Heinrich Anton Hoffmann String Quartets – Music in Transition

When Heinrich Anton Hoffmann died in 1842, a colleague wrote: “as a composer, he secured his permanent place among the ranks of major composers with the simplicity and deep feeling of his Lieder, and with his Duets for Violin and Violoncello, in which he combined sophistication and elegance.” That statement proved both true and false.

Today few remember the violin virtuoso Hoffmann, though he was well-known during his lifetime. Hoffman was an exact contemporary of Beethoven and a colleague of Mozart’s. In fact, they performed together on occasion, and Hoffman consulted Mozart on compositional matters. But Hoffman’s music quickly faded into obscurity after his death.

While the obituary erred in Hoffmann’s place in history, it nicely summed up his style. The qualities of simplicity and deep emotion are both evident in these string quartets.

The Opus 3 quartets were published in 1794. I’d place them stylistically between Haydn and Beethoven. Like Mozart and Haydn, Hoffmann uses simple phrases and motifs to construct his music. His use of chromaticism leans more towards Beethoven, though.

These are well-crafted quartets that compare favorably to those by Hoffmann’s more famous contemporaries. This release marks their first recording — I hope it won’t be the last.

The Alte Musik Köln delivers top-notch performances. Listening through a high-performance sound system brought me further into the music. My one complaint is that the balance seemed off, somehow. The violins sounded too bright for my taste.

That’s a little surprising, as the quartet performs on period instruments. If gut strings were used, that edge shouldn’t be there. A minor quibble, sure, but there it is.

Heinrich Anton Hoffmann: String Quartets, Op. 3
Alte Musik Köln
Ars Produktion 260052
SACD

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