What made the Joachim Quartet special: Leipzig visits in the 1880s

Contemporary reviews

Reviews in the musical press for the Quartet’s concerts outside of Berlin are quite consistent in the 1880s, and bear out the points made by Moser’s biography. The Quartet’s concerts in Leipzig were in 1881, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1896, 1898, and 1899.

The first visit to the Leipzig Gewandhaus on November 26, 1881 made quite an impression. At that point, Joachim was 50 years old and his Quartet’s subscription series was in its thirteenth year. De Ahna was 48 years old, Wirth was 39, and Hausmann was 29.

Cherubini, Quartet in d minor
Schumann, Quartet in F major, Op. 41, no. 2
Beethoven, Quartet Op. 131 in C# minor

The Musikalisches Wochenblatt called attention to their valuable instruments. The performance of the Beethoven caused the reviewer to rave:

Anyone who was present at this unforgettable quartet evening will have to grant that under such circumstances the quartets performed received the most perfect imaginable reproduction, that the content of Beethoven’s tone poem, comprised of a whole world of the most profound life of the soul, received a flexible interpretation down to the tiniest detail that has never before even been approached.1“Dass unter solchen Umständen die vorgetragenen Quartette die denkbar vollendetste Reproduction erfuhren, dass namentlich der eine ganze Welt tiefsten Seelenlebens umfassende Inhalt der Beethoven’schen Tondichtung eine hier vorher noch nie nur annäherend durchgeistigte, bis ins kleinste Detail hinein plastische Interpretations erfuhr, wird Jeder zugeben müssen, der diesem unvergesslichen Quartetteabend beiwohnte.”

There was even more praise for the second visit to the Leipzig Gewandhaus, on April 28, 1883:

Mozart, Quartet in C major, K. 465 (“Dissonant”)
Brahms, Quartet no. 3 in B-flat, Op. 67
Beethoven, Quartet in E-flat, op. 127

A reviewer for the Musikalisches Centralblatt began with one breathless, endless sentence:

We have to admit that we cannot recall how long a time it has been since such high artistic pleasure was offered to us on this evening; here there was no question of any instrument predominating; each subordinated itself to the admirable working out of the whole, that was a playing together as from a single gush and everything was brought to sound exactly and with absolute purity; the sound was wonderfully beautiful, since all four men own the most noble and marvelous instruments. But truly phenomenal was the highest meaningful grasp of the three such completely different works presented, that were revealed in rare perfection.2H., Musikalisches Centralblatt III, no. 44 (1883): 423.

In sum, what impressed this reviewer so much was the sound (again referring to their instruments), the unified ensemble (“as from a single gush”) and the insightful interpretation that made the three composers and their stylistic periods perceptibly different.

This review ended with “our greatest respect and warmest thanks for bringing to us offerings of true artistic enjoyment; may it be granted to us that the Joachim quartet is able to greet us again soon.” The Musikalisches Wochenblatt echoed: “May these honored artists come back often, and soon!”

The Quartet did return for another concert in Leipzig that year. Its program for the 21 November 1883 concert also included Brahms and ended with Beethoven:

Mendelssohn, Quartet op. 12
Brahms, Quartet in a minor, op. 51 #2
Beethoven, Quartet in F major, op. 59 #1

Instead of coming up with more superlatives, the Musikalisches Wochenblatt claimed that all the critic could do was thank the Quartet: “For anyone who has had the pleasure of the reproductive revelations of this master- and model-Quartet knows that criticism is only able to express words of thanks and may then lay aside the critic’s pen.”3“…denn Jeder, der die reproductiven 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 dagagen ruhig bei Seite legen darf.” Musikalisches Wochenblatt 14 no 49 (29 Nov 1883): 612.

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