A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Hoffmann, Ernst

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

HOFFMANN, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm, a man of genius, and an extraordinarily clever and eccentric musician and litterateur, who though a voluminous composer will not live by his compositions so much as by some other productions of his pen. He was born at Königsberg Jan. 24, 1776; learned music and law at the same time, and bid fair to rise in the official world; but an irrepressible love of caricaturing put an end to such solid prospects and drove him to music as his main pursuit. His first musical appointment was to the theatre at Bamberg in 1809, but it was a post without salary, on which he starved. It fortunately urged him to writing a set of papers in the character of 'Johannes Kreisler the Kapellmeister' for the 'Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung' of Leipzig. They appeared at intervals from Sept. 20, 1810, and onwards, and in 1814 Hoffmann republished them with other essays in the same vein in two volumes as 'Fantasiestücke in Callot's Manier,' with a preface by Jean Paul, in whose style they are couched. Among the most interesting, and at the same time most practically valuable, are the essay on Beethoven's instrumental music—far in advance of the day—another on Gluck, and a third on Don Giovanni. The essays, which have often been reprinted, are all more or less humorous, some extremely so. They were followed by the 'Elixiere des Teufels,' a novel (1815); 'Nachtstücke' (1817), 'Serapionsbrüder' (4 vols. 1819–21); and by the 'Lebens ansichten des Kater Murr,' etc., or 'Views of life of Murr the tomcat, with fragments of the biography of Johann Kreisler, the Kapellmeister, from loose and spotted sheets.' Schumann's admiration of these pieces may be inferred from his imitations of them in his Florestan and Eusebius, and his adoption of their nomenclature in the titles of his music. After the fall of Napoleon, Hoffmann again obtained official employment at Berlin, which he discharged with efficiency, and kept till his death at a Silesian bath on June 25, 1822, of gradual paralysis, after much suffering for four months. He was fantastic and odd in the greatest degree, much given to liquor and strange company, over which 'he wasted faculties which might have seasoned the nectar of the gods.' (Carlyle.) He sang, composed, criticised, taught, conducted, managed theatres, wrote both poetry and prose, painted all equally well; and in fact could, and did, turn his hand to anything. The list of his works is extraordinary—11 operas (MSS. in the Berlin Library), one of them ran for 14 nights; Incidental music for 3 plays; a ballet; a requiem; two symphonies, etc. etc.

Beethoven took the unusually spontaneous step of addressing him a letter (March 23, 1820). This probably led to a closer acquaintance, to judge from the Canon in his letter to the 'Cäcilia' (Nohl, No. 328)—

{\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 3/4 \relative c'' { c4 g2 e'4 c2 R2. a4 a a aes2\p f4 } \addlyrics { Hoff -- mann! Hoff -- mann! Sei ja kein Hof -- mann! } }

which it is difficult not to refer to him.

Hoffmann's devotion to Mozart led him to add Amadeus to his Christian names. Weber knew and loved him, and he died keenly regretted by many friends. Carlyle has translated his 'Goldne Topf' in 'German Romance' (vol. ii.), and gives a sketch of his life, which is also in the 'Miscellanies' (vol. iii.). His life by Rochlitz is in 'Für Freunde d. Tonkunst,' vol. i., and Hitzig's 'Aus Hoffmanns Leben,' etc. (Berlin, 1823), contains an estimate of him as a musician by A. B. Marx.

[ F. G. ]