Nineteenth-Century Bach? Emulation and assimilation of Joseph Joachim's Bach performing practices - A practical experiment

The Dome, Bramall Music Building
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 8th February 2017 (13:00)
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  • Music Colloquium series 2016-2017

Speaker: Dr David Milsom (Head of Performance, Department of Music, University of Huddersfield)

Venue: The Dome, Bramall Music Building (3rd Floor)


Joseph Joachim is often described as a ‘classical’ violinist and, certainly, his approach to repertory was simultaneously conservative, and prescient. His relationship with the music of J. S. Bach is of course one of the most notable manifestations of this, and he is often accorded the accolade of being the first major interpreter in modern times to perform the unaccompanied Bach solo sonatas and partitas without accompaniment.

We have, of course, a relatively vivid portrait of Joachim’s approach to playing, as transmitted by his various editions (including the posthumously-published version of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, published by Bote & Bock in 1908), his 3-volume Violinschule written with his pupil, Andreas Moser between 1902-5, and indeed, his 1903 recordings, which include the Adagio prelude from BWV 1001, and the Bourée from BWV 1002. These recordings have been the subject of significant scholarly scrutiny by writers such as Dorrotya Fabian, Clive Brown, and the present writer, and are mentioned by numerous others – a matter that is hardly surprising, given Joachim’s importance to histories of violin playing. Few, however, have sought to emulate in practice his style of Bach playing; fewer still have sought to adopt assimilative processes in order to capture at least something of the essence of his performing practices more widely in this repertoire.

This talk will discuss the author’s attempt, on period instruments, to record the B Minor partita in a manner influenced directly by Joachim’s playing. This is not intended to be a literal ‘historical reading’, but rather, one the takes as its central premise the intention to discern something of Joachim’s attitude to and stylistic approach towards this work. The intellectual infrastructure for this project had its gestation in the author’s 2006-9 AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts project undertaken at Leeds University with Clive Brown and other colleagues. The subsequent decade has seen the author moving away from such a traditional, positivist historical approach to one seeing in such historical experiments the seeds (more generally and non-dogmatically) for resourcing present-day approaches to canonical music.

The talk will be illustrated by video footage of fragments of the author’s DVD project – – and further technical and stylistic experiments. The author concludes that, in Joachim’s Bach style, there is a creative alternative not only to comparatively ‘historically unreflective’ modern instrument approaches, but also to traditional, baroque ‘period instrument’ intentions. Set in the context of a project that seeks to display a range of instruments, aesthetics, and ideals towards these extraordinary solo works, the talk will explore ways of perpetuating and even reviving Joachim’s stylistic legacy in a twenty-first century context.


  • Listen to Joseph Joachim’s 1903 recordings (available on YouTube)
  • Browse the CHASE project website (
  • Clive Brown, Classical and Romantic Performing Practices 1750-1900 (OUP, Oxford, 1999).
  • David Milsom, Theory and Practice in Late Nineteenth-Century Violin Performance 1850-1900 (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2003).