About this Recording
GP668 - HOFFMEISTER, F.A.: Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 3 (Tzinlikova)
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Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812)
Sonatas for Piano • 3

 

Franz Anton Hoffmeister is one of the “known unknown” figures in the history of music. He is known as one of the founding fathers of the music publishing industry that was at its zenith in the German-speaking territories in the 19th century and remains active to this day. Great German and Austrian music publishing houses trace their ancestry to this man from the Swabian town of Rottenburg am Neckar. His “dear brother” Beethoven was greatly indebted to Hoffmeister’s far-sightedness as a publisher (which was sometimes greater than his business acumen), as were Mozart, Haydn and many other composers of the day. These composers were “brothers” in the Masonic sense, but also in the musical parlance of the period. In 1786 Hoffmeister’s friend Mozart, who was two years his junior, dedicated a string quartet to him—K499 in D major. It is unfair to describe Hoffmeister as a businessman who composed nice music as a sideline, particularly in view of the fact that he was more of a visionary founder than a capable tradesman. Equally, filing him away as one among many minor composers of the Viennese Classical period doesn’t go far enough.

Franz Anton, the eighth of eleven children, was born into a respected family of middle-class town-dwellers. His ancestors included mayors of Rottenburg. He was sent to Vienna to study law when he was still only 14, but music in general, and playing the organ in particular, increasingly took over. It was in the Imperial capital that he achieved his first successes with highly imaginative compositions. Founding his first publishing house was a pioneering move, but not one blessed with any lasting commercial success. It wasn’t until he and Ambrosius Kühnel set up the “Bureau de musique”—now C.F. Peters—in Leipzig in 1800 that he succeeded in establishing a publisher with a global reach. However, Hoffmeister seems to have seen himself first and foremost as a composer and organist, for having established the Bureau, he made the firm over to its employees as early as 1805 (not without a measure of conflict) and returned to his adopted home, Vienna, where he was well respected until his death in 1812.

Symphonies, string quartets, clarinet concertos, notturni—there are now a lot of Hoffmeister recordings. What is lacking is any real catalogue of his works. In any event, Hoffmeister not only wrote at least 60 symphonies, probably five piano concertos, and the viola concerto that is well-known because de rigeur for any viola player applying for orchestral posts, but also nine operas of which one, Der Königssohn von Ithaka to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, was a real success c.1880. There is still a lot of music to discover. For now, however, even the exact enumeration and chronological ordering of many of Hoffmeister’s works is almost impossible. This is true for the dozen or so piano sonatas, the sonatinas and other piano pieces. Listening to the sonatas, the period when the young Beethoven was in Vienna—the years after 1792—suggests itself as a possible time of composition. The transcripts of the first and third sonatas included on the present recording carry the annotation “Pölitz 1797”—probably the name of the copyist and not the homonymous place in Schleswig-Holstein. This means the works must have been composed before 1797. The fact that the title pages of all three sonatas specify that they are for fortepiano or harpsichord indicates that both composer and copyist were active at the time of transition from the Baroque keyboard instrument to that of the Classical and Romantic periods. Since this was a fluid transition, it was, for commercial reasons, necessary to cater to adherents of both the old and the new tonal ideals. Had Hoffmeister lived to see the modern grand piano that developed out of the fortepiano, he would automatically have expected people to play his music on it.

Hoffmeister’s music is distinguished by a considerable degree of melodic inspiration and harmonic skill. Whilst unable to quite plumb the depths explored by his great colleagues, he was a master at avoiding the shallows of trivial salon entertainment. The Sonata in D major that was copied by a certain Herr Pölitz begins with a lively, pithily formulated Allegro, whose playful, catchy main theme dominates the entire movement in a series of imaginative transformations whilst also influencing the energetic secondary subject. The spirit of Mozart is clearly discernible in this enjoyable music. This is also true of the more pensive second movement, marked Poco adagio, whose subtle dreaminess unfolds with charming brevity. In the Rondeau finale, which is also amazingly concise, the listener is surprised by powerful, insistent chords.

The Sonata in C major, transcribed by an unknown copyist, was found in the Court library (Hofbibliothek) in Donaueschingen. It may be an arrangement of a sonata for transverse flute and harpsichord—whether by Hoffmeister himself or by one of his colleagues is currently impossible to say. In any event, the fact that the entire piece is reminiscent of a duo for two hands points to such an arrangement. Here too, the first movement, a dramatically exaggerated Allegro that is rich in contrast, lasts longer than the second and third movements put together. A searching Andante intermezzo is followed by an effective, surprisingly passionate Rondo lasting a little over two minutes.

The experimental Sonata in B flat major comes down to us in the copy from 1797 by Pölitz. It is the only one of Hoffmeister’s sonatas to have a slow first movement. Hoffmeister did not go in for meditative probing or ambiguous tranquillity in an Adagio; it is persistent questioning that is typical of his work—here leading attacca into the succinct, strangely hesitant Allegretto. The final movement in E flat major—unusually, an Andante,—is cast in the same vein. It takes a simple, folk-like theme and subjects it to a dozen variations. Hoffmeister unfolds a real panorama of tone mixtures and emotions, going way beyond his usual, elegant art. Beethoven in his late period and Franz Schubert were to go further in this direction.

Gottfried Franz Kasparek
Translation by Sue Baxter


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