Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

views updated Jun 08 2018

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

The German author, composer, and artist Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (1776-1822) is known chiefly for his short stories and novels. His work represents an extreme development of German romanticism toward the grotesque and the fantastic.

On Jan. 24, 1776, E. T. A. Hoffmann was born in Königsberg, Prussia. He studied law at the University of Königsberg, and by 1800 he had become a court official with the Prussian government in Berlin. However, in 1802 he was forced to move to the Polish town of Plock, partly because he had drawn an uncomplimentary sketch of one of his superiors. He obtained an appointment to Warsaw in 1804 and there wrote music until 1806, when he lost his government position during Napoleon's occupation of Prussia.

During the next few years Hoffmann cultivated his talents as writer, artist, and composer. By 1808 he had become orchestra conductor for the theater in Bamberg. Here he began to write the first of his short stories. His first published collection was Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier (1814-1815; Phantasies in the Fashion of Callot), inspired by a French painter of grotesques. One of the best in this collection is Der goldne Topf ("The Golden Pot"), which tells of a law student torn between the love of a demonic "serpent-girl" and the daughter of a bureaucratic official. In the end the forces of the supernatural win out.

Hoffmann continued his career as musical director, moving to Dresden and in 1814 to Berlin, where he associated with other romantic writers, such as the poet Clemens Brentano. He was eventually reinstated as an official in the Prussian government, and in 1816 he became a judge with the superior court. He continued his literary activity, however, and in 1815-1816 published a horror novel, Die Elixiere des Teufels (The Devil's Elixir). This tale, inspired by the English Gothic novel, recounts in lurid detail a wicked monk's commerce with evil spirits. Another grotesque novel is Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr (1820-1822; Views on Life of Tomcat Murr).

Hoffmann continued to serve as judge until the year of his death, relatively unhampered by a capacity for alcohol that is thought to have been a source of some of his more striking literary inspirations. Hoffmann was the German romantic whose works were most enthusiastically read abroad. He died on June 25, 1822, in Berlin, of a spinal infection.

Further Reading

The best study in English of Hoffmann is Harvey W. Hewett-Thayer, Hoffmann, Author of the Tales (1948), which examines the relationship between his life and his writings. A brief, general discussion of the author is in L. A. Willoughby, The Romantic Movement in Germany (1930). Ralph Tymms, German Romantic Literature (1955), analyzes Hoffmann's writings as horror stories.

Additional Sources

Daemmrich, Horst S., The shattered self; E. T. A. Hoffmann's tragic visit, Detroit, Wayne State University, 1973.

Hoffmann, E. T. A., Selected letters of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Kaiser, Gerhard R., E.T.A. Hoffmann, Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1988.

Roters, Eberhard, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Berlin: Stapp, 1985.

Schafer, R. Murray, E. T. A. Hoffmann and music, Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1975. □

Hoffmann, E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus)

views updated Jun 27 2018

Hoffmann, E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus)

Hoffmann, E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus) (his 3rd Christian name was Wilhelm, but he replaced it with Amadeus, from love of Mozart), famous German writer, who was also a composer; b. Königsberg, Jan. 24, 1776; d. Berlin, June 25, 1822. He studied law at the Univ. of Königsberg; also studied violin with Christian Gladau, piano with Carl Gottlieb Richter, and thoroughbass and counterpoint with Christian Podbielski; after further studies with Gladau, he completed his training by taking a course in composition with J. F. Reichardt in Berlin. He served as music director at the theater in Bamberg, then conducted opera performances in Leipzig and Dresden (1813–14). In 1814 he settled in Berlin. He used the pen name of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler (subsequently made famous in Schumann’s Kreisleriana); his series of articles in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung under that name were reprinted as Phantasiestucke in Callot’s Manier (1814). As a writer of fantastic tales, he made a profound impression on his period, and influenced the entire Romantic school of literature; indirectly, he was also a formative factor in the evolution of the German school of composition. His own compositions are passable from the technical viewpoint, but strangely enough, for a man of his imaginative power, they lack the inventiveness that characterizes his literary productions. His writings on music were ed. by H. von Ende (Cologne, 1896); see also D. Charlton, ed., E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings: Kreisleriana, The Poet and the Composer, Music Criticism (Cambridge, 1989).


dramatic:Opera : Die Maske (1799); Scherz, List und Rache (Posen, 1801); Der Renegat (Plozk, 1803); Faustine (Plozk, 1804); Die ungeladenen Gäste, oder Der Canonicus von Mailand (Warsaw, 1805); Lustige Musikanten (Warsaw, 1805); Liebe aus Eifersucht (Warsaw, 1807); Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit (Bamberg, 1808); Das Gespenst (Warsaw, 1809); Aurora (1811; rev. version by L. Böttcher, Bamberg, Nov. 5, 1933); Undine (Berlin, Aug. 3, 1816; his best work; vocal score ed. by Pfitzner, 1907); Julius Sabinus (unfinished). Ba11et: Harlekin. OTHER: Some sacred works; Sym.; Piano Trio; 4 piano sonatas.


H. von Wolzogen, E.T.A. H. und R. Wagner (Berlin, 1906); E. Kroll, E.T.A. H.s musikalische Anschauungen (Königsberg, 1909); H. Ehinger, E.T.A. H. als Musiker und Musik-Schriftsteller (Cologne, 1954); H. Dechant, E.T.A. H.s Oper Aurora (Regensburg, 1975); R. Murray Schafer, E.T.A. H. and Music (Toronto, 1975); W Keil, E.T.A. H als Komponist: Studien zur Kompositionstechnik an ausgewählten Werken (Wiesbaden, 1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Hoffmann, E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus)

views updated May 21 2018

Hoffmann, E(rnst) T(heodor) A(madeus) (orig. Wilhelm, but adopted name Amadeus in homage to Mozart) (b Königsberg, 1776; d Berlin, 1822). Ger. writer, music critic, composer, and conductor. Was th. cond. from 1808 at Bamberg, Leipzig, and Dresden. Comp. 10 operas, incl. Undine (Berlin 1816), ballet, sym., mass, pf. sonatas, etc. Best known for his essays and tales, which have remarkable bizarre humour. His character, the Kapellmeister Kreisler, inspired Schumann's Kreisleriana. He himself is the hero of Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann.