Symphony in E Flat Major & Undine & Aurora Overtures/E.T.A. Hoffmann
March 7, 2015
Having just completed the review of Friederich Witt and his A major symphony on the new CPO release I’ll now review the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) which include a symphony and two operatic overtures. Born in Prussia to a barrister who had married his cousin Hoffmann was a man of many talents including the writing of the first detective story “Madame de Scudery” that Poe used as an aid for his “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” as well as “Fantasy, Irony, and the Grotesque.” His novella “Nutcracker and Mouse King” was the storyline for Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” In addition he was an artist, music critic, and jurist. His life was somewhat tubulent as he lived during the time of Napoleon and his wars. His life was shortened because of drinking and syphilis and the last year or two of his life he was papalyzed. He died in Berlin at the age of 46. An interesting point is it was Hoffmann the music critic who favorably reviewed two of Witt’s symphonies. They lived in nearby towns and while they never met they knew of each other. While he claimed an allegiance to Mozart to the point that the A in ETA stood for Amadeus his E flat major symphony is very Haydn patterned after the structure of the London symphonies of the late 18th century. He went so far to state in 1803 in his diary that Haydn was his master.
The Symphony in E flat major was written in the beginning of 1806 and premiered in Warsaw to honor the birthday of the King of Prussia on August 3rd of the same year. The symphony is in the four movement sonata form with the first movement being a majestic adagio with a nice introduction that leads you into a nice melody. Strings provide the vigorous melody (not adagio) and flute and woodwinds provide a quieter thought provoking time in between. I especially like the flute work and my ear has gotten use to what Hoffmann is trying to accomplish. The second movement is an andante con molto offers us a pastorale and tranquil setting. The theme is delicate and Hoffmann nicely bridges the three sections together with a recurring theme. The third movement is a very brief menuetto which opens with a brass statement which leads to a canon starting in a minor key and ending up in a major key. The final movement is an allegro molto that is quite brisk. It is filled with much harmony and counterpoint. Hoffmann uses the technique of bringing back a variation of the theme from the first movement to tie the work together. It ends rather abruptly.
“Aurora” (1812) is considered to be one of the very first operas sung in German. To my knowledge this has never been performed and the overture is what remains. It is a tale of a princess and her love for a shephard boy. Patterned after Gluck it opens with a stoic and heroic statement from the brass which will continue throughout the eight minute work.
“Undine” (1814) was performed again for the birthday of the king of Prussia in 1816 and was well accepted receiving a positive review from Carl Maria von Weber. The storyline of this one is a knight who falls in love with a water nymph. The struggle between the minor and major key, the two characters, makes for an interesting listen.
If Hoffmann is new to you this is a CD that I can certainly recommend to you. As I stated in the Witt part of the review I do prefer the Naxos offering which is an all Witt program and includes his fine flute concerto.