Franz Anton Hoffmeister was born in Rothenburg am Neckar in May 1754. When just 14 years old he arrived in Vienna to study law, but was soon so entranced by the city’s rich and varied musical life, that upon graduating, he decided to devote his life to music. By the 1780s he had become one of the city’s most popular composers, with an extensive and varied catalogue of works to his credit.
Hoffmeister’s reputation today however rests almost exclusively on his activities as a music publisher. In 1785, he established one of Vienna’s first music publishing businesses, second only to Artaria & Co which had ventured into this field only five years earlier. Over the next 15 years Hoffmeister issued works by many prominent Viennese composers amongst them Albrechtsberger, Clementi. E.A. Förster, Pleyel, Vanhal and Paul Wranitzky. Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn are all represented in his vast catalogue, Mozart by several important first editions including the G minor Piano Quartet K.478, and the single String Quartet in D K.499, the ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet.
Hoffmeister’s publishing activities reached a peak in 1791, but thereafter seemed to take a back seat to composition. Most of his operas were composed and staged during the early 1790s, and this, combined with an apparent lack of business sense, led to a noticeable decline in production. In 1799 Hoffmeister and the flautist Franz Thurner set off on a concert tour which was to have taken them as far afield as London. They got no further than Leipzig however, where Hoffmeister befriended the organist Ambrosius Kühnel. The two must have decided to set up a music publishing partnership for “within a year” they had founded the Bureau de Musique which would later grow into the well-respected firm of C.F. Peters still active today. Until 1805 Hoffmeister kept both the Viennese firm and the newer Leipzig publishing house going, but in March 1805 he transferred sole ownership of the Bureau de Musique to Kühnel. His interest in the Viennese firm was waning too, for in 1806, apparently to allow time for composition, he sold his 20-year-old business to the Chemische Druckerey.
As a composer Hoffmeister was highly respected by his contemporaries. This is evident from the entry in Gerber’s Neues Lexikon der Tonkünstler published around the time of his death in 1812:
If you were to take a glance at his many and varied works, then you would have to admire the diligence and the cleverness of this composer.... He earned for himself a well-deserved and wide-spread reputation through the original content of his works, which are not only rich in emotional expression but also distinguished by the interesting and suitable use of instruments and through good practability. For this last trait we have to thank his knowledge of instruments, which is so evident that you might think that he was a virtuoso on all of the instruments for which he wrote.
Prominent in Hoffmeister’s extensive oeuvre are works for the flute, not only concertos but also chamber works with the flute in a leading role. Many of these works would have been composed with Vienna’s growing number of amateur musicians in mind for whom the flute was one of the most favoured instruments. Besides flute music Hoffmeister also composed at least eight operas, over 50 symphonies, numerous concertos (at least 25 of these are for the flute), a large amount of string chamber music, piano music, and several collections of songs.