About this Recording
8.573967 - HOFMANN, L.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 3 (Grodd, Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, F. Dvořák, Halász)
English 

Leopold Hofmann (1738–1793)
Flute Concertos • 3

 

Leopold Hofmann was among the most prominent Viennese composers of his generation. Although employed primarily as a church musician, Hofmann was also a prolific and successful composer of instrumental music whose symphonies, concertos and chamber works were performed all over Europe. His contemporary popularity is attested to by the frequency with which his works appear in 18th-century catalogues, and both the number and geographic spread of the extant surviving manuscript copies. For such a prominent figure in Viennese musical life it is surprising that so little is known about his professional activities beyond the positions he held. Of his private life we know even less, although it is clear that his immediate family background was rather more distinguished than was typical for professional musicians of the period.

Georg Adam Hoffmann (1698–1769), the composer’s father, was a highly-educated official of Bohemian origin who, at the time of Leopold’s birth, was employed as Hofkammerdiener to Count Johann Adam Questenberg. The extensive archives of the Questenberg family, now held in the Moravian State Archive in Brno, contain numerous letters from Hoffmann senior to Count Questenberg reporting on Viennese musical life. These letters paint a picture of a man who was vitally interested in music and who likely knew many of the leading musical figures in Vienna. He would certainly have noticed that his seventh son, Leopold, showed unusual musical talent and may have personally organised an audition for him with his fellow Bohemian, Franz Tuma, Kapellmeister to the Dowager Empress Elisabeth Christine. Leopold joined the chapel as a chorister at the age of seven and remained there until its dissolution in 1750. As a member of the chapel he received a thorough musical education. Although his violin teacher is unknown, an obvious candidate is Giuseppe Trani, one of Dittersdorf’s teachers, who was also a member of the Dowager Empress’s chapel. His most important teacher and mentor, however, was the chapel’s organist, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the most progressive composers of instrumental music in Vienna at this time. Hofmann studied keyboard with Wagenseil and later composition. His influence on Hofmann’s artistic development is clear to see in much of his music, but Wagenseil also seems to have played a significant role in helping Hofmann to establish his professional career.

Hofmann’s earliest known compositions date from the late 1750s and include symphonies, flute concertos and at least one small-scale sacred work, a setting of an Alleluja for bass solo, choir, two violins and organ. Sieber’s publication in Paris of a set of six symphonies by Hofmann is evidence that his reputation as a composer was well established by 1760 and further proof of this can be found in the regular acquisition of his works by a number of the great Austrian monastic foundations, including Göttweig, which also began around this time.

Hofmann’s first known professional post—as musicus (probably a violinist) at St Michael’s (1758)—was followed quickly by the musical directorship of St Peter’s (c. 1764) and, in 1769, an appointment as Klaviermeister at court, possibly on the recommendation of Wagenseil. Three years later he secured the prized position of Domkapellmeister but declined the directorship of the Hofkapelle on learning that the conditions of appointment would require him to relinquish his other posts including St Peter’s. Hofmann’s decision to petition for the post in 1774, following the untimely death of Florian Leopold Gassmann, may indicate a change of stance on this issue, but in the event the petition was declined in spite of his being considered the bestqualified candidate for the position. A confidential memorandum concerning the appointment reveals concern that Hofmann’s resignation from the cathedral would open the way to Tobias Gsur succeeding to the position. Gsur was evidently considered unsuitable and the decision was made 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 effectively blocked Hofmann’s immediate career prospects in Vienna, but his personal circumstances seem to have improved dramatically around this time following his second marriage, to Maria Anna Kirrmayr, the daughter of a goldsmith, on 2 May 1774. By 1776 Hofmann had acquired a property in Döbling where he and his elder brother Carl Joseph are listed among the benefactors of the parish. Hofmann’s association with Döbling went back to his childhood when at one point his father owned a house there (with two vineyards attached) and a further six vineyards, making him a substantial property owner in the area. The six vineyards were sold in 1743 but the house remained in the family and it is possible that Leopold spent a good deal of time there as a child. That his brother Carl Joseph purchased the house and two vineyards from his parents in October 1763, probably to prevent them being sold out of the family, argues that the Hofmanns retained a strong and possibly sentimental attachment to the area. Leopold and his wife seem to have been prominent members of their little community, frequently lending money to their neighbours to purchase land, undertake improvements to their properties or for other reasons. The income they derived from their money lending activities supplemented Hofmann’s various professional sources of income and enabled the couple to lead a prosperous and very comfortable life.

Given the paucity of information about Hofmann’s professional activities it is possible only to speculate about the origins of many of his works. Whether he composed on commission or sold existing compositions is unknown but it is clear that he continued this practice even after his appointment to St Stephen’s in 1772. How long he remained productive as a composer is uncertain but it appears likely that the majority of his extant works were composed between c. 1760 and 1780. Hofmann seems to have virtually withdrawn from Viennese musical circles during the last decade of his life, preferring to spend much of his time in Döbling. Little is known about his last few years save that for a brief period in 1791 Mozart acted as his ‘unsalaried adjunct’ in the hope of securing the Kapellmeister’s position when Hofmann retired. Ironically, the wealthy Hofmann outlived his financially-strapped assistant by some 15 months.

Hofmann’s contemporary reputation, as we understand it from the few references to him, was that of a multi-talented composer equally at home in the realms of church music and secular instrumental music. It is tempting to think of him first and foremost as a composer of sacred music on account of the positions he held, but the sheer volume of instrumental music attributed to him suggests that he may have viewed the writing of church music more as a professional obligation than a vocation. His fascination with the concerto is apparent not only from the number of concertos he composed but also from the influence its stylistic and structural conventions exercised on many of his other compositions. Hofmann was not alone among his Viennese colleagues in cultivating the concerto during the 1760s and early 1770s although he was more prolific in this respect than most. During these years he composed around 60 concertos for various instruments, including 13 for flute.

Hofmann’s fascination with the flute is perhaps surprising given that he is not known to have played the instrument himself, but he would have been well aware of its popularity and the constant demand for new music. Three unidentified flute concertos listed in the inventory of the Esterházy Hofmusikkapelle in Eisenstadt are among the very earliest of Hofmann’s instrumental works and possibly represent his first major works for the flute. Over the course of the next 20 years he composed solos, duos, trios, quartets and concertos for flute as well as incorporating prominent flute parts in several concertinos and cassations. A good deal of this music may have been in existence by 1766 since Dittersdorf, the putative author of an article published that year concerning the Viennese taste in music (Von dem Wienerischen Geschmack in der Musik), asserted that ‘Hoffmann after Stamitz, is the only one to give the transverse flute the proper lightness and melody.’

The flute concertos, unlike Hofmann’s small-scale chamber works, were probably not intended primarily for the amateur performer. They are not exceptionally virtuosic works but they are both technically and musically challenging to the performer. Although the works do not survive in large numbers, their presence in collections in Berlin, Kremsmünster, Prague, Regensburg and Zittau, and the inclusion of ten them in the Breitkopf catalogue, indicates that they circulated reasonably widely in the 18th century. Of these collections, the Fürst Thurn und Taxis’sche Hofbibliothek in Regensburg is by far the most important source for these works. Every single work bar one (Concerto G2) is to be found in this collection, nine of them nowhere else even if they were advertised for sale by Breitkopf. Of even greater significance, however, are four concertos in this collection which are otherwise unknown. One of these works, Concerto G3 is the only instrumental work of Hofmann to survive in autograph. No other group of Hofmann’s instrumental works can be linked so closely to one specific location and an argument can certainly be advanced, albeit cautiously, that this might constitute evidence of a personal connection between the composer and the Regensburg court.

The court of the princes of Thurn und Taxis was a flourishing musical centre in the 18th century and its large music collection is unusually rich in wind concertos. This emphasis is unsurprising given the presence of two superlative players in the princely Kapelle, namely the Milanese oboist Giovanni Palestrini (1744–1829) and the Venetian flautist Florante Agostinelli (1741–1809), both of whom appear for the first time in the court accounts for the years 1775–76. Over two hundred wind concertos are preserved in the collection including works by important court composers like Franz Xaver Pokorny as well as celebrated European figures such as Quantz, Cannabich and Richter. With 13 concertos, Hofmann is second only to Johann Matthias Sommer (with 18) as the composer of flute concertos most represented in the collection. His concertos were clearly valued by Agostinelli who not only performed them but may also have been responsible for their acquisition. There is no evidence that Hofmann met with him, but the circumstantial evidence of contact afforded by the presence of the autograph score in the collection cannot be dismissed out of hand. Of the hundreds of 18th-century works preserved in the Thurn und Taxis collection, only 23 are written wholly or partly on the same type of paper as Hofmann’s autograph. An analysis of these copies suggests that this paper (which was made by A. Steinhauser in the village of Lauterach near Bregenz) was used exclusively in Germany and that Hofmann possibly acquired it locally. The autograph score of Concerto G3 is the only physical evidence that we currently possess that Hofmann possibly travelled outside Vienna and its immediate environs at some point in his career.

Among the four concertos featured on this recording is one work (Concerto D5) which is otherwise unknown. In the circumstances, Hofmann’s authorship cannot be established with certainty but there is nothing in the concerto, in terms of its structure, musical syntax or style, that is in any way inconsistent with the composer’s authentic flute concertos. The solo writing in these four works is characterised by lightness, grace and agility, and the intricate detail of Hofmann’s thematic ideas and their expansion is well suited to the instrument’s musical strengths. It is heard to particular advantage in the lovely slow movements with their delicate, filigree solo lines that at times have an almost rhapsodic quality to them. The finales, with their simpler thematic ideas and faster tempos, exploit the lightness and grace of the solo instrument with rapid scales, large intervallic leaps and spiky dotted figures, which imbue the music with tremendous verve. The flute parts utilise the instrument’s full effective range, avoiding the lowest register where projection is a problem, but nonetheless ensuring that the soloist does not spend the entire time playing in the high register. The radiance of Hofmann’s flute writing owes a great deal to his masterful control of the surrounding textures; his deft handling of the modest accompanying forces (these works would frequently have been performed in the manner of chamber music with one player per part) matches at every turn the sureness of touch evident in the solo writing, while the more richly scored tutti sections serve as a reminder that Hofmann also was a prolific and popular composer of symphonies. It is little surprise that a flautist of Agostinelli’s pedigree found these concertos so beguiling and it is tempting to ascribe to him not only their acquisition for the princely Kapelle, but also perhaps the commissioning of several new works.

Allan Badley


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