Otto and Walter Joachim were distinguished musicians and composers who brought their talents from Germany to Canada, where they became key figures in Montreal’s cultural sphere.
The brothers were born in Dusseldorf, and began studying violin there at an early age. In 1934, when the Nazis came to power, Otto was forced to flee Germany for Asia. He went first to Singapore and then to China – it being one of the few countries open to Jews during the war. In Shanghai, he met his wife, fellow Berliner Ellen Dieneman, and they had a son, Davis. In 1949, Otto and his family decided to move to Brazil. En route to South America via North America, however, he fell in love with the European nature of Montreal and decided to stay. Walter, meanwhile, spent the 1930s touring with a group of musicians throughout Europe and Asia, before also settling in Canada, in 1952.
During the 1950s, Otto and Walter began to make their mark on Montreal. They joined the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the McGill Chamber Orchestra (Otto as a solo violinist and Walter as a principal cellist). They also co-founded the Montreal String Quartet. And for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67, Otto composed an electroacoustic piece called Katimavik.
In 1956, Otto started teaching at McGill University, and founded his own electroacoustic music research studio. He spent many years experimenting with sound and was a key player in the modernist avant-garde music movement. Walter, confronted with his progressive deterioration from Parkinson’s disease, increasingly focused on academia, teaching at schools including the CMM, McGill University and the Orford Arts Centre.
Both brothers were named Knights of the Order of Quebec (Walter in 1992, Otto in 1993). Otto was made an Honorary Member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, was awarded the Grand Prix Paul-Gilson and the Prix Calixa-Lavallée, was given an Honorary Doctorate from Concordia University, and was honoured with an electroacoustic studio named after him at the school. Walter was made a member of the Order of Canada and received the Denise Pelletier Prize.