LEOPOLD HOFMANN (1738 - 1793)
Leopold Hofmann was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted and influential composers of his generation. Although a church musician by profession, Hofmann was also an important and prolific composer of instrumental music. His symphonies, concertos and chamber works were played all over Europe and the avidity with which they were collected is attested to today by the large number of surviving manuscript copies.
The son of a senior and highly-educated civil servant, Hofmann revealed his musical abilities early on and at the age of seven joined the chapel of the Empress Dowager Elisabeth Christine as a chorister. As a member of the chapel he received an extensive musical education studying keyboard—and later composition—with Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the brightest stars in the Viennese musical firmament, and violin, possibly with Giuseppe Trani, Dittersdorf’s teacher.
Hofmann’s earliest known compositions date from the late 1750s and include symphonies, flute concertos and a number of small-scale sacred works. His reputation must have spread well beyond Vienna by 1760 since Sieber, the Parisian publisher, printed six of his symphonies that year and a number of the great Austrian monastic houses, including Göttweig, began assiduously collecting his music from around this time.
In his native Vienna, the city Dr. Charles Burney described as "the imperial seat of music as well as of power", Hofmann became a figure of considerable consequence. His first known professional post—as musicus (probably violinist) at St Michael’s (1758)—was followed quickly by the musical directorship of St Peter’s, and, in 1769, an appointment as keyboard teacher to the imperial family probably on the recommendation of Wagenseil. Three years later, Hofmann secured the prized position of Kapellmeister at St Stephen’s Cathedral, and, in a gesture of supreme professional confidence, declined the directorship of the Imperial Chapel on learning that the conditions of appointment would require him to relinquish his other lucrative posts including St Peter’s. His decision to petition for the post in 1774, following the unexpected death of Florian Leopold Gassmann, may indicate a change of stance on this issue although in the event, his petition was declined in spite of his recognition as the best-qualified candidate for the position. A confidential memorandum concerning the appointment reveals concern on the part of the authorities that Hofmann’s resignation from the Cathedral would have opened the way to Tobias Gsur succeeding to the position. He was evidently considered a quite unsuitable candidate by the committee, which instead decided 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 soured Hofmann since he appears to have ceased composing on a regular basis shortly afterwards. He continued to hold the post of Cathedral Kapellmeister until his death in March 1793 but the last decade of his tenure cannot have offered him much professional satisfaction given the disastrous impact of Joseph II’s reforms on church music. Hofmann virtually withdrew from Viennese musical circles during the 1780s and little is known of his last few years save that for a brief period in 1791 Mozart probably acted as his “unsalaried adjunct” in the hope of securing the reversion when Hofmann retired. Ironically, the extremely wealthy Hofmann outlived his financially-strapped assistant by some fifteen months.
During the 1760s and early 1770s, the years of his greatest fame and productivity, Hofmann wrote around sixty concertos including eight for violoncello. Given that the cello was not a popular solo instrument during the period, Hofmann’s interest in writing for it is surely significant. As there are no documented performances of any of these works, it is only possible to hazard a guess as at who might have appeared as soloists or had works written for them. Possible candidates include Luigi Boccherini, who played in the Viennese theatre orchestras during the early 1760s; Francesco Alborea, alias Francischello/Francisghella; and Joseph Weigl, Haydn’s former principal cellist in the Esterházy court orchestra and the recipient of his famous C major Concerto—who moved to Vienna in 1769 and is known to have been a member of Hofmann’s orchestra at St Peter’s as late as 1783.