Most violists groan whenever the names Hoffmeister and Stamitz are mentioned. Too often, and over and over again, they have to spend time on these solo concertos under enormous pressure to succeed. Hardly any audition for an orchestra position takes place without one of the concertos (mostly only the opening of the 1st movement) having to be performed with piano accompaniment in the first elimination round. This not only puts the candidates on trial – but the orchestra members present who ultimately decide on who gets the job also have to put up with a certain amount of ‘psychological stress’ when the same piece is played for the fifteenth time. In short, by the time they have reached the age of 26 at the latest, violists are normally fed up with these works, and so the concertos are not performed very often in public. Exceptions prove the rule: Nils Mönkemeyer played the Hoffmeister concerto in December 2011 in Munich, and in a programme recorded by Bavarian State Radio, he talks about how he considers himself fortunate to be able to respond to this piece so open-mindedly, because he has never had to undergo the audition situation.
When violists study the Hoffmeister concerto before an audition, they first naturally concentrate on mastering the piece technically, and afterwards on making ‘music’. All good teachers know which passages are especially important for the audition, what has to be spot on, what is expected. They also know from which edition the piece has to be played – picking the wrong edition can quickly have serious repercussions. Let us take the theme of the rondo as an example, because here the problems show up very clearly. Below is an overview of various editions that are available (without mentioning any names):
So, what now? Is the tempo Allegro, Allegretto (with metronome markings) or to be freely chosen? Is the solo entrance f or p? Is the first measure staccato or with a slur, should there be a turn on the upbeat to the third measure or not? (To simplify matters, I have removed fingerings and bowing from the examples.)
Well-known editors and musicians were, in part, at work here, editing the music according to their own ideas. But on what basis? What is Hoffmeister, and what has been added? This leads us to the question “what is the Urtext?”.
In all probability, Hoffmeister composed and wrote this concerto in the form of an orchestral score. This autograph is unfortunately not extant. The viola concerto did not even appear in print in his lifetime. The only contemporary source of the work is a set of orchestral parts that was produced by three copyists, including a solo part. The set of parts, which today is preserved in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek Dresden, might stem from the year 1799, as such copies were offered for sale in Vienna at this time. In Dresden the orchestral material belonged to Joseph Schubert (1754–1837), a composer and violist in the court orchestra, who wrote an inserted cadenza for the 1st movement and probably also performed the concerto there.
Since there were many performances from this contemporary set of parts, numerous entries by various musicians are to be found in them. The solo part, in particular, was intensively altered – I found at least four different writers’ hands. The changes go so far that markings originally written in ink were scratched out and overwritten in turn by other ink markings. The rondo theme in this source is presented today as follows (compare with the fourth edition above):
We can see the different hands that were at work here quite clearly. The varying thickness of the slurs alone already shows that there is not just one writer. When the original is viewed in Dresden, the colour of the inks used – now greyer, now browner – and the characteristic style of writing (e.g. the slur unusually tilting toward the right in measure 6) help to distinguish the later additions from the copyist’s original first copy. In very many cases, we can also reconstruct very well what was once there and later scratched out. Thus, even in the poor reproduction above, the slurs once notated in measures 3 and 4 above the staff can be identified.
Why must we delve so deep? Because we must free the musical text of the copy of the parts from all unauthorized additions and changes in order to penetrate to the earliest level that, chronologically and in its dependency, comes closest to Hoffmeister’s original. So when we have reconstructed this earliest musical text, we have come as close to the composer’s intentions as the present source situation allows. And here is the result:
We have restored the Urtext of this passage (see our edition HN 739). No more, no less. Hence, our task as Urtext editors has been fulfilled. Given the circumstances, we cannot come any closer to Hoffmeister’s intentions for the musical text. It is immediately clear that the Urtext cannot answer all the questions posed above: there is neither a tempo nor a dynamic marking at the beginning. The articulation, on the other hand, is settled in every detail. Especially tricky is the question of whether the lack of a turn now means conclusively that none may be played …
So what should the violist – to come back to the initial question – really play? I, as the Urtext editor, do not presume to be able to answer that. I provide the interpreter with a musical text approaching the composer’s intentions as closely as possible, with all the ‘blank spaces’ that are to be found in it. My discoveries and conclusions concerning this musical text are documented in the preface and in the comments. I trust that musicians will be able to get to grips with my music edition using their musical experience, their knowledge and their talent. I am offering them the chance to make informed decisions about the musical text. The rest lies in their hands.
Twenty years ago, when I accompanied violists on the piano at auditions, such an approach to the music in this particular situation would have been doomed to failure. Have times changed?