About this Recording
8.553866 - HOFMANN: Five Symphonies

At the age of seven, Leopold Hofmann, born in Vienna to a court official in 1738, was admitted to the choir of the court chapel. That took him into the field of instrumental teaching, including the violin and piano, and the basics of composition.

The documentation of his early life is sparse, but his name comes back to prominence in the mid 1760's when he was certainly the kapelmeister at St. Peter's, Vienna, where he would have held the prestigious task of instructing the children of the imperial family in music.

It is strange how little is known, since by 1760 his fame must have spread to many parts of Europe, his music published as far away as Paris. At the same time historians would point to contemporary reports that he was the founder of a Viennese school of violin technique, and at the most extreme he was compared and ranked favourably with Gluck and Haydn. He was awarded the Gold Medal of Vienna, which supposedly conferred on him the status of Vienna's principal musician.

He composed much music for the church, a number of works gaining the approbation of the members of the royal court, and many works for orchestra. He was also an innovator, and was a major influence on the growth of the symphony, one example being his use of a slow introduction to the first movement, an innovation expanded upon subsequently by Haydn. He also moved from the three movement symphonies (or Sinfonias) employed by his predecessors, and wrote either in three or four movements.

The five symphonies on this disc give a taste of his total output - we are unsure how many he wrote - of music in that format. They have been researched by Alan Badley of Artaria Editions (who have also published the scores and orchestral parts), his research taking him to Vienna and Pècs (in Hungary) to trace 'original' scores.

Again exact dates are unclear, but the last symphony on the disc in C major is the earliest, having been completed before 1759, while the F major probably comes from the late 1760's.

Badley describes them as having the influence of Joseph Haydn, but coming closer to Mozart in their Italiante grace. Throughout we find Hofmann experimenting with musical form, not always with success, but never lacking interest. Above all it is highly attractive music that will appeal to anyone who enjoys the innocent style we find in early Mozart and Haydn.

They are played by the Manchester based orchestra, the Northern Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble described in the Gramophone magazine as "a fine English orchestra", while CD Review praise them as having "a natural sense of phrasing, crisp rhythms and clear textures". They are a conducterless orchestra, Nicholas Ward directing from the leader's chair. Their work for music in the UK has been rewarded by four major European bursaries. For Naxos they have made a number of recordings of Mozart and Haydn, and awaiting release is music from the 20th century.

There is tremendous interest in music from this period with a growing catalogue of releases. These recordings, however, are world premieres, and form part of the expanding series on Naxos with the disc cover banner headline "18th Century Symphony".

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