Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812)
String Quartets, Op. 14
Franz Anton Hoffmeister was born in Rothenburg am Neckar inMay 1754. At the age of fourteen he arrived in Vienna to study law, but wassoon so entranced by the city's rich and varied musical life that, upongraduating, he decided to devote his life to music. By the 1780s he had becomeone of the city's most popular composers, will an extensive and varied list ofworks to his credit.
Hoffmeister's reputation today, however, rests almostexclusively on his activities as a music publisher. In 1785 he established oneof Vienna's first music publishing businesses, second only to Artaria & Co,which had ventured into this field only five years earlier. Over the nextfifteen years Hoffmeister issued works by many prominent Viennese composersamongst them Albrechtsberger, Clementi, Emanuel Aloys Forster, Pleyel, Wanhaland Paul Wranitzky. Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn are all represented in his vastcatalogue, Mozart by several important first editions including the PianoQuartet in G minor, K. 478, and the single String Quartet in D, K. 499,the "Hoffmeister" Quartet.
Hoffmeister's publishing activities reached a peak in 1791,but thereafter he concentrated rather on composition. Most of his operas were composedand staged during the early 1790s, and this, combined with an apparent lack ofbusiness sense, led to a noticeable decline in production. In 1799 Hoffmeisterand the flautist Franz Thurner set off on a concert tour which was to havetaken them as far afield as London. In Leipzig, however, Hoffmeister met theorganist Ambrosius K??hnel, and ?áthe two must have decided to set up a musicpublishing partnership, for 'within a year' they had founded the Bureau de Musique,the future firm of C.F. Peters which is still active today. Until 1805 Hoffmeisterkept both the Viennese and the Leipzig publishing house going, but in March1805 he transferred sole ownership of the Bureau de Musique to K??hnel.
His interest in the Viennese firm was waning too, for in 1806, apparently toallow time for composition, he sold his business to the Chemische Druckerey.
As a composer Hoffmeister was highly respected by hiscontemporaries. This is evident from the entry in Gerber's Neues Lexikon derTonk??nstler published around The time of his death in 1812:
If you were to take a glance at his many and variedworks, then you would have to admire the diligence and the cleverness of thiscomposer..... He earned for himself a well-deserved and widespread reputationthrough the original content of his works, which are not only rich in emotionalexpression but also distinguished by the interesting and suitable use ofinstruments and through good practicability. For this last trait we have tothank his knowledge of instruments, which is so evident that you might thinkthat he was a virtuoso on all of the instruments for which he wrote.
Among Hoffmeister's many compositions works for the fluteare prominent, not only concertos but also chamber works with the flute, aninstrument popular with amateurs in Vienna. Besides flute music Hoffmeisteralso composed at least eight operas, over fifty symphonies, numerous concertos(at least 25 of them for t he flute), a large amount of string chamber music,piano music, and several collections of songs.
According to Roger Hickman, Hoffmeister composed andpublished 34 string quartets between 1781 and 1806. The three Op. 14Quartets were advertised in the Wiener Zeitung on 15th January, 1791, as the composer's newest works. They were dedicated to M. Joseph de PreuerSenior, a lawyer resident in Linz. Although modest in scope and emotionaldepth, all three works reveal Hoffmeister as a craftsman of refined musicalsensibilities. They show a clear grasp of the conversational style of thegenre, as cultivated especially by Haydn, and reveal a kinship with the Mozartianstring quartet style in their translucent scoring and easy melodiousness. Takentogether, the freshness and vitality of all three Op. 14 Quartets make themworthwhile additions to the eighteenth-century Viennese quartet repertoire.
The F major Quartet is the most extrovert of the set,and the only one to include quasi orchestral textures in the outer movements.
The first movement is a large, discursive sonata-form structure, prefaced by atwo-bar upbeat gesture, setting off the delicate chromatic appoggiature
that are such a feature of the main theme. The lengthy development ischaracterized by restless modulations and quickly changing textures. A strongsense of unity results from the recurrence of a pervasive pulsing hammer-strokemotif. The following Poco adagio movement is a gentle siciliano
whose simple harmonic foundation is enriched by subtle and expressive chromaticisms,with a central episode that assumes the character of a sonata-styledevelopment, within the ternary structure. The finale is a three-part rondodesign, with an extended tonic minor episode that again resembles a sonatadevelopment section.
The first movement of the B flat major Quartet is alight-weight but charming piece in 6/8, the mostly conventional harmonies ofwhich are occasionally spiced up by unexpected chromatic colour. The slowmovement is one of the most successful movements in the three quartets.
Subtitled Romance: Adagio, the main theme resembles a slow gavotte, andthe work ends with a tuneful sonata-rondo movement.
The D minor Quartet is the most substantial of the threequartets with its use of the minor key and a four-movement structure. The firstmovement begins quietly with a series of plaintive gestures from the firstviolin, lightly supported by the three lower voices. The cello restates thismaterial before turning the music towards dominant harmony, and a ratheraggressive, almost defiant, half-close on an A major chord. An ellipticalresolution into F major follows; a new theme, serenely elegant and delicatelyscored, initiates this longer, more discursive part of the movement. Quickertriplet movement soon invades both theme and accompaniment, and the expositionends triumphantly. The development is substantial and unfolds in severaldistinct phases, and the recapitulation takes place in D major and is notwithout drama, especially when the key of B minor threatens just before thesecond subject reprise. The slow movement is a set of variations in the key of\\A major. At its heart is a self-contained section in the minor key where thequiet, understated elegance of the preceding theme and variation is sweptabruptly aside by a dramatic, almost Schubertian, repeated-note motif scoredfor the full quartet. Several similar violent outbursts follow before thereturn of the major key for the concluding section of the movement. In thefollowing Menuetto movement the many chromatic notes contained withinthe first eight bars obscure momentarily our sense of key, but perhaps the mostremarkable feature of the entire quartet lies in the harmonic similaritiesbetween the first bars of the finale and the opening of the Minuet movementfrom Mozart's String Quartet in D, K. 499, which Hoffmeister had himselfpubl