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ClassicsOnline Home » HOFFMEISTER, F.A.: Double Bass Quartets Nos. 2-4 / SCHUBERT, F.: Arpeggione Sonata (arr. for double bass) (Duka, Sebestyen, Nicolai, Ostertag, Moll)
The novelty of Franz Anton Hoffmeister’s double bass quartets lies in his substitution of that husky-voiced instrument for the first violin in a regular string quartet line-up. Seldom heard in such a prominent position the double bass reveals itself as a good humoured and surprisingly expressive vehicle for Hoffmeister’s amiably melodic writing. It also gives an especially haunting melancholic quality to Schubert’s much-loved Arpeggione Sonata, not merely in the beautiful Adagio but also in the more agile outer movements.
Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812) Double Bass Quartets Nos. 2, 3 and 4
Franz Schubert (1797–1828) Arpeggione Sonata (arr. for double bass)
Born in Rothenburg am Neckar in 1754, the eighth child in his family, Franz Anton Hoffmeister moved to Vienna at the age of fourteen to study law, and also, doubtless, in order to pursue his musical interests. In 1778 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Count Franz von Szecsenyi, spending the following three years with his employer in Hungary. In Vienna once more he established a music publishing business, at first with the bookseller Rudolf Gräffer, announcing its foundation in the Wiener Zeitung in January 1784. It was during these years that he was closely associated with Mozart, personally and as a publisher. In 1791 he opened a branch in Linz, which lasted a relatively short time, and in 1795 he sold the greater part of his business to Artaria. During a concert tour in Leipzig in 1798 with the flautist Franz Thurner he met the organist Ambrosius Kühnel, with whom, in 1800, he set up another publishing business, the Bureau de Musique, thereafter dividing his time between Leipzig and Vienna, where his wife ran the business. In 1805 he handed the Leipzig firm over to Kühnel, after whose death in 1813 the business was acquired by C.F. Peters, and returned to Vienna, selling a number of his publications to the Chemische Druckerey.
Hoffmeister’s involvement with publishing was intermittent, but he issued works by some of the most distinguished of his contemporaries, including Beethoven, Förster, Haydn, Mozart, Pleyel, Albrechtsberger, Clementi, Vanˇhal and Wranitzky. He was, at the same time, very active as a composer, with compositions including fifty or so symphonies, some sixty concertos, a quantity of chamber music and a number of Singspiel. Among these last Der Königssohn aus Ithaca, with a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, who staged the work at the Freihaus-Theater in 1795, won particular success, with Schikaneder’s ‘Parrot’ song, sung by the prince’s more earthy companion, Colifonio, Bey grossen und mächtigen Herren / möcht ich wohl ein Papagey sein (With great and mighty masters / I should like to be a parrot) enjoying particular popularity. Hoffmeister’s compositions were known to the Mozarts in Salzburg, where his quartets had been played, as we learn from Nannerl Mozart’s diary for August 1780. When Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781 he had direct personal contact with Hoffmeister and a letter of November 1785 finds Mozart asking him for money, a request with which Hoffmeister seems to have complied by the payment of two ducats, an advance on the publicaton of Mozart’s Piano Quartet, K. 478. Letters home in 1790 by Mozart to his wife concern business matters with Hoffmeister, presumably for an advance, a matter that seemed to acquire increasing urgency.
The novelty of Hoffmeister’s Double Bass Quartets lies in the use of a solo double bass instead of a first violin in quartets for double bass, violin, viola and cello. The Solo Quartet No. 2 in D major starts with the statement of the main theme by the double bass. There follows a brief passage of interplay between the instruments before the double bass introduces the second subject. The central development of the sonata-form movement starts with a transposed version of the principal theme, followed by some technical display from the solo instrument. The recpitulation makes its due appearance to end the movement. The first part of the theme of the Menuett is given to the viola, and then shared by violin and viola, before the double bass takes over. It is the latter that offers the melody in the Trio, leading to further display for the double bass, before the Menuett returns. The A major Andante brings interplay between the instruments in the second half, before the return of the main theme. The final Rondo follows precedent, in a cheerful 6/8, the principal theme announced by the double bass and then shared with the violin. The first episode brings more elaborate figuration for the double bass, with a cadenza before the return of the principal theme. It is the violin that at first takes the lead in the second episode, after which the main theme is heard again, with a passage of double bass double and triple stopping in the final chords.
Solo Quartet No. 3 in D major has the double bass and viola stating the first theme, then taken up by the violin, which sees to the transitional second subject material before the double bass, with the second subject proper, ends the exposition. A short development precedes the final recapitulation. The G major Adagio entrusts the main theme to the double bass, but the viola and then the violin later enjoy some prominence. The quartet ends with a Tempo di Minuetto, a theme, introduced by the double bass, followed by a first variation in semiquavers for the violin, a triplet variation for the double bass and a third version of the theme introducing some syncopation and bringing passage-work for the viola before the work comes to an end.
Solo Quartet No. 4 in D major starts with the first theme played by the bass and briefly taken up by the violin. The second subject is introduced by violin and viola, then taken up by the bass. A short development leads to the return of the first subject in a modified recapitulation. The violin starts the main theme of the Menuett, with the bass at first taking the lead in the Trio. The A major Andante offers interplay between the instruments, with the cello, as always here, playing a very limited accompanying rôle. The Rondo contains two contrasting episodes, the second of which offers the double bass opportunities for display.
Franz Schubert, the son of a schoolmaster, spent most of his short life in Vienna. He was trained as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel with the general educational opportunities offered by that employment, but when his voice broke he chose to leave school and train as a teacher, thereafter working briefly with his father, but increasingly devoting himself to music and to the society of his friends. He never held any position in the musical establishment in Vienna but by the time of his death in 1828 publishers were beginning to show an increasing interest in his work.
The arpeggione, a form of bowed guitar, was invented or, at least constructed by the Vienna luthier Johann Georg Staufer in 1823. This instrument had six strings, tuned like the guitar, and 24 metal frets fixed to the fingerboard. Its only exponent of any significance was Vincenz Schuster, who published a tutor for the arpeggione with the firm of Diabelli. It was for Schuster that Schubert wrote in 1824 the so-called Arpeggione Sonata, a work that now forms part of the repertoire of the cello or viola, and here finds a new place in an arrangement for double bass.
The first movement opens with a theme offered by the piano and repeated, according to custom, by the solo instrument, with a version of the melody that is slightly extended, leading to a second, livelier theme and the conclusion of the first part of the movement with plucked chords. Much of the earlier material appears in the central development, which ends in a brief cadenza that reintroduces the first theme in recapitulation. The Adagio, after a short piano introduction, offers a fine singing melody for the solo instrument, leading to the final Allegretto, which opens with a lilting theme, a demonstration of Schubert’s gift for melodic invention. A contrasting episode recalls the rhythm of the first movement, giving way again to the first theme. The contrasting episode appears again, transposed, leading to the final return of the first theme.
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