Franz Anton Hoffmeister



Symphony in G major ‘La festa della Pace 1791’

1. Allegro
2. Poco adagio
3. Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio
4. Allegro molto, Turchesco

Symphony in E major

1. Allegro molto
2. Adagio non troppo
3. Minuetto – Trio
4. Presto

Symphony in D major

1. Allegro molto
2. Adagio
3. Menuetto – Trio
4. Finale. Allegro molto

Franz Anton Hoffmeister was born at Rothenburg am Neckar, near Tübingen, in 1754. He migrated to Vienna in 1768, initially as a law student although his interests quickly turned to music. Very little is known about this period in his life, though it is possible that he had some lessons with the composer and theorist Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809), who was later to teach the young Beethoven. By 1778 Hoffmeister had published his first symphonies (including the ones in E major and D major recorded here), and had been appointed Kapellmeister by the Hungarian Count Franz von Szécsényi. A few years later, however, he was back in Vienna, although he evidently remained on good terms with the Count, to whom he dedicated his Op. 11 string quartets in 1784.

It was at about this time that Hoffmeister began his activities as a music publisher. He started in a modest way with an announcement in the Wiener Zeitung on 24 January 1784 that he would in future be printing and distributing all his own music, starting with a collection of German songs. A few months later he had several more of his works for sale, including a symphony, two keyboard sonatas and the Op. 11 quartets, as well as music by Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739–1813); moreover, the advertisement went on, ‘if anyone, whether professional or amateur, wishes to have anything of his engraved and printed, Mr Hoffmeister offers to serve everybody at the lowest possible fee’ (that is, at the composer’s own expense). There seem to have been few if any takers for this ‘vanity publishing’ scheme, but in August 1785 Hoffmeister launched a much more ambitious venture. He took a two-page advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung, announcing several subscription series with music by Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal, Albrechtsberger and Pleyel as well as himself and others; subscribers would, he said, be able to collect their copies not only in Vienna, but at his agents in cities as far away as Copenhagen, Riga, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Trieste and Warsaw. Despite competition from Artaria, then the leading Viennese music publisher, it says much for Hoffmeister’s business abilities that the venture appears to have been a success. Hoffmeister was on friendly terms with Mozart and was the first publisher of a number of his works, including the Piano Quartet in G minor, KV 478, and the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet, KV 499 – and also lent him a little money on one occasion in 1785. In 1799 Hoffmeister set off on a projected European tour but got no further than Leipzig where, in partnership with a local organist, Ambrosius Kühnel, he founded a new music publishing business called the Bureau de Musique. The Bureau published many of Beethoven’s works, and was the forerunner of C.F. Peters, a firm that still exists. Having commuted between Leipzig and Vienna for several years, Hoffmeister retired from business in 1805 and settled once more in Vienna, where he died on 9 February 1812.

As a composer, Hoffmeister was a well-respected figure in his day, with a large and varied output of music, from keyboard and chamber works to operas, symphonies and concertos – including those rarities, concertos for viola and for double-bass. Shortly after his death his achievements were summed up by the musical lexicographer Ernst Ludwig Gerber (1746–1819):

If one casts an eye over his many and varied works, one has to admire this artist’s industry and versatility. But if one considers how much he has served art through most of these compositions, both in respect of the musical pleasure he has given in the most varied genres, and in regard to the enrichment and advancement of instrumental music, especially through the richness of ideas in his large and brilliant symphonies, his beautiful works for concertante instruments, and his teaching pieces, variations, caprices and the like, which are as pleasant as they are instructive, one will remember this unassuming man, who used his rare talents to such good purpose, with grateful respect. He earned his well-deserved and widespread reputation through the intrinsic merit of his works, which are not only rich in feeling and expression, but employ the instruments interestingly and appropriately, and are distinguished by their ease of performance. They owed the latter advantage to his exact knowledge of the idiosyncrasies and technique of various instruments, which reveals itself so clearly that one might often have thought he was himself a virtuoso on the instruments for which he was writing.

Posterity, however, has on the whole judged Hoffmeister more severely, The New Grove Dictionary dismissing him as ‘generally lacking in originality and depth’. But is this a fair assessment of a composer whose works were so much enjoyed by his contemporaries? The three symphonies on this CD provide an excellent introduction to the music of Hoffmeister, and suggest that the time may be ripe for a reappraisal of his output.

The Symphony in E major and Symphony in D major are early works, published by Guera of Lyon in about 1778 (both are listed in the thematic catalogue issued by Breitkopf of Leipzig in that year). They are tuneful and well crafted, with sparkling outer movements, graceful minuets and suitable touches of melancholy in the minor-mode slow movements. One can see why Hoffmeister became so popular with the musical public. The Symphony in G major is a later and more substantial work. Its title, ‘La festa della Pace 1791’, commemorates the signing of a peace treaty with Turkey by Emperor Leopold II on 4 August 1791, after an expensive and inconclusive war in the Balkans. The last movement, called ‘Turchesco’, features the same ‘Turkish music’ (triangle, cymbals and bass drum) that Haydn was to use a few years later in his ‘Military’ Symphony No. 100, which by curious coincidence is in the same key of G major. The compositional style has matured and Hoffmeister has become quite adventurous harmonically, putting the second subject of the first movement in B flat major instead of the expected D major, and choosing the rather distant key of E flat major for the slow movement.

Richard Maunder (2005)