He was born in Groningen, the son of the chazzan of the city, who went on to become a cantor in London. Joseph started his music studies in London. He continued his studies at the Music Academy of Leipzig, with Ignaz Moscheles as his teacher.
His gift as performing piano player was recognized by the Empress Eugénie of France, who asked him to become her court pianist in 1849. Later on, he moved to London. There he died as the result of his dissolute life on June 4 1869.
He composed for piano, piano four- and eight hands, as well as for solo singers accompanied by piano. Some 200 of his compositions remain.