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Gerard Hoffnung

Gerard Hoffnung (22 March 1925 — 25 September 1959) was an artist and musician, best known for his humorous works.

Born in Berlin, and named Gerhard, he was the only child of a well-to-do Jewish couple, Hilde and Ludwig Hoffnung. In 1939, his parents left Germany for London, where he attended Highgate School, while his father went to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine to enter the family's banking business. (This temporary separation became permanent as a consequence of the Second World War.)

Hoffnung died of a cerebral haemorrhage only 20 years after arriving in England but filled those two decades with considerable achievements as -- amongst other things - a cartoonist, tubist, impresario, broadcaster and public speaker, much sought after by the Oxford and Cambridge Unions.

Hoffnung published a series of books of cartoons poking gentle fun at conductors and orchestral instrumentalists. After his death, some of these were turned into a short animated film by Halas and Batchelor under the title The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, which won a number of awards in 1965-6.[1]

He is probably most remembered for his three Music Festivals held at the Royal Festival Hall in London. These featured contributions from distinguished "serious" musicians. Compositions specially commissioned for the Festivals included Malcolm Arnold's A Grand, Grand Overture, op. 57 [2] which was dedicated to U.S. President Herbert Hoover and was scored for several vacuum cleaners and other domestic appliances.[3] Franz Reizenstein's Concerto Popolare was described as the "The Piano Concerto to end all Piano Concertos".[4][5] William Walton conducted a one-note excerpt from his oratorio Belshazzar's Feast: the word, "Slain!" shouted by the chorus.

Much of Hoffnung's own humour relies on timing. A notable example is the 'Bricklayer's Lament' which was part of his 1958 Oxford Union Speech.

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Hoffnung's life was in the tradition of the Great British Eccentric, despite his continental origins. He affected, consciously or otherwise, the persona of an elderly music master, a role honed while teaching at Stamford School, where his eccentricities are remembered to this day. His voice had the hoarseness one associates with age, its cadences slow and faltering after the fashion of the old, or perhaps in homage to Colonel Blimp. His eccentricities were legendary, to the point where stories about him are fantastic enough to be believable, as nobody would think of making them up. For instance, he is said to have been fanatic about learning to whistle entire symphonies, even calling friends who were conductors and whistling down the phone line at them to check his memory. Describing his cartooning, he seemed to regard it as something not under conscious control:

I would try to draw something, a chair for instance, and there it would be - with an expression. I had almost nothing to do with it.

Try as he might, any inanimate object he drew seemed to take on a personality, so it is not surprising that he turned to caricature and surreal exaggeration, as in the drawing of the musician being devoured by the Serpent he is trying to play. Another drawing features a singer whose vest buttons are control knobs labeled Loud/Soft, Wobble, and Sob.

His public persona as an eccentric and wit does, however, overshadow his more thoughtful and serious side. He joined the Quakers in 1955 and was active in their prisoner visitation program. Moreover, according to a biographical sketch by Joel Marks, first published in Essays in Arts and Sciences (University of New Haven, Volume XXI, 10/1992), Hoffnung's

outlook on race relations, homosexuality, nuclear disarmament, the treatment of animals (especially hunting) and, for that matter, the music of Bartók and Schoenberg [was] liberal and impassioned.

He learned to play the tuba well enough to take the stage for the Tuba Concerto by Vaughan Williams as well as being an active participant (and jester) for Morley College Orchestra, a much respected amateur ensemble in London. Hoffnung's home functioned as a kind of salon for musicians, artists, writers and friends in general.

After his death his concert concept was kept alive by his widow Annetta and collaborators. The latest event was performed in Lausanne Switzerland on 31 December 2005. His son, Ben Hoffnung, is a professional tympanist who can be seen with groups including the London Mozart Players and The Sixteen.


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