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8.555952 - String Quartet Recital: Aviv Quartet
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Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) String Quartets, Op

Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812)

String Quartets, Op. 14


Franz Anton Hoffmeister was born in Rothenburg am Neckar in May 1754. At the age of fourteen he arrived in Vienna to study law, but was soon so entranced by the city's rich and varied musical life that, upon graduating, he decided to devote his life to music. By the 1780s he had become one of the city's most popular composers, will an extensive and varied list of works to his credit.


Hoffmeister's reputation today, however, rests almost exclusively on his activities as a music publisher. In 1785 he established one of Vienna's first music publishing businesses, second only to Artaria & Co, which had ventured into this field only five years earlier. Over the next fifteen years Hoffmeister issued works by many prominent Viennese composers amongst them Albrechtsberger, Clementi, Emanuel Aloys Förster, Pleyel, Wanhal and Paul Wranitzky. Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn are all represented in his vast catalogue, Mozart by several important first editions including the Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, and the single String Quartet in D, K. 499, the "Hoffmeister" Quartet.


Hoffmeister's publishing activities reached a peak in 1791, but thereafter he concentrated rather on composition. Most of his operas were composed and staged during the early 1790s, and this, combined with an apparent lack of business sense, led to a noticeable decline in production. In 1799 Hoffmeister and the flautist Franz Thurner set off on a concert tour which was to have taken them as far afield as London. In Leipzig, however, Hoffmeister met the organist Ambrosius Kühnel, and  the two must have decided to set up a music publishing partnership, for 'within a year' they had founded the Bureau de Musique, the future firm of C.F. Peters which is still active today. Until 1805 Hoffmeister kept both the Viennese and the Leipzig publishing house going, but in March 1805 he transferred sole ownership of the Bureau de Musique to Kühnel. His interest in the Viennese firm was waning too, for in 1806, apparently to allow time for composition, he sold his business to the Chemische Druckerey.


As a composer Hoffmeister was highly respected by his contemporaries. This is evident from the entry in Gerber's Neues Lexikon der Tonkünstler published around The time of his death in 1812:


If you were to take a glance at his many and varied works, then you would have to admire the diligence and the cleverness of this composer….. He earned for himself a well-deserved and widespread reputation through the original content of his works, which are not only rich in emotional expression but also distinguished by the interesting and suitable use of instruments and through good practicability. For this last trait we have to thank his knowledge of instruments, which is so evident that you might think that he was a virtuoso on all of the instruments for which he wrote.


Among Hoffmeister's many compositions works for the flute are prominent, not only concertos but also chamber works with the flute, an instrument popular with amateurs in Vienna. Besides flute music Hoffmeister also composed at least eight operas, over fifty symphonies, numerous concertos (at least 25 of them for t he flute), a large amount of string chamber music, piano music, and several collections of songs.


According to Roger Hickman, Hoffmeister composed and published 34 string quartets between 1781 and 1806. The three Op. 14 Quartets were advertised in the Wiener Zeitung on 15th January, 1791, as the composer's newest works. They were dedicated to M. Joseph de Preuer Senior, a lawyer resident in Linz. Although modest in scope and emotional depth, all three works reveal Hoffmeister as a craftsman of refined musical sensibilities. They show a clear grasp of the conversational style of the genre, as cultivated especially by Haydn, and reveal a kinship with the Mozartian string quartet style in their translucent scoring and easy melodiousness. Taken together, the freshness and vitality of all three Op. 14 Quartets make them worthwhile additions to the eighteenth-century Viennese quartet repertoire.


The F major Quartet is the most extrovert of the set, and the only one to include quasi orchestral textures in the outer movements. The first movement is a large, discursive sonata-form structure, prefaced by a two-bar upbeat gesture, setting off the delicate chromatic appoggiature that are such a feature of the main theme. The lengthy development is characterized by restless modulations and quickly changing textures. A strong sense of unity results from the recurrence of a pervasive pulsing hammer-stroke motif. The following Poco adagio movement is a gentle siciliano whose simple harmonic foundation is enriched by subtle and expressive chromaticisms, with a central episode that assumes the character of a sonata-style development, within the ternary structure. The finale is a three-part rondo design, with an extended tonic minor episode that again resembles a sonata development section.


The first movement of the B flat major Quartet is a light-weight but charming piece in 6/8, the mostly conventional harmonies of which are occasionally spiced up by unexpected chromatic colour. The slow movement is one of the most successful movements in the three quartets. Subtitled Romance: Adagio, the main theme resembles a slow gavotte, and the work ends with a tuneful sonata-rondo movement.


The D minor Quartet is the most substantial of the three quartets with its use of the minor key and a four-movement structure. The first movement begins quietly with a series of plaintive gestures from the first violin, lightly supported by the three lower voices. The cello restates this material before turning the music towards dominant harmony, and a rather aggressive, almost defiant, half-close on an A major chord. An elliptical resolution into F major follows; a new theme, serenely elegant and delicately scored, initiates this longer, more discursive part of the movement. Quicker triplet movement soon invades both theme and accompaniment, and the exposition ends triumphantly. The development is substantial and unfolds in several distinct phases, and the recapitulation takes place in D major and is not without drama, especially when the key of B minor threatens just before the second subject reprise. The slow movement is a set of variations in the key of\ A major. At its heart is a self-contained section in the minor key where the quiet, understated elegance of the preceding theme and variation is swept abruptly aside by a dramatic, almost Schubertian, repeated-note motif scored for the full quartet. Several similar violent outbursts follow before the return of the major key for the concluding section of the movement. In the following Menuetto movement the many chromatic notes contained within the first eight bars obscure momentarily our sense of key, but perhaps the most remarkable feature of the entire quartet lies in the harmonic similarities between the first bars of the finale and the opening of the Minuet movement from Mozart's String Quartet in D, K. 499, which Hoffmeister had himself published in 1786. It is impossible to determine whether this was a conscious tribute to his slightly younger colleague and friend, but in any case it provides a fascinating musical link between Mozart and an all but forgotten contemporary.


Dianne James


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