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François-Benoît Hoffman

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François-Benoît Hoffman

François-Benoît Hoffman (11 July 1760 – 25 April 1828) was a French playwright and critic, best known today for his operatic librettos, including those set to music by Étienne Méhul and Luigi Cherubini (most notably Cherubini's Médée, 1797).

Career

Hoffman was born in Nancy, and studied law at the University of Strasbourg. However, his stammer hindered his legal career, and he entered military service in Corsica. He served there for only a very short time, and, returning to Nancy, wrote some poems which brought him into notice at the little court of Lunéville over which the Marquise de Boufflers then presided. In 1784 he went to Paris where he wrote his first opera libretto, Phèdre, for the composer Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. It was performed at Fontainebleau in October 1786. After quarrelling with Lemoyne, Hoffman offered his libretto Adrien, empereur de Rome to Cherubini, who turned it down in favour of another Hoffman drama, Médée. Adrien was accepted instead by Méhul, with whom Hoffman collaborated on several operas, including Euphrosine (1790), Stratonice (1792) and Ariodant (1799).

Hoffman was a strong advocate of authors' rights regarding artistic control, copyright and freedom of speech. This stance often brought him into conflict with the authorities. A quarrel with the management of the Paris Opéra over Nephté led to them rejecting Médée in 1790. In 1792, the French Revolutionary government objected to Adrien on political grounds, and Hoffman ran considerable risk by refusing to make the changes proposed to him. It was seven years before Adrien finally received its premiere at the Opéra.

Hoffman's later operas were in a lighter style than his works of the 1790s. A notable example is Les rendez-vous bourgeois, with music by Isouard. In 1807 he was invited by Charles Guillaume Étienne to contribute to the Journal de l'Empire (afterwards the Journal des Débats). Hoffman's wide reading qualified him to write on all sorts of subjects, and he turned, apparently with no difficulty, from reviewing books on medicine to violent attacks on the Jesuits. His severe criticism of Chateaubriand's Les Martyrs led the author to make some changes in a later edition. He had the reputation of being an absolutely conscientious and incorruptible critic and thus exercised wide influence.

Works

Théâtre
Romans, essais
  • Mes souvenirs ou Recueil de pensées fugitives (1802) ;

Sources

  • L. Castel: Notice Biographique et Littéraire sur F.-B. Hoffman, dans: Œuvres de F. B. Hoffman précédées d’une Notice sur sa vie. Théatre. Tome 2. S. V-LV.
  • P.[aul?] Jacquinet: François Benoît Hoffman: sa vie, ses œuvres, Nancy 1878.
  • Stratonice: introduction to the edition of Hoffman and Méhul's opera by M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet (Pendragon Press, 1997)
  • T. G. Waidelich: „…imitée d’Aristophane“. Die Lisistrata von Hoffman und Solié (1802) als Bindeglied zu den Verschwornen von Castelli und Schubert mit einem Ausblick auf die Rezeption des Sujets im Musiktheater (Teil 1). In: Schubert:Perspektiven. 9, 2010, p. 216–228.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
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