Franz Anton Hoffmeister was surprisingly absent from my Oxford Companion to Music when I tried to look him up for the purposes of this review. This is surprising as his musical output at the end of the 18th century – early 19th century showed him to be quite prolific. He produced a total of sixty-six symphonies, sixty concertos, not to mention a wealth of dances, chamber music and operas.
Why, one may ask, did his music disappear? The answer may lie in the fact that he wasn’t just a composer. He was also a music publisher in Vienna, considered to be the epicentre for chamber music at the time. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven were listed in his catalogues and no doubt they caused him many a headaches with missed deadlines. All of this probably wasn’t conducive to concentrating on and promoting his own music.
Hoffmeister’s Magic Flute, out on Somm recordings, is a fitting tribute to the man. In the six pieces of chamber music on offer, the flute takes centre stage, played by the very talented young Slovenian, Boris Bizjak. And what a flute it is too, fashioned from African Blackwood I read in the sleeve notes, which reproduces the earthier sound of the instrument from the classical period.
Hoffmeister’s Quartet in C minor, transported me swiftly to 18th century Vienna, to the candlelit musical soirées of bewigged musicians in breeches and stockings. The purity of the flute together with the precision of Bizjak’s play, as his fingers fly up and down the keys in the opening movement, lifts the weariest of souls. The interplay between flute and strings is spirited and tight and highlights the drama of the piece.
In the beautiful middle movement of the Trio in B-flat major which follows, I could detect a bit of Gluck, notably his gorgeous opera of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Enchanting too was the bird-like Allegro of the Duetto in G major, where Bizjak and solo violinist Lana Trotovšek, dialogue and perform more and complex musical feats on their respective instruments. Bizjak’s trills, peeps and leaps compete with Trotovšek’s busy bow and finger displacement.
The Adagio of the Trio in D major brings a bit of gravitas to the largely upbeat tone of the album. Slow and poignant, it stood out after the Vivaldiesque first movement.
I loved the use of two violas in the Flute Quintet in E flat major, especially in the Andante, which was so Mozart. As Mozart was born two years after Hoffmeister, it is perhaps unfair to say this, as one could argue that Mozart’s work might also have copied a few of Hoffmeister techniques!
Considered to be the greatest classical composer of all time, Mozart died in 1791, well before Hoffmeister.
Hoffmeister meanwhile saw twelve years into the 19th century, departing this world in February 1812. It is now fitting that professional musicians are now exploring the body of his work and I look forward to Vol 11 in the near future.
Life-enhancing music. Recommended.
Hoffmeister’s Magic Flute is out now on SOMM Recordings.