About this Recording
8.573040 - HOFFMEISTER, F.A.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 2 - Nos. 16, 17 and 22 (B. Meier, Prague Chamber Orchestra)
English  German 

Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812)
Flute Concertos Nos 16, 17 and 22


Franz Anton Hoffmeister, who was born in 1754 in Rothenburg am Neckar, was a formative figure on the musical life of his time. In 1768 he went to Vienna, where he studied law, but then he devoted himself to music and in 1778 entered the service of Count Szecsenyi as Kapellmeister, and spent three years in Hungary. In 1784 Hoffmeister founded his own music publishing company in Vienna, at a time when the music publishing business was still in its infancy. In spite of a few commercial setbacks he rose eventually to become one of the most important publishers in Vienna and published countless works by his Viennese contemporaries. Along with Artaria, Hoffmeister was also the chief publisher of Mozart, a personal friend, whose Piano Quartet K 478 he published (and which proved to be a financial fiasco). He also had business dealings with the young Beethoven, whose ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, Op 13, was published by Hoffmeister’s Viennese company. In 1798 Hoffmeister wanted to concentrate once again on his activities as a musician. A concert tour with the flautist Franz Thurner took him to Leipzig where, with Ambrosius Kuhnel, organist of the Catholic chapel royal there, he founded a new publishing house, the Bureau de Musique, from which later emerged the famous Peters Edition. From then on Hoffmeister commuted between Vienna and Leipzig. The new publishing house achieved a real coup with the issue of Beethoven’s First Symphony and Septet, but also characteristic of the publisher was the uptake of works by dead composers—very rare at that time and a forward-looking business policy. Of special interest, together with quartets by Haydn and further works by Mozart, was the edition of keyboard works by Bach. In 1806 Hoffmeister withdrew from music publishing and devoted his remaining years to composition.

Hoffmeister was an incredibly prolific composer, on a par with Haydn, and most of his output is devoted to instrumental music. His catalogue of works lists 66 symphonies, as well as numerous concertos, of which the flute, with 25 contributions to the genre, assumes the central role, but concertos for even less common solo instruments, such as double bass, harp, viola d’amore and the flauto d’amore, can also be found. Furthermore there is an almost incalculable number of chamber music works which quickly became firmly established because of Hoffmeister’s line of work and soon circulated in print across the whole of Europe. What also attracted attention was the diversity and originality of his instrumentation (for example string quartets for violin, two violas and cello). Works for flute, in different instrumental combinations, also play a significantly prominent role, primarily as quartets for flute and strings. In contrast vocal music rather took a back seat. His stage works—Singspiel in German—were all first performed in Vienna. His great heroic-comic opera Der Königssohn aus Ithaka, to a text by Schikaneder and first performed in 1795, attained a certain renown and was also performed in other cities.

The three flute concertos on this recording, all of which are world premiere recordings, were all in print during Hoffmeister’s lifetime. The C major Concerto, written probably before 1800, was published in 1803 by the Offenbach music publisher Johann Andre as Hoffmeister’s “Sixteenth Concerto for Flute”. Andre was one of the leading music publishing houses of the time. In 1799 Andre had acquired Mozart’s musical estate from the composer’s widow Constanze and so became the most important publisher of Mozart’s music in the early nineteenth century. The principal characteristic of the concerto is its large-scale scoring, with the inclusion of trumpets and drums, which impart to the concerto a festive lustre, but not in a militaristic way, since the trumpets do not come to the fore.

The structure of the first subject, with its upbeat of a fourth and its closing repeated quavers, gives the whole of the first movement an unusual character. While it would be going too far to talk of a monothematicism that one might find in Haydn, there are unquestionably several themes in the course of the movement which can be traced back to the main subject. So coherence is achieved through unity. Yet, in spite of its apparent conventionality, quite a few compositional details take one by surprise, as almost always in Hoffmeister’s output. As in the following concerto, the soloist’s second subject is not played in the exposition; on the contrary the second subject idea stated in the exposition is kept for the orchestral ritornello. The three-part slow movement, with its unusual, almost Mozartian profundity, is marked Adagio, a tempo indication which was rarely used in the eighteenth century. The choice of C minor as the tonality of tragedy defines the dark basis of the movement, which dispenses with the trumpets. In contrast the central section is in the bright key of E flat major, but even here the idyll is interrupted by recitative-like, rhythmic insertions in an archaic style which finally bring the movement to a close in the tonality of the opening. The finale on the other hand is uncomplicated, as one would expect, and makes use of the full orchestra. The cheerful character of this movement is characterized by its dancing, Gavotte-like rondo theme which not even an episode in A minor can cloud. Hoffmeister’s compositional bravura is apparent in many details, such as when he has the violins enter into a dialogue with the soloist.

In spite of all its differences of detail the second concerto on this recording is very similar in its layout to the previous work. The G major Concerto, which appears in Hoffmeister’s own list of published works as No 22, as it was initially advertised, dates from 1793 at the latest. A year later the work appeared again, this time entitled ‘Concerto per Flauto Principale…, Nr 1’ and published as a set of printed parts by the Viennese publisher Artaria—a frequent practice of Hoffmeister. All the typical characteristics of a Hoffmeister concerto are to be found in this G major Concerto. The sheer scope of the opening movement, in which three themes are presented, is astonishing, with many details of its orchestral introduction very reminiscent of Haydn. As in all of his concertos Hoffmeister succeeds, time and again, in spite of all the expected components—above all the blocked layout in the sequence of orchestral ritornelli and solo parts, which is far removed from the extreme virtuosity of the solo part—in integrating surprising elements into the structure. By way of example, as we can see in Concerto No 16, the second, march-like theme in the orchestral ritornello is reserved only for the orchestra, while the soloist introduces a subsidiary theme in his first solo, which in turn is finally allocated to it alone. The development section presents not only the virtuosic prowess of the soloist, as one would expect, but also touches on remote tonal areas. Specially striking here is the episode in E minor, which also presents a new opening theme with an up-beat which even appears in the recapitulation. This episode in a minor key already points towards the second movement, which is designed like a sizeable closing scene in an arch-shaped ABA form. The G minor theme, with the character of a funeral march, informs the sombre basic mood of the movement, which only in the middle section brightens into a parallel B flat major. This atmosphere is swept away by the carefree closing movement which is called ‘Rondo’ but is laid out as a rondo with variations, in which the soloist’s sixteen-bar theme, with a simple folk-song character reminiscent of the world of Mozart’s Papageno, is answered each time by an eight-bar orchestral refrain. In the variations the soloist is allowed to display every facet of his instrumental art, but the fourth variation darkens again into E minor, before arching back to the opening phrase. Finally the last variation leads the movement into some highly-virtuoso figurations and back to the original version of the theme.

The third work included here clearly dates from an earlier period, and was also published by Andre, as Op 3. Like the Concerto No 22 this work is scored for smaller forces, the strings being joined only by oboes and horns. As in the preceding concertos familiar compositional features come to the fore in this earlier work and perhaps are indications of Hoffmeister’s personal style, even if for such an appraisal it would be necessary to have an overview of his almost unimaginable number of works. And yet this concerto stands out clearly from the routine of the production line. This is due to the extremely original and witty orchestral introduction to the first movement, which displays, if anything, Hoffmeister’s knowledge of the works of Haydn. The movement seems to begin as expected: a typical cantabile theme, firmly entrenched in the key of D major (as in most of Hoffmeister’s first subjects it comes in complete form, without preparation) suddenly begins to flag, becomes tentative and hesitant, and finally breaks off, as if the composer did not know what to do next and was uncertain about the definitive shape of the theme. The theme takes up for a second time but, as earlier, it loses its way and almost falls apart. Only now does the tutti intervene forte, restoring the original key, but the tonality remains deceptive; the very same ‘uncertainty’ occurs in the subsidiary theme, with its general pauses interrupting the unfolding thematic form. Only after the soloist enters does the character of the main subject seem to become sure of itself and the movement can get under way. By contrast the second and third movements proceed in a manner already familiar from the other two concertos. Yet the slow movement, with its darker middle section in the minor, may be considered a little jewel, while the grand finale is once again a jaunty rondo in variation form which presents the soloist with the chance to explore every virtuoso possibility.

Stephan Hörner
English translation by David Stevens

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