If as a performer and Brahms’s close collaborator Joachim promoted the music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, a process relatively unsympathetic to programme music of the Neudeutsche Schule, as a composer Joachim’s works do not display such an aesthetic stance. His own music, which he dubbed ‘psychological’, was intended to ‘detect and save’, that is faithfully to perceive and record his emotions. As part of this process, Joachim’s Abendglocken, the second of the Drei Stücke, Op. 5, for violin and piano (1853), betrays a striking use of ciphers, taking Robert Schumann’s musical word games to a heightened level and using notational signs such as double bars as framing devices that suggest an intriguing link to the daguerreotypes of early photography.
‘Psychological music’ describes a compositional approach Joachim pursued in the 1850s, when positivism began clashing with the existing idealist philosophy, as demonstrated in the emergence of empirical psychology from philosophy and metaphysics. Enrolled in philosophy at Göttingen University in 1853, Joachim would have encountered psychology from a pre-empirical, phenomenological perspective, which may have initiated his ‘psychological music’. The dedicatee of Abendglocken and the constant subject of his thoughts – and arguably of his music – was Gisela von Arnim (1827–1889), daughter of Bettina von Arnim, with whom he was romantically involved and whose encrypted name – G♯–E–A – provides a valuable key to understanding Abendglocken in particular, and Joachim’s psychological music in general. This article considers the autobiographical, philosophical and cultural influences on Joachim to interpret ‘psychological music’ as it played out in Abendglocken.