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8.554233 - HOFMANN: Violin Concertos
English 

Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793)

Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793)

Violin Concerto in B flat major

Concerto in G major for Violin & Violoncello

Violin Concerto in A major

 

Leopold Hofmann was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted and influential composers of his generation. Although a church musician by profession, Hofmann was also an important and prolific composer of instrumental music His symphonies, concertos and chamber works were played allover Europe and the avidity with which they were collected is attested to today by the large number of surviving manuscript copies.

 

The son of a senior and highly-educated civil servant in Vienna, Hofmann revealed his musical abilities early on and at the age of seven joined the chapel of the Empress Dowager Elisabeth Christine as a chorister. As a member of the chapel he received an extensive musical education studying keyboard, and later composition with Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the brightest stars in the Viennese musical firmament, and violin, possibly with Giuseppe Trani, Dittersdorf's teacher.

 

Hofmann's earliest known compositions date from the late 1750s and include symphonies, flute concertos and a number of small-scale sacred works. His reputation must have spread well beyond Vienna by 1760 since Sieber, the Parisian publisher, printed six of his symphonies that year and a number of the great Austrian monastic houses, including G6ttweig, began collecting his music assiduously from around this time.

 

In his native Vienna, the city Dr Charles Burney described as "the imperial seat of music as well us of power", Hofmann became a figure of considerable consequence His first known professional post, as musicus (probably violinist) at St Michael's in 1758, was followed quickly by the musical directorship of St Peter's, and, in 1769, an appointment as keyboard teacher to the imperial family probably on the recommendation of Wagenseil. Three years later, Hofmann secured the prized position of Kapellmeister at St

Stephen's Cathedral, and, in a gesture of supreme professional confidence, declined the directorship of the Imperial Chapel on learning that the conditions of appointment would require him to relinquish his other lucrative posts including St Peter's. His decision to petition for the post in 1774, following the unexpected death of Florian Leopold Gassmann, may indicate a change of stance on this issue, although in the event his petition was declined in spite of his recognition as the best-qualified candidate for the position A confidential memorandum concerning the appointment reveals concern on the part of the authorities that Hofmann's resignation from the Cathedral would have opened the way to Tobias Gsur succeeding to the position. He was evidently considered a quite unsuitable candidate by the committee who instead decided to leave Hofmann where he was and bring Giuseppe Bonno out of retirement to fill the court post.

 

The politicking involved in the court appointment may have soured Hofmann since he appears to have ceased composing on a regular basis shortly afterwards He continued to hold the post of Cathedral Kapellmeister until his death in March 1793 but the last decade of his tenure cannot have offered him much professional satisfaction given the disastrous impact of Joseph II's reforms on church music. Hofmann virtually withdrew from Viennese musical circles during the 1780s and little is known of his last few years save that for a brief period in 1791 Mozart probably acted as his unsalaried adjunct in the hope of securing the reversion when Hofmann retired. Ironically, the extremely wealthy Hofmann outlived his financially-strapped assistant by some fifteen months.

 

Hofmann's reputation both as a composer of violin music and as a teacher of the instrument stood high in his own lifetime. In his Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz im Jahre 1781 Friedrich Nicolai observed that Hofmann's violin compositions were "full of noble melodies" and that their composer should be given credit for "restoring expression and feeling to violin playing", the standards of which, he alleged, had "sunk so low in Vienna"

 

The composer and critic Johann Adam Hiller (1766) also admired Hofmann's violin writing, preferring his concertos to those of Ditters which he found unsatisfactory on account of their odd juxtaposition of comic and serious  elements. Hiller's knowledge of the works indicates that they were well known outside Vienna during the 1760s although the paucity of extant copies suggests that they may not have circulated as widely as the composer's symphonies. That Hofmann was also admired as a teacher of the violin is illustrated by the following incident. In 1772 the Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo, wrote to Karl Ehrenbart, Freiherr von Moll, stating his intention of sending a promising young violinist to Vienna to study with Kapellmeister Hofmann. Having been informed of Hofmann's charges, however, he wrote on 11th August, 1772 telling Moll of his decision to send the boy to Italy "where the masters are equally distinguished but not so expensive". It would be interesting in the circumstances to know if Leopold Mozart made the original recommendation to the Archbishop.

 

Oddly enough, there are no documented accounts of Hofmann performing any of his concertos in public. According to Philippe Gumpenhueber's Repertoires, three manuscript lists of entertainments which took place at the

Viennese court during the period 1761-1763, performances of violin concertos were a common occurrence However, while Ditters, under contract to the court as a virtuoso, often appeared as a soloist in his own concertos, Hofmann cannot be identified with any certajnty on even a single occasion. One of the reasons for this may lie in the fact that there were several musicians working at the court during this period who shared the same surname. While Leopold Hofmann's compositions are identified by Gumpenhueber it is possible that he took less care when the composer appeared as a soloist and merely recorded the fact that "Hoffmann" played. The court was not the only venue for concerts and Hofmann probably played his concertos on many occasions in private concerts in the houses of the nobility and in church where concertos and symphonies were heard frequently in services

 

Hofmann wrote at least eight concertos for violin, a concerto for violin and violoncello and a number of concertinos with important violin solos. It is more than likely that most if not all of these works were composed for his own use

although their inclusion in contemporary thematic catalogues shows that Hofmann was not averse to their wider distribution, The Concerto in B flat major was advertised in Supplement VI (1771) of the Breitkopf Catalogue and probably dates from the late 1760s. Only two complete copies of the concerto survive along with the solo part of a third which contains an interesting variant reading in the finale. The qualities which Hiller and Nicolai praised in Hofmann's violin writing are strongly in evidence in this work The solo writing is intensely lyrical, particularly in the beautiful second movement, and it is technically and musically demanding without stooping to empty showmanship. The recapitulatory function of the third ritomello in the finale is very modem and shows Hofmann beginning to break with the older tradition of beginning the recapitulation with the solo instrument.

 

The Concerto for Violin and Violoncello, like so many of the composer's works, survives in a single copy, in this case, a set of manuscript performing parts which are now preserved in the archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in

Vienna. With no secondary sources and a lack of corroborative contemporary catalogue references the case for authenticating this work has to be argued largely on the grounds of stylistic evidence and the fact that Hofmann was also an important composer of cello concertos.

 

One intriguing clue, however, does exist. At the Academy held at court on 12th February, 1762 Gumpenhueber records "Concert ont joue les deux freres Hoffmann sur le Violon et Violoncelle concertes". There was a cellist Johann Nicolas Hoffmann in the court orchestra in 1772 but to the best of our knowledge he was not Leopold's brother. To complicate matters further the violin solo may have been played by either Anton or Johann Baptist Hoffmann. While it is possible that Gumpenhueber confused the relationship between the two soloists, a very real possibility exists that the 1762 work is in fact the Concerto in G recorded here.

 

As in the B flat Concerto and the composer's cello concertos, the writing for the two solo instruments is highly idiomatic and strongly lyrical in flavour. Hofmann takes good care to balance the workload of the two instruments and they have equal shares in all the important thematic material. Hofmann's scrupulous workmanship can be heard in the way he subtly varies the presentation of the principal theme of the first movement each time it appears and in his varied and beautifully judged changes in texture. The languid slow movement is sensuously beautiful and Hofmann delights in spinning a delicate tracery of sound with the solo instruments supported almost inaudibly by the orchestra The finale is lively and once again exults in the interplay between the violin and cello. The cadenzas to each movement, almost certainly the work of Hofmann himself, are imaginative and supremely effective.

 

The final work here included, the Violin Concerto in A major, was advertised in

Supplement I (1766) of the Breitkopf Catalogue and is the earliest dated violin concerto of Hofmann although probably not the first composed. In addition to the two Swedish copies upon which our edition is based a third set of parts is preserved in Stift Schlagl in Austria. There are a number of interesting variants between the two principal sources, the most important being the introduction of second violin broken chord figurations in the finale of the score preserved in the Swedish Music Library Based on similar passages found earlier in the movement, these variants have been added by a later hand. This amended part, modified somewhat by the editor, has been adopted for Artaria's edition of the concerto on the grounds that it is not uncharacteristic of the composer's style and is more interesting texturally than the bald doubling of the first violin part otherwise on offer.

 

The Concerto in A major is probably one of the works Hiller knew at the time of writing his account of the violin concertos of Hofmann and Ditters Hofmann's harmonic structure, much admired by Hiller, is indeed very assured and he introduces occasional harmonic twists which are both unexpected and pleasing particularly in the opening Allegro moderato. Hofmann's ability to write sustained slow movements is once again in evidence in this concerto as is his preference for gently elaborating and expanding his thematic material rather than subjecting it to more rigorous and intellectual development, The effervescent Allegro molto which brings the concerto to a close has a radiance and polish which is characteristic of Hofmann's instrumental style and is a reminder that he was in his time deservedly one of the most admired and popular composers in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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