Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793)
Violin Concerto in B flat major
Concerto in G major for Violin & Violoncello
Violin Concerto in A major
Leopold Hofmann was regarded by his contemporaries as oneof the most gifted and influential composers of his generation. Although achurch musician by profession, Hofmann was also an important and prolificcomposer of instrumental music His symphonies, concertos and chamber works wereplayed allover Europe and the avidity with which they were collected is attestedto today by the large number of surviving manuscript copies.
The son of a senior and highly-educated civil servant in Vienna,Hofmann revealed his musical abilities early on and at the age of seven joined thechapel of the Empress Dowager Elisabeth Christine as a chorister. As a memberof the chapel he received an extensive musical education studying keyboard, andlater composition with Georg Christoph Wagenseil, one of the brightest stars inthe Viennese musical firmament, and violin, possibly with Giuseppe Trani, Dittersdorf'steacher.
Hofmann's earliest known compositions date from the late1750s and include symphonies, flute concertos and a number of small-scale sacredworks. 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 ofthe great Austrian monastic houses, including G6ttweig, began collecting hismusic assiduously from around this time.
In his native Vienna, the city Dr Charles Burneydescribed as "the imperial seat of music as well us of power",Hofmann became a figure of considerable consequence His first known professionalpost, as musicus (probably violinist) at St Michael's in 1758, was followedquickly by the musical directorship of St Peter's, and, in 1769, an appointmentas 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 professionalconfidence, declined the directorship of the Imperial Chapel on learning thatthe conditions of appointment would require him to relinquish his otherlucrative posts including St Peter's. His decision to petition for the post in1774, following the unexpected death of Florian Leopold Gassmann, may indicatea change of stance on this issue, although in the event his petition wasdeclined in spite of his recognition as the best-qualified candidate for the positionA confidential memorandum concerning the appointment reveals concern on thepart of the authorities that Hofmann's resignation from the Cathedral wouldhave opened the way to Tobias Gsur succeeding to the position. He was evidentlyconsidered a quite unsuitable candidate by the committee who instead decided toleave Hofmann where he was and bring Giuseppe Bonno out of retirement to fillthe court post.
The politicking involved in the court appointment mayhave soured Hofmann since he appears to have ceased composing on a regular basisshortly afterwards He continued to hold the post of Cathedral Kapellmeisteruntil his death in March 1793 but the last decade of his tenure cannot haveoffered him much professional satisfaction given the disastrous impact ofJoseph II's reforms on church music. Hofmann virtually withdrew from Viennesemusical circles during the 1780s and little is known of his last few years savethat for a brief period in 1791 Mozart probably acted as his unsalaried adjunctin the hope of securing the reversion when Hofmann retired. Ironically, theextremely wealthy Hofmann outlived his financially-strapped assistant by somefifteen months.
Hofmann's reputation both as a composer of violin musicand as a teacher of the instrument stood high in his own lifetime. In his Beschreibungeiner Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz im Jahre 1781 Friedrich Nicolaiobserved that Hofmann's violin compositions were "full of noblemelodies" and that their composer should be given credit for "restoringexpression and feeling to violin playing", the standards of which, healleged, had "sunk so low in Vienna"
The composer and critic Johann Adam Hiller (1766) alsoadmired Hofmann's violin writing, preferring his concertos to those of Ditterswhich he found unsatisfactory on account of their odd juxtaposition of comicand serious ?áelements. Hiller's knowledge of the works indicates that they werewell known outside Vienna during the 1760s although the paucity of extantcopies suggests that they may not have circulated as widely as the composer'ssymphonies. That Hofmann was also admired as a teacher of the violin isillustrated by the following incident. In 1772 the Archbishop of Salzburg,Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo, wrote to Karl Ehrenbart, Freiherr von Moll,stating his intention of sending a promising young violinist to Vienna to studywith Kapellmeister Hofmann. Having been informed of Hofmann's charges, however,he wrote on 11th August, 1772 telling Moll of his decision to send the boy to Italy"where the masters are equally distinguished but not so expensive".
It would be interesting in the circumstances to know if Leopold Mozart made theoriginal recommendation to the Archbishop.
Oddly enough, there are no documented accounts of Hofmannperforming any of his concertos in public. According to Philippe Gumpenhueber'sRepertoires, three manuscript lists of entertainments which took placeat the
Viennese court during the period 1761-1763, performancesof violin concertos were a common occurrence However, while Ditters, under contractto the court as a virtuoso, often appeared as a soloist in his own concertos,Hofmann cannot be identified with any certajnty on even a single occasion. Oneof the reasons for this may lie in the fact that there were several musicians workingat the court during this period who shared the same surname. While Leopold Hofmann'scompositions are identified by Gumpenhueber it is possible that he took less carewhen the composer appeared as a soloist and merely recorded the fact that"Hoffmann" played. The court was not the only venue for concerts and Hofmannprobably played his concertos on many occasions in private concerts in thehouses of the nobility and in church where concertos and symphonies were heardfrequently in services
Hofmann wrote at least eight concertos for violin, aconcerto for violin and violoncello and a number of concertinos with importantviolin solos. It is more than likely that most if not all of these works werecomposed for his own use
although their inclusion in contemporary thematiccatalogues shows that Hofmann was not averse to their wider distribution, The Concertoin B flat major was advertised in Supplement VI (1771) of the BreitkopfCatalogue and probably dates from the late 1760s. Only two complete copies ofthe concerto survive along with the solo part of a third which contains aninteresting variant reading in the finale. The qualities which Hiller and Nicolaipraised in Hofmann's violin writing are strongly in evide