reference sources online
- Map of the stars in 1907
- Mendelssohn Stipendium recipients
- Money issues and Joachim’s disinterestedness
- Overview of the musical events of 1907
- Posts about Chamber Music
- Posts about Robert Hausmann
- Pushing the limit in 1907: Berlin concerts by the numbers
- Robert Hausmann (1852-1909)
- Soloists for the Brahms Double Concerto
- The British Reception of Brahms
- The Joachim Quartet
- The pianist Alfred Reisenauer (1863-1907)
- Timeline for Music in Berlin
- You can look it up (online sources)
- About the author
- On the Joachim Quartet: It goes without saying…
- Joachim in 1907
- Piano Virtuosos in 1907 Berlin
- Sources for Concerts in Berlin in 1907
- The City of Berlin in 1907
- Joachim’s women students
- The Double Concerto of Brahms
- Obituaries for Joseph Joachim
- Concerts in December 1907
- Opera singers in concert in 1907
- Lute-playing folk singers
- The String Quartet’s past and future in Vienna
- The fate of some musicians from 1907
- Too many concerts by dilettantes?
- The Berlin Philharmonic’s insane concert schedule
- February 1907: Shipwreck
- What happened to Alice, Susanne, and Tina?
- Sources for Concerts in 1907 Berlin
- Audio Recordings of 1907 performers
- Music for Money
- Again: There are too many concerts!
- How affordable were these concerts?
- Brothers and Sisters in 1907
- What does all this information tell us?
- Coping with the embarrassment of riches
- Quartet concerts, now and then
- What made the Joachim Quartet Special II
- What made the Joachim Quartet so special?
- Chamber music as the opposite of modern concert life
- The pianist Heinrich Barth (1847-1922)
- After 1907: Oh, the decadence!
- All in the Philadelphia Family
- Women are the problem!
- The Berlin Wagner monument and the threat of greasepaint
- This job is killing me (at the Philharmonic)
- The 1903 fiasco of a festival for the Richard Wagner monument
- The musical Hausmann family
- Concerts in 1907 commemorating Joachim
- A summary of research
- Celebrations of Joachim’s achievements
- Monuments to Musicians other than Wagner
- Found: A Joachim student in 1902 Japan
- Joachim’s importance for orchestras
- Joachim’s chamber music empire in 1907
- Joachim’s role in Robert Hausmann’s life
- Georg Hausmann and Joseph Joachim
- Concerts in November 1907
- Concerts in September and October 1907
- Georg Hausmann and Beethoven’s chamber music
- The physiological consequences of too much music
- Concerts in March and April 1907
- The Berlin Philharmonic’s Popular Concerts, 1882-1934
- When did virtuosos stop playing their own concertos?
- The “standard” of three concertos on a concert
- Concerts in February 1907
- “Early Music” in 1907
- The Piano Trio of Hausmann, Barth and de Ahna
- Paradoxically Popular Art Music
- The Brahms Double Concerto at the Proms Concerts
- What made the Joachim Quartet special: Leipzig visits in the 1880s
- Robert Hausmann and the Schumann Cello Concerto
- Reactions to the Concerto for Violin and Cello, Op. 102 by Brahms
- Analysis of Brahms, Double Concerto, Op. 102
- The infamous Mr. Arthur M. Abell of the Musical Courier
- Strauss and Mahler in Berlin–on the same day
- Three Berlin critics on Mahler’s Third Symphony in 1907
- Debussy’s Perversity
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