Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus


Born Jan. 24, 1776, in Königsberg; died June 25, 1822, in Berlin. German writer, composer, music critic, conductor, and artist and theatrical designer. The son of an official.

Hoffmann studied law at the University of Königsberg. From 1816 he was in government service as a court counselor in Berlin. Hoffmann’s novellas Chevalier Gluck (1809), The Musical Sufferings of Johannes Kreisler, Conductor (1810), and Don Juan (1813) were later included in the collection Fantastic Tales in the Manner of Callot (vols. 1–4, 1814–15). In the novella The Golden Pot (1814) the world is presented on two planes—the real and the fantastic. In the novel The Devil’s Elixirs (1815–16) reality appears as an element of dark, supernatural forces. The mores of the theater are described in The Strange Sufferings of a Theater Director (1819). His symbolic and fantastic fairy tale-novella Little Zaches, Surnamed Zinnober (1819) is clearly satirical. In his Weird Tales (parts 1–2, 1817), in the collection The Serapion Brethren (vols. 1–4, 1819–21; Russian translation. 1836), and in the Last Stories (published. 1825), Hoffmann at times satirically and at times tragically portrays life’s conflicts, treating them romantically as the primordial struggle of the forces of light and darkness. The unfinished novel The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr (1820–22) is a satire on German Philistinism and feudal absolutist practices. The novel Master Flea (1822) contains bold attacks on the police regime in Prussia.

Hoffmann’s aesthetic views are strikingly embodied in his novellas Chevalier Gluck and Don Juan, the dialogue Poet and Composer (1813), and the Kreisleriana cycle (1814). In the novellas and in his Fragments of a Biography of Johannes Kreisler, which was inserted into the novel The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr, Hoffmann created the tragic figure of the inspired musician Kreisler who rebels against Philistinism and whose fate it is to suffer.

Hoffmann began to be known in Russia in the I820’s. V. G. Belinskii, while maintaining that Hoffmann’s fantasy countervailed “banal rational clarity and explicitness.” at the same time censured Hoffmann for dissociation from “living and full reality” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 4, 1954, p. 98).

Hoffmann studied music with his uncle, then with the organist Khr. Podbelskii (1740–92), and later took lessons in composition from J. F. Reichardt. Hoffmann organized a philharmonic society and symphony orchestra in Warsaw, where he served as a state counselor in the years 1804–07. From 1807 to 1813 he worked as a conductor, composer, and stage set designer at theaters in Berlin, Bamberg, Leipzig, and Dresden. Many of his articles on music were published in the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung.

Hoffmann was one of the founders of romantic musical aesthetics and criticism. At an early stage in the development of musical romanticism Hoffmann had already formulated its essential tendencies and had shown the tragic situation of the romanticist-musician in society. He conceived of music as a special world capable of revealing to man the meaning of his feelings and passions and the nature of the enigmatic and the inexpressible. Hoffmann wrote about the essence of music and about musical compositions, composers, and performers.

The works of Hoffmann influenced C. M. von Weber, R. Schumann, and R. Wagner. Hoffmann’s poetic images were embodied in the creations of R. Schumann (Kreisleriana), R. Wagner (The Flying Dutchman), P. I. Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker), A. C. Adam (Giselle), L. Delibes (Coppélia), F. Busoni (The King’s Bride), P. Hindemith (Cardil-lac), and others. Works by Hoffmann—including Tobias Martin, Master Cooper, and His Men; Little Zaches, Surnamed Zinnober; and Princess Brambilla—have served as the plots for operas. Hoffmann is the hero of operas by J. Offenbach (Tales of Hoffmann, 1881) and G. Laccetti (Hoffmann, 1912).

Hoffmann composed the first German romantic opera, Undine (written in 1813), as well as the opera Aurora (written in 1812), symphonies, choruses, and chamber works.


Dichtungen und Schriften, vols. 1–15. Lichtenstein-Weimar, 1924.
Poetische Werke, vols. 1–6. Berlin, 1958.
Musikalische Novellen und Schriften .... Weimar, 1961.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. St. Petersburg, 1896–99.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–7. Moscow, 1929–30 (Not completed.)
Novelly i povesti. Leningrad, 1936.
Izbr. proizvedeniia, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1962.
Bibliografiia russkikh perevodov i kriticheskoi literatury. Compiled by Z. V. Zhitomirskaia. Moscow, 1964.
Zhiteiskie vozzreniia kota Murra .... Moscow, 1967.


Herzen, A. I. “Gofman.” Sobr. soch. v 30 tomakh, vol. 1. Moscow, 1954.
Mirimskii, I. “Romantizm E. T. A. Gofmana.” Uch. zap. Moskovskogo gos. pedagogicheskogo in-ta: Kafedra istorii vseobshchei literatury, 1937, issue 3.
Braudo, E. M. E. T. A. Gofman. Petrograd, 1922.
Ivanov-Boretskii, M. V. “E. T. A. Gofman 1776–1822.” Muzykal’noe obrazovanie, 1926, nos. 3–4.
Ferman, V. E. “Nemetskaia romanticheskaia opera.” In his book Opernyi teatr: Stat’i i issledovaniia. Moscow, 1961.
Werner, H. G. E. T. A. Hoffmann. Weimar, 1962.
Voerster, J. 160 Jahre E. T. A. Hoffmann-Forschung 1805–1965. Stuttgart, 1967.
E. T. A. Hoffmanns Leben und Werk in Daten und Bildern. Frankfurt am Main [1968].
Piana, Theo. E. T. A. Hoffmann als bildender Künstler. Berlin, 1954.
Moos, P. “E. T. A. Hoffmann als Musikästhetiker.” Die Musik, 1907, 6th year, April, pp. 67–84.
Ehinger, H. E. T. A. Hoffmann als Musiker und Musikschriftsteller. Cologne, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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