Editor’s Note: On Sunday, March 9, Rider University professor and composer Paul W. Hofreiter and his son, Paul C. Hofreiter, were scheduled to give a father-son concert of their own works at Bristol Chapel (both Hofreiters are faculty members of Westminster Conservatory), the first concert of its kind in the Westminster faculty recital series. Four days before the concert, on Wednesday, March 5, Paul W. Hofreiter died.
The program for their March 9 concert was to include 10 original Hofreiter pieces being performed for the first time; six by father Paul W., and four by son Paul C. Pianist Janice Hofreiter, Paul W.’s wife and Paul C.’s mother, was also slated to perform.
A memorial service was held on Monday, March 10, at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Princeton. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the American Heart Association, 1 Union Street, Suite 301, Robbinsville 08691-4183; the Lutheran Church of the Messiah, 407 Nassau Street, Princeton 08540; or the Hope Lutheran Church, 2600 Haines Road, Levittown, PA 19055. To send a condolence, visit www.wilsonapple.com.
U.S. 1 had planned to run a longer version of the following story in our March 5 issue:
Pianist/organist Paul W. Hofreiter and his son, bassist/guitarist Paul C. Hofreiter, are both performers and composers. And they are both faculty members at Westminster Conservatory, the community music school of Westminster Choir College of Rider University.
"There’s a commonality in the styles of myself and my son," says Paul W. in a telephone interview from his West Trenton home on Tuesday, February 12. "His jazz and popular interests are evident in his concert music. My music is also influenced by that. Though I’m not a jazz musician, Broadway and jazz have an impact.
"My son’s music is a little more distilled compositionally than mine," says Hofreiter. "It’s terse. It uses shorter forms that don’t require a lot of development. Subtle rhythmic ideas attract him. I am more attracted to melodic and harmonic elements. My music is more abstract. Both of us have very accessible styles. One might hear in my music a connection to traditional forms. His music is more what happens when you improvise. I’m more connected to symphony and sonata. He’s more connected to popular tunes."Hofreiter continues, "I’ve been declared part of the so-called minimalist movement, but I disagree. Labels are difficult. Vincent Persicchetti, my Juilliard teacher in the 1970s, said that a time would come when everything would be acceptable. Now this period is here."
His son Paul outlines his musical gyroscope in a telephone interview tucked into his teaching duties. "I’ve gotten less chromatic since high school," he says. "The more I listen to music, the more I distill what I want to hear. In my case I end up more tonal than before." He is talking about his tendency to use standard scales, rather than 12-tone systems. "I listen to my father’s music. I love what he writes. It’s not a matter of training." The younger Hofreiter has never studied composition.
On websites where I can hear music composed by him and his son, the compositions are accessible. Their transparency and drive are memorable. The music is lean, purposeful, pungent, and often playful.
Paul W. was born in 1952 in Miami Beach, Florida. His father was a sales manager; his mother, a housewife. His maternal grandfather was an organist, composer, and choir director. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he met his wife, Janice, in 1968 at Langhorne’s Neshaminy High School. After graduating, he attended New York’s Juilliard School, and she went to Westminster Choir College. They saw each other every weekend. Their son, Paul C., was born in 1979.
Husband and wife have been concertizing since they were 15. "It was my first excuse to ask her for a date," he said. The couple made their formal debut as duo pianists in 1971.
Paul W. was quite young when he had the insight that turned him into a composer. "My grandfather died when I was 10, and left behind a rather large amount of blank manuscript paper," he says. "At that time, I thought that all music had already been composed by people who were no longer living. Seeing my grandfather’s empty manuscript paper, I realized that composers could be alive, and I wondered what it would sound like if I wrote down some notes."
Encouraged by his piano teacher, Paul W. started composing. He learned by listening to other peoples’ music and wrote piano sonatas – he calls them "youth sonatas" – inspired by the pieces he was studying. His models were Beethoven, Chopin, and Haydn. He was self-taught as a composer until he entered Juilliard.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition at the Juilliard School, he earned a second master’s degree in religion from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "I believe music is a reflection of the divine," he says. "It is a springboard for connecting with other beliefs, and gives me a sense of unity with faiths other than my own." Paul W. has composed nearly 450 works, including more than 100 chorale preludes and 75 choral anthems for the church, eight cantatas, 20 piano sonatas, 10 organ sonatas, two chamber operas, eight symphonies, chamber and choral music.
Before joining Westminster father Paul was a faculty member at the Lawrenceville School in music and religion, and chair of the music department.
Son Paul C. began composing when he was a Lawrenceville student. By then he had studied piano, violin, viola, guitar, and double bass. "I took an AP music class in high school taught by my father," he says. "We studied Bach’s `Two-part Inventions.’ I was fascinated by how the two parts imply harmonies. I sat down with Finale [the digital composition software] and a keyboard and made up a right hand melody. Then I came up with something imitative that I thought was appropriate for the left hand."
Paul C. played Bach’s solo cello suites on double bass and realized that the normal tuning of the bass in fourths made playing the pieces particularly difficult. He began to experiment with re-tuning the bass in fifths to mimic the pitches of the cello, and found multiple advantages for the revised tuning. "The original reason was to be able to play the low C, which enables the bass to match up with the cello. But there are other advantages: Tuning in fifths gives the bass a larger range at the top and the bottom. When the bass is tuned in fifths it’s easier to match the intonation of other string instruments, and the bass resonates better with other string instruments since it has more matching overtones."
These observations by son Paul C. were exactly the input that expanded his father’s savvy about how to write for double bass, and the father reciprocated by keeping his son informed about his own realm of instruments. Paul W. said, "We keep talking about composing something together, but we haven’t yet." We are very sorry that dream of collaboration was nipped in the bud.