The author, composer, critic and artist Ernst Theodor (Wilhelm)
was born in Königsberg, Germany on 24 January
1776. The name ‘Amadeus’ was added in later life in honour of Mozart. He was
destined for a career in the law but, after taking music lessons, decided to
become a full time musician. Hoffmann held the position of conductor in a
variety of music theatres.
His musical catalogue is wide-ranging and includes many operas, a ballet,
the present symphony, some chamber works, religious music and piano sonatas.
At present, Hoffmann is largely remembered for his literary achievements
which combine humour and fantasy. The character Johannes Kreisler, the
Kapellmeister appeared in his novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat
Murr together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes
Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper: it was the inspiration for Robert
Schumann’s piano masterpiece Kreisleriana. The libretto of Offenbach’s opera
Tales of Hoffmann was derived from his stories as were the scenarios for the
ballets Coppélia and The Nutcracker.
Hoffmann’s musical aesthetic is less romantic than classical. Haydn and to
some extent Mozart are exemplars, although it is also possible to hear a
reflection of the evolution from classical to romantic music apparent in
Hummel and early Beethoven.
The Symphony in E flat major by Hoffmann was composed during 1806 and was
premiered in Warsaw on 3 August of that year. It is Haydn’s series of the
‘London’ symphonies that is the formal model. The first movement is the most
thoughtful part of this symphony with some intricate working out of themes.
The slow movement is finely poised and quite beautiful in its exposition of
the musical material. It reflects a pastoral disposition with something a
little more troubled for the middle section. The minuet and trio is
typically light-hearted in spite of being in a minor key. It is almost
Puck-like in its progress, although the clod-hopping of Bottom and his crew
is also apparent in the vivid contrasts between phrases. The lively finale
is a pleasure to hear. Interestingly, the composer makes use of a theme from
the symphony’s opening movement, making it into a ‘cyclic’ work.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Aurora
are regarded as
being the first romantic operas in the German language. The former goes back
to classical myth and deals with the love of a princess for a shepherd boy.
The latter majors on the fairy tale by Friedrich de la
Motte Fouqué (1777–1843) about the faithless love of a knight for
the water nymph Undine. Both these overtures are attractive and satisfying,
if not ground-breaking.
was born in Niederstetten, Württemberg, on
8 November 1770. He spent much of his life as a composer and violinist. He
was also court musician at the House of Oettingen-Wallerstein. From 1802 he
was Kapellmeister at Würzburg. Witt’s musical achievements include two
operas, a number of oratorios, masses, 23 symphonies and chamber music. He
died in Wurzburg on 3 January 1836. The work that is still associated with
his name is the ‘Jena’ Symphony which was once attributed to Beethoven.
Friedrich Witt’s Symphony in A major was composed sometime around 1790. It
is clear that this work adheres to the ‘symphonic conventions’ of the
century although as the liner-notes point out, the orchestra
is smaller than that used by Haydn in his contemporaneous ‘London’
symphonies. The symphony is presented in four well-balanced movements. The
first movement comes to life after a reflective introduction. The tunes just
tumble over each other with some lovely moments for the French horns. The
largely untroubled slow movement follows the short minuet and trio. The
finale is sparkling and pure fun bringing the symphony to a gratifying
conclusion. Hoffmann commenting on Witt’s later symphonies suggested that
they were ‘written for a large audience and therefore sought to provide, not
profundity, but only maximum graciousness.’ This comment applies equally to
this early work. The sound-world lies between Haydn and Beethoven with nods
As always with CPO the CD is beautifully produced in every way. The sound
is clear and allows the listener to pick up every nuance of this significant
music. The notes are by Werner Keil and are presented in German and in
English. They are detailed and informative without being overly technical.
The cover painting by Caspar David Friedrich matches the mood of the
One of the problems that I have found with CPO is that the liner-notes are
not readily available apart from the ‘hard’ copy of the CD. Why can't
they be put online like those for Naxos, Chandos and Hyperion? It is bizarre
that the company assumes that people who buy their digital music from Amazon
(for example) do not require this very important part of the musical
This CD of music by Hoffmann and Witt is stimulating, satisfying and
enjoyable. It is fair to say that this is not revelatory music but it is
well-wrought, often exciting and always enjoyable. It will be of great
interest to all those listeners who specialise in exploring the lesser-known
composers of the late classical and early romantic eras.