Joachim, Joseph


Joachim, Joseph

Variations for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment

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Joseph Joachim

Variations for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment (1878-1879, published 1882)


Preface (Online Version >>> without pictures)
The Variations for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment (1882) is Joachim’s third and last variation sets. It was preceded by the variations Op. 10 (1854) and the variations on an Irish Elfenlied (1856), written decades earlier. In the 1850s Joachim was based in Weimar (1851-1852) and Hanover (1853-1868)1 and actively composing overtures, concertos, and chamber music. He drew inspiration from his surroundings, including Franz Liszt, Schumann, and Brahms. With the latter he carried out a counterpoint exchange, which provided the background for the Elfenlied variations, originally conceived as “exercises.”2 In 1878, however, Joachim was no longer an active composer but on the height of his career as a violin soloist, string quartet primarius, and pedagogue.

While Joachim’s letters reveal little about this work’s occasion, its dedication to Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), the Spanish violin virtuoso, strongly suggests that the composition was conceived as a showcase of virtuosity, written by, and for, a virtuoso. The title’s emphasis on “orchestral accompaniment” and the work’s impressive array of advanced technical challenges for both the right- and left hand of the violinist are a case in point. In its technical demands and soloistic scope this variation set borders on the aesthetic of the solo violin concerto.

Returning to composition after many years, and to the variation genre, may have reminded Joachim of the days in his early 20s, when in his surroundings myriad variation pieces were composed, including by Brahms and Schumann. Brahms strove to supply the genre with a new – or rather, old –sense of tradition, which he also brought to his many ensuing variation works. During the counterpoint exchange with Brahms in 1856-18573 the composer experienced first-hand Brahms’s unusual gift with counterpoint and the old forms.4 Joachim’s Elfenlied variations became the topic, which elicited Brahms’s feedback on the ideal of the genre and on the discipline that “modern” composers like Joachim and himself should bring to it. Brahms’s main criticism of Joachim’s Elfenlied variations entailed that Joachim changed the harmonic structure too much, so that the melody notes – although strictly speaking present – were only visible with “the eyes” and not “audible” as part of the harmonic progression. Brahms rejected “the setting of melody tones in an altered tonal context,”5 which was evidently the case given Joachim’s frequent changes of keys. The frequent meter shifts and divergences from the theme’s structure may have provided further reason for Brahms to advocate going back to more “ancient” practices, such as those demonstrated by Bach and Beethoven.6

That Joachim was challenged by the counterpoint exercises is evident from his letters, from his inability to send exercises on time, and from his leaving the Elfenlied variations incomplete.7 The strictness at the heart of counterpoint, Joachim acknowledged, clashed with his compositions from the early 1850s. These large-scale programmatic orchestral overtures on heroic figures like Hamlet and Demetrius demanded expressing psychologically complex characters in music, to which Joachim responded with colorful orchestration and imaginative motivic transformation. Counterpoint was far from his daily practice in those years.


Read full preface / Komplettes Vorwort lesen > HERE

Score No.



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Special Edition

Violin & Orchestra


210 x 297 mm

Performance materials
Piano reduction




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