About this Recording
GP666 - HOFFMEISTER, F.A.: Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Tzinlikova)
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Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812)
Sonatas for Piano • 1

 

Born in Rothenburg am Neckar in 1754, the eighth child in his family, Franz Anton Hoffmeister moved to Vienna at the age of fourteen to study law, and also, doubtless, in order to pursue his musical interests. In 1778 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Count Franz von Szécsényi, spending the following three years with his employer in Hungary. In Vienna once more he established a music publishing business, at first with the bookseller Rudolf Gräffer, announcing its foundation in the Wiener Zeitung in January 1784. It was during these years that he was closely associated with Mozart, personally and as a publisher. In 1791 he opened a branch in Linz, which lasted a relatively short time, and in 1795 he sold the greater part of his business to Artaria. During a concert tour in Leipzig in 1798 with the flautist Franz Thurner he met the organist Ambrosius Kühnel, with whom, in 1800, he set up another publishing business, the Bureau de Musique, thereafter dividing his time between Leipzig and Vienna, where his wife ran the business. In 1805 he handed the Leipzig firm over to Kühnel, after whose death in 1813 the business was acquired by C. F. Peters, and returned to Vienna, selling a number of his publications to the Chemische Druckerey.

Hoffmeister’s involvement with publishing was intermittent, but he issued works by some of the most distinguished of his contemporaries, including Beethoven, Förster, Haydn, Mozart, Pleyel, Albrechtsberger, Clementi, Vaňhal and Wranitzky. He was, at the same time, very active as a composer, with compositions including fifty or so symphonies, some sixty concertos, a quantity of chamber music and a number of Singspiel. Among these last Der Königssohn aus Ithaca, with a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, who staged the work at the Freihaus-Theater in 1795, won particular success, with Schikaneder’s ‘Parrot’ song, sung by the prince’s more earthy companion, Colifonio, Bey großen und machtigen Herren / möcht ich wohl ein Papagey sein (With great and mighty masters / I should like to be a parrot) enjoying particular popularity. Hoffmeister’s compositions were known to the Mozarts in Salzburg, where his quartets had been played, as we learn from Nannerl Mozart’s diary for August 1780. When Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781 he had direct personal contact with Hoffmeister and a letter of November 1785 finds Mozart asking him for money, a request with which Hoffmeister seems to have complied by the payment of two ducats, an advance on the publication of Mozart’s Piano Quartet, K. 478. Letters home in 1790 by Mozart to his wife concern business matters with Hoffmeister, presumably for an advance, a matter that seems to have acquired increasing urgency.

Hoffmeister wrote a number of works for keyboard with another instrument, notably the flute. Some twenty sonatas and sonatinas are listed for keyboard alone. The Sonata in A major, described as pour Fortepiano ou Clavecin, has been dated to about 1785. Its first movement has a principal subject that finds room for scale passages in its opening sentence, and scales and arpeggios continue to mark a movement that contains modest elements of display in the three sections of classical sonata-form. There is similar figuration in the A minor slow movement, with scale passages and formal dotted rhythms, and an exploration of the growing range of the contemporary keyboard. The sonata ends with a cheerful Presto, which introduces due moments of counterpoint.

The Sonata in G major makes similar uses of the conventions of the period in its use of repetition, sequence, drama in the central section excursions into the minor and rapid toccata-like figuration. The slow movement suggests an operatic aria in its melodic writing. It is followed by a Rondo that finds room for scale figuration, and touches of counterpoint and of drama in a movement that has the verve of an operatic closing ensemble.

Hoffmeister’s Sonata in B flat major again shows how his sonatas might be mistaken, or even misappropriated as works of Haydn. Here again Hoffmeister makes use of the familiar devices of the later eighteenth century, revealing himself as a master of his craft. The slow movement, in its opening deployment of two parts, its upper melody answered by a lower voice, suggests a poignant operatic duet. The work ends with a Presto, its principal theme providing a framework for varied episodes.

Hoffmeister’s Variations in C major make greater demands on a performer and reflect something more of the Vienna of early Beethoven, some of whose sets of variations were published in the 1790s by Hoffmeister. The work makes use of the dramatic possibilities of the keyboard, with the expected changes in figuration and key that are part of the form. The Variations bring the present recording to a final climax.


Keith Anderson


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