© Martin Wulfhorst 2021
Vieuxtemps’s fascination with Beethoven went far back into his childhood and youth. Beethoven’s Sonatas were included in the large chamber-music repertoire that he played in 1832–1833 in Bruxelles with young pianist Pauline García (1821–1910). García, the sister of his teacher’s fiancee, Maria Malibran, was a year younger than Vieuxtemps and later became one of the most famous primadonnas of her age (under her married name Viardot Garcia), after her mother made her abandon her budding career as an excellent pianist.
In the Fall of 1833—a few months after Vieuxtemps left Bruxelles and the chamber-music sessions with García ended—a performance of Fidelio in Frankfurt left a deep impression on 13-year-old Vieuxtemps.
His autobiographical letters include vivid descriptions of these experiences that kindled his early love for Beethoven.
"[p. 57] La rencontre de Mademoiselle Pauline Garcia devenue la célèbre Madame Viardot me valut la satisfaction de faire chaque jours plusieurs heures de musique avec cette Pianiste admirable.
Avec quel bonheur, je me souviens de ces séances quotidiennes ou les Quatuors, Trio’s [p. 58], Sonates, Duo’s concertants et brillants – alors en vogue – se succédaient!
Les Trio’s de Schubert lettres closes dans ce temps faisaient surtout nos délices: les Sonates de Beethoven, de Mozart, nous plongeaient dans l'Ether, dans l'azur! Jeunes et fous d'enthousiasme, nous allions aux découvertes, nous croyant de vrai Christophe Colomb! Le temps de bonheur juvénil a duré environ un an."
[“Meeting Mademoiselle Pauline Garcia, who later became the famous Madame Viardot, offered me the pleasure of making music with this admirable pianist every day for several hours. With what happiness do I recall those daily sessions where quartets, trios, sonatas, and concertant and brilliant duos—fashionable at the time—followed one another! Above all Schubert’s trios, which were then unkown, gave us great pleasure; Beethoven’s and Mozart’s sonatas transported us into the ether, into heaven! Young and crazy with enthusiasm, we went on our discoveries, believing ourselves to be like Christopher Columbus! This time of juvenile happiness lasted about a year.”]
“[p. 60] Ici il me serait difficile de passer sous silence un fait que fut the grand évènement de ma vie à cette époque.
On donnait Fidelio que je ne connaissais pas, dont je ne soupçonnais nullement l'existence, cet ouvrage étant alors parfaitement ignoré chez nous. — Impossible de rendre l'impression profonde que fît sur ma jeune âme de 13 ans cette musique incomparable! La Scène du 2d acte, – celle du caveau – me donna une secousse extraordinaire. J'en éprouvais un frisson général, sensation qui s'est reproduite depuis à chaque nouvelle audition de la même oeuvre, [p 61] enfin pour tout dire, j'en fut tellement remué que j'en perdis le repos!
[“It would be difficult for me to be silent about the greatest event of my life during this time. The theater [in Frankfurt] performed Fidelio—an opera that I did not know and of whose existence I was not even aware because it was completely unknown to us [in Belgium]. — It is impossible to describe the deep impression this incomparable music had on my young, 13-year-old soul! The second-act scene—the one in the dungeon—gave me an extraordinary shock. I felt a shudder all over my body, a feeling that returned hereafter at every performance of the same opera. To be honest, I was so moved that I lost my slee
Vieuxtemps became one of the most powerful champions of Beethoven’s music. He even loved to perform his late quartets and complained in a letter to his family of Dec. 18, 1842, that few listeners even in Vienna shared his enthusiasm taste for this repertoire (Systermans, 1920, p. 6 and 8). One year earlier he had played the Quartet op. 127 at a soirée in Paris ( La France musicale, March 3, 1841, p. 79), and four years later he introduced audiences at private concerts in St. Petersburg to Beethoven’s late quartets (Ginsburg 1984, p. 32).
Anton Wilhelm von Zuccalmaglio described how in 1838 eighteeen-year old Vieuxtemps insisted on a playing a Beethoven quartet for the audience at a Warsaw soiree, who considered his music “obsolete” and wanted to hear a fashionable composition by Onslow instead (Zuccalmaglio [pseud. “St. Diamond”], “Davidsbündlerbriefe. Aus Warschau. (Schluß.) [Vieuxtemps. — Henselt.],” Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 46/8, June 8, 1838, p. 183).
In the decades after his 1834 Vienna debut, Vieuxtemps ravished audiences all over Europe with his performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and received praise from many reviewers. Judging the relevance, bias, and veracity of a review is not always easy, but the congruences between numerous journal articles suggest a broad consensus about certain qualities and traits of Vieuxytemps’s playing in general and his Beethoven performances in particular: his technical prowess, his noble, grand, classical, lyrical style of playing, and his desire to serve the music. These performances left a deep impression on his audiences and helped raise the work to the status of a timeless masterpiece.
Though German critics and musicologist have tended to hail Joachim as the most influential 19th-century performer of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Vieuxtemps’s role in the popularization of the work can hardly be overrated. But whereas it is up to debate who did more for the Beethoven reception, Vieuxtemps or Joachim, strong evidence suggests that Vieuxtemps’s rendition of the work was the inspiration for Joachim to incorporate the work in his repertoire (and possibly an inspiration also for his performing style of the Concerto).
On April 30, 1843—about a month before leaving Vienna for Leipzig—young Joachim debuted in Grosser Redoutensaal with an “Adagio and Rondo” from Vieuxtemps’s “newest” concerto. Probably this was the Introduction (Adagio) and Rondo from Vieuxtemps’s Concerto no. 1 op. 10, published first in Paris by E. Troupenas in 1840 and reissued in Mainz by Schott in 1842 (pl. 1.017A).
By this time, young Joachim had worked up a sizeable repertoire, and his programming choice was clearly intended as a bow to Vieuxtemps: Joachim is bound to have attended the older violinist’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto exactly one week earlier, on April 23, 1843—just as he probably attended Vieuxtemps’s earlier performance of the same piece during the winter of 1842–43 (sources below). (Another bow to the older violinist is a two-measure quote at the beginning of Joachim’s Schlesinger Cadenza, mm. 9-10, which are taken verbatim from Vieuxtemps’s Cadenza WoO 3, mm. 16-17, and which are in turn, based on WoO 2, mm. 2--3.)
Probably at a meeting in connection with one of the performances during the winter of 1842-43, Joachim obtained or made the copy of WoO 2 that survived in his estate. (This would also suggest that the performance of WoO 2 referred to on the title page indeed took place at one of the two concerts in 1842–43.)
Further, one of Vieuxtemps’s Viennese performances in 1842–43, called “masterful” in AMZ 45, 603, also apparently inspired Joachim to add the Concerto to his repertoire. This ultimately led to his legendary London debut with the piece one year later, on May 27, 1844).
The parallels in the careers of the two young violinists are conspicuous: both stepped on the international concert scene at a very young age (barely 14 and almost 13, respectively) with Beethoven’s Concerto, and both built their careers at least partially on their reputation as authoritative, “classical” performers of the music of Beethoven and the other two great Viennese composers, Haydn and Mozart.
It is to be expected that further evidence of personal contacts between the two musicians will come to light in the future. After all, Joachim moved in the same musical circles as Vieuxtemps did during the months he spent in Vienna about nine years earlier. In the course of further research, links in performance style and compositional idiom and technique will emerge as well: Robert Eshbach, for instance, has suggested that the inclusion of the orchestra in the first-movement Cadenza of Joachim's "Hungarian" Concerto op. 11 may have been inspired by Vieuxtemps's Cadenza WoO 2, found in his estate.
Vieuxtemps, letter, dated March 2, 1843, cited after George Systermans, Henri Vieuxtemps d'après une correspondance inédites, Brussels: A. Dewit, 1920, p. 6
Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung 3/51 (April 29, 1843), p. 211
Hanslick, Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 45/33 (Aug. 16., 1843), col. 603
Henry Vieuxtemps • Cadenzas to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
© Martin Wulfhorst 2021