Gerard Hoffnung

Like Thurber, Sendak, Briggs, and some others I’ve written about, another cartoonist / illustrator not generally accounted to be a Real Artist (perhaps at best a “graphic artist” like Bechdel) — especially since his work is funny, and meant to be. But he was a delight, the clear standout in the specialized field of cartoonists / illustrators / humorists who focus on the world of music. The occasion is my unearthing my copy of The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra (originally published in 1955, reprinted in 1984), with its enormously enjoyable combination of hilarious exaggerated drawings of symphony musicians at work and preposterous invented instruments. A third vein of humor comes in some other books of his, especially Musical Chairs of 1958, with its hybrid concoctions of animal plus instrument (a cat playing on its whiskers as a violin, for example).

Seven examples follow. I had to exercise severe forbearance to keep from swamping you with Hoffnungiana.

First, a note on the man, from Wikipedia:

Gerard Hoffnung (22 March 1925 – 28 September 1959 [note his early death]) was an artist and musician, best known for his humorous works.

Raised in Germany, Hoffnung was brought to London as a boy, to escape the Nazis. Over the next two decades in England, he became known as a cartoonist, tuba player, impresario, broadcaster and public speaker.

After training at two art colleges, Hoffnung taught for a few years, and then turned to drawing, on the staff of English and American publications, and later as a freelance. He published a series of cartoons on musical themes, and illustrated the works of novelists and poets.

In 1956 Hoffnung mounted the first of his “Hoffnung Festivals” in London, at which classical music was spoofed for comic effect, with contributions from many eminent musicians.

… In addition to his public persona as an eccentric and wit, Hoffnung had a deeply serious and moral side. He joined the Quakers in 1955 and was active in their prisoner visiting scheme. According to a biographical sketch by Joel Marks, first published in Essays in Arts and Sciences (… 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.”

Instr(u)animals. I’ll start with the instrument + animal hybrids: a hippiano (or pianotamus); some catercordions (or accordirpillars)’ and a trio of turtledrums (like turtledoves, but louder and more percussive, or maybe they’re called drumurtles:




Two actual instrumentalists. First, a trombonist, who’s found a way to protect his hearing from the blare of his instrument:


Then the zither, played by a cartoon musician who’s clearly Orson Welles’s Harry Lime from The Third Man (cue Anton Karas on the zither):


Two invented instruments. From a number in the book. First, an instrument that is belongs to both the string and brass sections of the orchestra:


And then an decidedly dangerous instrument that’s a cross between a wind instrument and a python (a pythoon, m


Pretty much everything in the book has been folded into a delightful animation by Halas & Batchelor, which you can view here.

And you can listen here to a hilarious performance from the first Hoffnung Festival:

[Franz] Reizenstein contributed the Concerto Popolare (“A Piano Concerto to end all Piano Concertos”) to Gerard Hoffnung’s first music festival in 1956. Hoffnung’s festivals were comedy events, trading on the musical knowledge of the audience. The premise of the Concerto Popolare is that the orchestra believes it is playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, but the pianist believes he or she is playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. A pitched musical battle ensues, dragging in other themes (notably from Rhapsody in Blue, the Warsaw Concerto and the music-hall song “Roll Out the Barrel”).

American readers will of course be reminded of the 40+ years of Peter Schickele’s P.D.Q. (or PDQ) Bach, whose history begins essentially at the point where the Hoffnung Festivals ended (Schickele’s humorous concerts began in 1959). Both Hoffnung and Schickele are accomplished musicians (Schickele is a bassoonist) with a deep and broad knowledge of music history that informs their musical humor, plus a strain of wild playfulness (Schickele cites the raucous Spike Jones lampoons of popular music in the 1940s and 50s as a significant influence).

(I thought I’d already posted about Schickele on this blog, but apparently not, so this is a topic for the future.)

A note on the Halas & Batchelor studio: it started doing commercial animation in 1940 and then branched out. There’s a 2010 book Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History that sounds great, though I haven’t seen it:


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