Not only was Joachim (pronounced Yoachim) a brilliant violinist and conductor, but he also served as the “go-to guy” for many of the great composers of the day, including Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Dvořák, inspiring and premiering some of their masterpieces.
Born near Pressburg (now Bratislava) into a Jewish family, he gave his first public performance when he was 8-years-old, and was sent to Vienna for further study. In the spring of 1843, he became a student at the newly-founded Leipzig Conservatory and a protégé of its director, Felix Mendelssohn. Under Mendelssohn’s watchful eye, the teenager was groomed for stardom. He performed with the acclaimed Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra (which still exists today, making it the longest-running orchestra in the world). In May 1844, Mendelssohn whisked him off to London where he gave a performance of Beethoven's violin concerto that created a sensation. Although premiered in 1806, this work did not become an instant hit, and Joachim's performance of this great concerto with Mendelssohn conducting is credited with guaranteeing its entrance into the pantheon of violin concertos.
By 1850, Joachim had taken his first professional position as concertmaster for Franz Liszt, but because he was unable to reconcile himself to Liszt’s radical musical taste, he left to become principal violinist at the court in Hanover. There, he met Johannes Brahms, with whom he forged an intimate artistic relationship that eventually led to some of Brahms’ greatest works.
Music Mends Fences
In 1868 Joachim left for Berlin, where he remained for the rest of his life, teaching and serving as one of the first conductors of the Berlin Philharmonic. Joachim became a kind of “technical advisor” to other great composers, including Max Bruch and Antonin Dvorak. He aided Bruch in the revision of his G minor Violin Concerto, and premiered several of Dvorak's chamber works with "Joachim's Quartet." Brahms' only violin concerto, the great D major Violin Concerto, was dedicated to his friend Joachim. Despite a falling-out with Brahms—who had sided with Joachim’s wife when the violinist sought to divorce her—Joachim continued to champion Brahms’ music. In 1887, he received the dedication of Brahms’ Double Concerto (for violin and cello), and premiered the work with Brahms conducting. Isn't it amazing how great music can inspire people to rise above personal animosities and encourage reconciliation?!
In his playing style, Joachim was among the few virtuosos of the Romantic era who avoided displays of bravura and made a point of subordinating himself to the music. His compositions are lesser known than those of the great composers he championed, but are beautiful nonetheless. Listen to this moving, melodic Andantino by Joseph Joachim: