Otto Joachim | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Otto Joachim

Otto Joachim. Composer, teacher, violist, violinist, b Düsseldorf 13 Oct 1910, naturalized Canadian 1957, d Montreal 30 Jul 2010; hon LLD (Concordia) 1994. Joachim's father, Emil Joachimsthal, was an opera singer. Joachim studied the violin 1916-28 at the Buths-Neitzel Conservatory.

Otto Joachim

Otto Joachim. Composer, teacher, violist, violinist, b Düsseldorf 13 Oct 1910, naturalized Canadian 1957, d Montreal 30 Jul 2010; hon LLD (Concordia) 1994. Joachim's father, Emil Joachimsthal, was an opera singer. Joachim studied the violin 1916-28 at the Buths-Neitzel Conservatory. In 1928 he entered the Rheinische Musikschule at Cologne for coaching by Hermann Zitzmann preparatory to a career as a violinist and violist. During his final term, 1930-1, he served as Zitzmann's assistant. In 1934, a year after Hitler came to power, he left Germany for the Far East, where he remained for 15 years, performing and teaching first in Singapore and later in Shanghai. In 1949 he obtained an immigrant's visa to Brazil, which allowed him a month's stay in Canada.

Joachim subsequently decided to settle in Montreal, where he became a member and later principal viola of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and of the McGill Chamber Orchestra. With his brother Walter, cello, and Hyman Bress and Mildred Goodman, violins, he founded the Montreal String Quartet. In 1956 he began teaching at the McGill Conservatory and at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. He was in charge of chamber music, violin, and viola classes at the latter until 1977. His interest in old instruments, however, led to the founding in 1958 of the Montreal Consort of Ancient Instruments, which he directed until 1968. After leaving McGill in 1964 he performed less often in order to devote himself to teaching and composing.

His Work

As a member of the modernist avant-garde, Joachim wrote music in its main vogues: serial, aleatoric, and electroacoustic. In the mid-1950s he set up his own electroacoustic music studio - the third in Canada and the first privately owned - and, after several years of study and experimentation, created Katimavik, a work on four-track tape commissioned by the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67. In The Canadian Music Journal (Winter 1959) he prepared a revision of Electronic Music, a collection of 12 texts published in Ottawa in 1956. In 1971 he produced two other wholly electronic compositions, 6 1/2 and 5.9, the titles being the durations (in minutes) of the works. In Stimulus à Goad (1973), for guitar and live electroacoustic sound, the guitarist controls the quality of the electroacoustic sound, so that the instrument elicits certain responses from the synthesizer. On commission from the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, Joachim in 1977 composed Uraufführung for 13 instruments and live electroacoustic sound. In 1999 he released Elektroakustische Momente, an album of electroacoustic compositions - all the tracks, once again, deriving their titles from their durations.

Joachim's long and significant association with aleatoric music began with Nonet (1960) for strings, winds, and piano, perhaps the first piece of chance music to be written in Canada. Subsequently he wrote Contrastes, commissioned by the Toronto Symphony for Canada's centennial, and Illumination I, Illumination II, and Mankind, three works commissioned by the CBC, which explore the relationships between the properties of sound and light. For Illumination II the composer received in 1969 the Grand Prix Paul-Gilson from the Communauté radiophonique des programmes de langue française.

In the summer of 1977 he went to Seoul, Korea, as string coach for the Jeunesses Musicales World Orchestra. In 1985, during a concert in Windsor, Ont, to commemorate his 75th birthday, the Essex Winds premiered his Mobile für Johann Sebastian Bach, commissioned by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, which he conducted. In 1990 his 80th birthday was marked by a concert of his works presented at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur in Montreal and later broadcast on CBC. Joachim continued composing, writing the melodrama Stecheldraht in 1994. Written for chamber orchestra and narrator, it deals with the killing of Jewish children in World War II concentration camps. The text was drawn from his conversations with survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau. His son Davis Joachim premiered Trio, for solo guitar, in 1996. String Quartet was premiered in 1997. The work evokes sounds of Korea amid serial and aleatoric materials.

Joachim's music has been played by the Montreal, Toronto, Chicago and Boston symphonies, the Orchestre Metropolitain, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, the Ensemble Instrumental de Radio-Canada, and the Molinari String Quartet. He conducted the Shanghai Refugee Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, among other orchestras.

His Style

Though he was trained in Germany, Joachim the composer developed almost entirely in Canada (the works composed in Germany - the symphonic poem Asia and the Trois Bagatelles for piano - were not completed there), and the convergence of two cultures in his work lends it a marked singularity. It is as if his will to compose found its nutrients and stimuli wholly in the new country while the techniques brought into play were a legacy of the old. Thus, works such as L'Éclosion and Concertante No. 1 exude a spirit of compromise. This spirit has been identified by musicologist Robin Elliott - in reference to Joachim's string quartet and those of other Canadian composers - as a trait that "has been one of the hallmarks of the Canadian psyche."

Almost all of Joachim's works use serial technique and he believed, as many did, in the historical necessity of this technique. According to Udo Kasemets (Contemporary Canadian Composers), 'Joachim's treatment of the tone-row is at once quite conventional and undogmatic ... his rows are easily recognizable and tuneful.' In such works as Tribute to St-Romanus he used rows to achieve lyrical and tragic effect. Without excluding the tonal implications of doubled octaves and literal repetition, his results nevertheless are very original. Even in earlier works such as Music for violin and viola composed in 1953 (RCI 459), March for voice and piano (1954), and the Sonata for cello and piano, the composer went beyond classic serialism to the point of experimenting with numerical systems applied to the rhythmic parameter. If such methods recall Webern and Boulez, Joachim's way of creating unusual sounds from traditional instruments also shows the influence of Varèse.

He used his interests in aleatoric and electroacoustic music in combination with serial music, the first two providing a break from the more rigorous demands of the last. Such is the case with Contrasts (1967), which employs aleatoric practices in an overarching serial structure. Joachim was known for the variety of music gestures he used to construct his pieces, eg effecting convincing and sudden transitions from pointillism to lyricism, as well as for his ability to produce creative and unusual electroacoustic sounds.

Joachim received the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée from La Société St-Jean-Baptiste in 1990 and was named a Chevalier de l'ordre national du Québec in 1993. Concordia University named both a composer's residency and a commission for electronic music after him. He was a member of the Canadian League of Composers and PROCAN, as well as an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and an honorary member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community.

Selected Compositions

Asia, symphonic poem. 1928-39. Full orch. Ber (rental)

Concertante No. 1. 1955-7. Violin, string orch, percussion. BMIC 1960. RCI 293/6-ACM 14 (Bress)

Concertante No. 2. 1961. Str quartet, string orch. Ber (rental). RCI 597 (O métropolitain)

Contrastes. 1967. Full orch. Ric 1968

Metamorphoses. 1995. Orchestra


Music for Violin and Viola. 1953. Ms. RCI 459/6-ACM 14 (Verebes)

Sonata for cello and piano. 1954. BMIC 1963. RCI 139/6-ACM 14 (W. Joachim)/CBC SM-113 (Depkat)

String Quartet. 1956. AMP 1959; BMIC 1960. RCI 190/6-ACM 14 (Montreal String Quartet)

Interlude 'Quartet for four saxophones.' 1960. Ms

Nonet. 1960. Wind quartet, strg quartet, piano. Ms. 1980. RCI 524/6-ACM 14 (CBC Instr Ens)

Divertimento. 1962. Wind quintet. Ber (rental). RCI 524/6-ACM 15 (Quebec Wind Quin)

Expansion. 1962. Fl, piano. BMIC 1967

Dialogue. 1964. Viola, piano. Ms. 6-ACM 14 (see Discography)

Illumination I (A. Purdy). 1965. speaker, chamber ensemble, projectors. BMIC 1968

Kinderspiel, aleatoric music for children (Le Petit Prince). 1969. Narrators, violin, violoncello, piano. Privately published by the composer 1970

Twelve 12-Tone Pieces for the Young. 1970. Violin, piano. Ber 1961

Six Pieces. for Guitar. 1971. Preissler 1975. RCI 392/Mel SMLP-4025/6-ACM 14 (D. Joachim)

Requiem. 1977. Violin (viola or violoncello). Ms. Centredisques CMC-0883 (Golani)

4 Intermezzi. 1978. Flute, guitar. Québec-Musique 1981. (3 Intermezzi) RCI 482/6-ACM 14 (D. Joachim)

Night Music. 1978. Fl, guitar. Ms. RCI 482/6-ACM 14 (D. Joachim)

Tribute to Saint Romanus. 1981. Organ, 4 horns, 4 percussion. Ms. 6-ACM 14 (see Discography)

Paean. 1989. Violin cello. Ms

Stacheldraht. 1994. Speaker, solo flute, and chamber orchestra

Trio. 1996. Guitar

String Quartet. 1997. String quartet


Bagatelles. 1939. Piano Ms

L'Éclosion. 1954. Piano. BMIC 1968. RCI 133 (Goldblatt)/Mel SMLP 4023/ (Kubálek)/(1980) RCI 524/6-ACM 14 (Blondin)

Twelve 12-Tone Pieces for Children. 1959. Piano. BMIC 1961. (No. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10) CCM-2 (Cavalho)/(1980) RCI 524/6-ACM 14 (Van Nguyen)

Fantasia. 1961. Organ. BMIC 1967. RCI 225/RCA CCS-1019/6-ACM 14 (Gilbert)

Electroacoustics and Mixed Media

Katimavik. 1967. Tape/6-ACM 14

Illumination II. 1969. Various instr, 4-track tape, projectors. Ber 1976. RCI 298/6-ACM 14 (see Discography)

5.9. 1971. 4-track tape. RCI 373/6-ACM 14

6. 1/2 1971. 4-track tape

Mankind (Hebrew literature, the Koran, Catholic and Buddhist liturgy). 1972. 4 speaker, 4 synthesizer, organ, timp, incense, slides, projectors. Ms

Stimulus à Goad. 1973. Guitar, synthesizer. Preissler 1977. RCI 392/Mel SMLP 4025/6-ACM 14 (D. Joachim guitar)

Uraufführung. 1977. Guitar, 14 instr, electronic music. Ms

Seven Electronic Sketches. 1984. Tape

Mobile für Johann Sebastian Bach. 1985. 4 woodwind, celesta, organ, 4 strings, tape. Ms

Other works, including Psalm for choir (1960), BMIC 1961, RCI 206/6-ACM 14 (Montreal Bach Choir)


See also Davis Joachim (his son).

Joachim Dialogue. Vida, Newmark piano. (1983). 6-ACM 14

- Illumination II. CBC instr ensemble, Joachim director. ca 1972. RCI 298/6-ACM 14

- Tribute to Saint Romanus. NMC Ens, Albright or Joachim conductor. (1983). 6-ACM 14

Anthology of Canadian Music Vol. 14. 1983. RCI 5-ACM-14

Elektroakustische Momente. 1999 Joachim JO100-2

Tribute to Otto Joachim. Various artists. 2000. Radio-Canada RCI 100

Presence II. 2002. CE206-2

See also Montreal Consort of Ancient Instruments; Musica Antica e Nuova; and Discographies for Boyden, Bress, and Montreal String Quartet

Further Reading