Money issues and Joachim’s disinterestedness

The most disinterested artist of his time.Arthur Symons, The Saturday Review (August 24, 1907): 231.

Joachim is a man of strong character. He has never at any time advertised himself, and yet his reputation overtops that of all other living artists. He has never taken money for private instruction. He has never varied from this role, nor can any sum tempt him to do so. He has never played in private for money. He plays but few engagements, apparently, for money, in public. He refused a fabulous offer for an American tour a few years ago. He devotes the greater part of his time to the interests of the Berlin Hochschule at a ridiculously small salary, according to our views. Even in Germany he could earn more in one week with his violin than his salary amounts to in one year if he chose to accept all the solo engagements offered him. In short, Joachim is above money considerations…No, it is not money; it is art that prompts Joachim to do as he does. He labors in the interest of art.

Arthur M. Abell, The Musical Courier May 10, 1899

1884: the year of Joachim’s projected concert tour of the U.S.

In 1883 Joachim signed a contract for a concert tour of the United States with “Director Pollini and American Abbey.” Two years earlier, Joachim had received an offer for 80,000 marks for 50 concerts in the U.S. over three months, which he considered insufficiently tempting (letter to brother, 9 February 1881). The Musikalisches Centralblatt reported in January 1884 that Joachim would receive 200,000 marks for 100 concerts in the U.S. over six months. The Musical Herald gave the sum as $60,000. That amount would be more than one and a half million dollars in 2019. The Klavier-Lehrer’s figure (with the source being the New Yorker Handelstag) was 230,000 M.  But in March the Signale reported that the trip had been delayed for a year, and then the financial situation (an economic depression in the U.S.) was said to have made it impossible for the concert organizer to honor the contract.

Joachim would consider later offers, but never went through with it. I think Joachim signed the 1883 contract for America in the first place because his financial situation was precarious. Protracted divorce proceedings started in 1881; he had to sell both the villa on the edge of the Tiergarten that had been custom built ten years earlier, and the summer house in Aigen, near Salzburg, which was acquired in 1874. But a concert tour of Russia in 1882 earned him a lot of money quickly. In February he reported to his brother that he had made a net profit of 250 pounds in Kiev, and expected to make more than that with two concerts in Odessa. A profit of 250 pounds was the equivalent of 5,000 M, or the amount of his annual salary at the Hochschule.

There is no doubt Joachim could have made more money if he had wanted. His salary was very modest, he taught a few needy students for free, and he never stopped donating his services for worthy causes. Still, the rhetoric of disinterestedness that critics, especially in Britain, employed promotes an overly-idealized image. Arthur Symons, for instance, wrote: “He loved music too purely, too greedily, for its own sake, to put himself forward at the slightest expense of a composer. Thus he protected the great composers, he did not merely popularise them.”1Arthur Symons, “Joachim and the Art of Interpretation,” The Saturday Review (August 24, 1907): 232.

It was reported that when Joachim died in 1907, he left to his heirs 750,000 M ($187,500 in 1907 dollars, or over 5 million in 2019 dollars).2Musical Courier, issue of Sept. 25, 1907.

For comparison purposes:

  • Around the same time of the America offer, in January of 1884, the Berliner Börsen Zeitung reported that Brahms had received an honorarium of 36,000 M for the Third Symphony.
  • An advertisement in the Signale in 1884 for a solo viola position in Baden Baden, to play in the orchestra and in a quartet: 1560 M.
  • An advertisement in the Signale in 1884 for a violinist to play in the Dresden Capelle: 960 M the first two years, then 1200 M.
  • The violinist Ludwig Straus, who played viola in the Popular Concerts quartet in London, earned 1000 pounds a year (= 20,000 M). Joachim wrote in 1877 that it would be impossible to lure him to Berlin because they could not offer anything close to that. Writers from both Germany and Britain reported that German musicians were poorly paid and British musicians were well paid.
  • According to a Bradshaw Railway Guide from 1903, 1 Mark = 1 Shilling = 25 cents; 1 pound = 20 M.
    • A Baedeker Guide to Berlin, 1908:  1 French and Belgian Franc = 80 Pfennigs
      • 1 British Pound – 20 M 40 Pf
      • 1 Dollar = 4 M 20 Pf
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