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ClassicsOnline Home » HOFFMEISTER, F.A.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 1 - Nos. 21 and 24 (B. Meier, Prague Chamber Orchestra)
As prolific a composer as Haydn, Franz Anton Hoffmeister was a formative figure in his day, also acting as a significant music publisher for Mozart and Beethoven. Meeting the tastes of the time with a perfect blend of grace and artistry, both of these flute concertos are filled with radiant elegance and catchy melodies, allied to symphonic dimensions and passages of remarkable virtuosity for the soloist.
Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812)
Flute Concertos Nos 21 and 24
To flautists he is a household name. Even viola players, normally starved of solo literature, know at least of his D major Viola Concerto, which belongs to the instrument’s standard repertoire. Still, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, born in Rottenburg-on-Neckar in 1754, is one of those composers who were eclipsed by the great great Viennese Classical composers. Though much loved and frequently played during his lifetime, he fell foul of the verdict of posterity because of the dominance of that mighty triumvirate Haydn, Mozart and especially Beethoven, and quickly lapsed into obscurity. In an age when supreme aesthetic demands were increasingly being placed on each new composition, he could not escape being labelled a voluminous scribbler of ingratiating, melodious music with no claim to profundity—a fate shared by other composers, one being Georg Philipp Telemann. It was not until recently that interest in Hoffmeister’s music has gradually been rekindled, though it is still too soon to speak of a renaissance.
Yet Hoffmeister was a formative figure in the musical life of his day. Based in Vienna from 1768, he first studied law, but continued to pursue his musical education on the side and entered the service of Count Szecsenyi as maestro di cappella in 1778, a position that led to a three-year stay in Hungary. In 1784 he founded his own music publishing firm in Vienna at a time when the city’s music publishing scene was just getting started. Despite a few business setbacks, he ultimately advanced to become one of the city’s leading publishers. Many works by his Viennese contemporaries appeared in his catalogue. Along with Artaria, he was the principal publisher of his friend Mozart, issuing his Piano Quartet K 478 (it proved to be a commercial fiasco). He also maintained business relations with the young Beethoven, whose ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, Op 13, was published by his firm. In 1798 Hoffmeister resolved to focus once again on his musical activities, but a concert tour with the flautist Franz Thurner took him to Leipzig, where he joined forces with the local organist of the Catholic Court Church, Ambrosius Kühnel, to found yet another publishing venture, the Bureau de Musique (it later evolved into the famous House of CF Peters). From then on Hoffmeister shuttled between the two cities. The new firm achieved a coup by publishing Beethoven’s Septet and First Symphony, but it was also noteworthy for including works of deceased composers in its catalogue—an absolute rarity at the time and a business policy that pointed toward the future. Besides Haydn quartets and other pieces by Mozart, special interest attached to his publication of Bach’s keyboard music. In 1806 he retired from the publishing trade and spent the last years of his life composing.
Hoffmeister was an incredibly prolific composer on a scale reminiscent of Joseph Haydn. The bulk of his oeuvre was devoted to instrumental music. Besides 66 symphonies, the list of his works reveals a multitude of concertos, with pride of place going to his 25 concertos for the flute, though it also accommodates concertos for such rare instruments as double bass, harp, viola d’amore and flauto d’amore. Then there is a vast amount of chamber music that established his early reputation and soon circulated in print throughout Europe. Here too the variety and originality of his choice of instruments are remarkable, one example being his string quartets for violin, two violas and cello. Once again works for flute in various chamber formats loom large, though mainly in the form of quartets for flute and strings. In comparison his vocal music tends to fall by the wayside. His stage works, invariably German Singspiel, were all first performed in Vienna. A grand comical heroic opera Der Königssohn von Ithaka, composed in 1795 on a libretto by Schikaneder, achieved a certain renown and was also mounted in other cities.
The two flute concertos recorded here for the first time, already appeared in print during Hoffmeister’s lifetime. The earliest source for Concerto No 21 is a set of printed parts issued by his own firm in 1788 and reissued as Op 28 in 1790 by another leading publisher, André of Offenbach. This concerto already reveals several features characteristic of both works. One is the striking length of their opening movements. But despite the expanded dimensions, the orchestra and the soloist do not interact as in Mozart’s concertos. Instead they oppose each other as separate entities. Both concertos place severe technical demands on the soloist with rapid runs, virtuosic passage-work and extreme changes of register. The main theme of Concerto No 21 immediately reveals Hoffmeister’s gift for elegant and catchy melodies, which make the pieces immediately appealing. Though their intrinsic potential for development is rarely exploited, the composer’s masterly craftsmanship is never in doubt. Especially effective are the development section and the recapitulation, where the principal theme recurs in the darker minor mode. Perhaps the heart of the concerto is its D minor middle movement, which departs fundamentally from the character of the opening. Here the wind instruments fall silent, and the lightness of the first movement seems to have vanished. Both the string theme, with its leap of a diminished seventh, and the related flute theme, with its double dotting reminiscent of a French overture, evoke an antiquarian aura. The same aura dominates the middle section of this A-B-A movement, so that the brighter F major tonality leaves the basic character intact. The downcast final bars even recall the great D minor movements of Hoffmeister’s friend Mozart. The elegiac mood of the middle movement is swept aside by the final rondo. Here the soloist immediately establishes a contrast with a brash, buoyant theme and characteristic double appoggiaturas. Laid out in sonata-rondo form, the movement is again dominated by passages of brilliant virtuosity, with the secondary theme gaining in prominence as the piece progresses. Not even the darker colours of a passing D minor can alter the underlying mood of a grand galop.
The first work on this recording, the Concerto No 24 of 1795 (likewise in D major), was initially published by André as Op 60. It differs from its companion in its use of trumpets and timpani, which determine the concerto’s radiant and often march-like character. It is safe to call Op 60 the more artistically accomplished of the two concertos, as is immediately apparent in the gracefully innocent main theme in the first violins, accompanied by a counter-melody in the seconds. The part-writing in the secondary theme is no less polished. The movement attains symphonic dimensions and calls for extreme virtuosity not only from the soloist but from the orchestra, notably in its use of the Mannheim crescendo. Hoffmeister frequently finds original formal solutions, as when the final theme of the orchestral exposition recurs as a transition to the secondary theme in the first solo. His technical prowess is equally evident in the development section, where extended passages in the minor mode achieve a special effect. He also creates fresh melodic material by manipulating motivic particles from themes already heard. His use of an alla polacca texture as the middle section of a concerto may seem unusual, but examples can be found as early as Bach, Telemann and other 18th-century composers before the polacca witnessed an upsurge in popularity toward the end of the century. As befits a polacca, the themes are noteworthy for the strong accent they place on the downbeat of each bar. The movement creates the impression of a long drawn-out vocal scena whose themes are mutually related in rhythm and melody. The G minor middle section, rather than presenting new thematic material, heightens the existing material with added chromaticism and tension-laden harmonies. Festive splendour radiates from the final rondo, which again spotlights the soloist’s virtuosity. Several minore episodes of a more gentle thematic character provide a contrast to the march-like rondo theme, based on a descending major triad. As a special ploy, the concluding section transforms the rondo theme into a flowing 6/8 metre.
Translation: J. Braford Robinson
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