The string intonation of the Joachim School: A lost nuance of classical-romantic performance practice.

Gebauer, Peter Johannes (23 September 2019). The string intonation of the Joachim School: A lost nuance of classical-romantic performance practice. In: Symposium Correct, but not beautiful performance II. Wien. 23. - 25.09.2019.

In 1893 George Bernard Shaw heard Joseph Joachim perform the Bach Chaconne, and although deeply impressed by Joachim’s playing he wrote: If the intonation had only had the exquisite natural justice of Sarasate’s, instead of the austerity of that peculiar scale which may be called the Joachim mode, and which is tempered according to Joachim’s temperament and not according to that of the sunny South, I should have confidently said to my neighbour that this particular performance could never be surpassed by mortal violinist. There have been several attempts to uncover the specifics of what Shaw calls the “Joachim mode”, and there is no question that Joachim’s intonation was different from that of Sarasate, and even more radically different from intonation principles, which became the main stream after the First World War and which remained unquestioned until the revival of Early Music and the historical performance movement. However, attempts to reconstruct a “Joachim tuning” generally start with the assumption that Joachim followed a particular temperament, a fixed system (even if it distinguished enharmonics), by which he played each note on his instrument, ignoring the fact that string players are in fact capable of an enormous variety and flexibility of individual note adjustments. Once string intonation is understood in this way, the function of pure intervals and the ability to adjust “on the fly” becomes yet another layer of expressive nuance, and perhaps a characteristic of what Louis Spohr calls “beautiful performance” (“schöner Vortrag”). This paper explores string intonation in the Joachim tradition by examining several epigonal written sources (Andreas Moser, Carl Courvoisier, Arthur Jahn) who dealt with the problem in astounding depth. It will also shed some light on the intonation experiments Joachim took part in under the direction of Hermann von Helmholtz. In addition there will be some detailed analysis and comparison of historical sound documents from a “Joachim school” and from other contemporary performers. Finally some live examples from Bach’s Chaconne will attempt to show the differences between the “Joachim mode” and the “temperament […] of the sunny South”.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


Bern University of the Arts
Bern University of the Arts > Institute Interpretation


Gebauer, Peter Johannes


M Music and Books on Music > M Music




Sabine Jud

Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2020 07:05

Last Modified:

16 Dec 2020 15:02


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