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Delectable: Mozart Flute Quartets, arranged by Hoffmeister

The MHS Review 343 Vol. 9, No. 1 • 1985

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David M. Greene

One really cannot blame the publisher, in a seller's market, for himself producing these "Mozart flute quartets" after the composer had been dumped in his pauper's grave.


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In the initial article in this issue I noted Mozart's composition in Paris of the concerto for flute and harp. A few months earlier, dur­ing the Mannheim sojourn, he wrote most of the rest of his music for flute. In his letters he tells his father that he has been commissioned by a wealthy Dutchman named De Jean (some suggest the name may have been Duchamps; in any case he is not otherwise identified) to write three concerti and a pair of quartets. At that time the flute was a popular and stylish instrument for gentlemen of leisure. The contract was for 200 gulden, and seems to have been made in the late fall of 1777. By February, when his patron was about to take off for Paris, Mozart had completed only two of the concerti [the second was, in fact, a minimal adaptation of an earlier oboe concer­to], perhaps an optional movement for the first (or else all he ever wrote of the third), and, ac­cording to him, three quartets. De Jean (or maybe De Jong?) drove a hard bargain and gave him only 96 gulden for his efforts.

Of the quartets, those numbered K. 285 and K. 285a are unquestionably Mozart's and from the Mannheim period. The third may have been K. Anh. 171, but there is argument over when it was written, and who wrote it (the second movement is a rather clumsy ver­sion of the variations from the Serenade for 13 winds, which dates from ca. 1781). There is a fourth flute quartet (K. 298) which must come from the latter 1780s, since it quotes works that did not appear until the middle of that decade. .And that, so far as we know, is all. If one reads what Mozart thought of the flute and flutists, one is surprised that he managed that much. But when one hears the works themselves, one wonders how a flute-hater could write so understandingly and delectably for the instrument. Doubtless many a gentleman-flutist, having experienced them, wept that there were no more to look forward to.

But nature abhors a vacuum (not to men­tion a carpet-sweeper), so enter the astute Franz Anton Hoffmeister, who unwittingly bore the name of two English royal dynasties (Hoffmeister means both tutor and steward). Hoffmeister, two years older than Mozart and a composer of talent, if not one of genius, came to Vienna as a law student, and re­mained to open a music-publishing house in 1784. The venture was successful enough to last until his retirement in· 1806 and to spawn various branches, of which the one in Leipzig became eventually C.F. Peters. He and Mozart quickly developed a friendship and a working arrangement, and more than once when the Mozart menage was down to its last groschen, Hoffmeister came through with a sizable loan (which Mozart usually envisioned, starry-eyed, as the final solution of all his financial problems). One really cannot blame the publisher, in a seller's market, for himself producing these "Mozart flute quartets" after the composer had been dumped in his pauper's grave.

Actually Hoffmeister was doing nothing novel or illegal. Music in those days, when there was no radio or hi-fi or other passive source, sold primarily to private citizens who furnished their own (and their friends' and family's) entertainment in their drawing rooms. There was a whole industry devoted to reducing symphonies, oratorios, and other works of scope to keyboard proportions, and it was not at all unusual to go the other way and make keyboard works available to chamber groups. (Recall that in recent times such titans of modernism as Stravinsky and Schoenberg arranged Bach and Brahms for full orchestra.) Hoffmeister chose two popular keyboard sonatas for his "quartets." One was K. 309, written in Mannheim, just before the genuine flute quartets, for 15-year-old Rosa Can­nabich, whom Wolfgang had apparently been wooing, in his own peculiar way, with dirty jingles. The other, listed as "Sonata No. 18," was made up of the Allegro & Andante, K. 533 and the Rondo, K. 494, probably by Hoff­meister himself, although Mozart tinkered with the rondo for the publication.

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