Mirjam Jooß (University of Liverpool)
In musicology E.T.A. Hoffmann’s name has almost become synonymous with the famous quote from his musical review of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67:
Wenn von der Musik als einer selbstständigen Kunst die Rede ist, sollte immer nur die Instrumentalmusik gemeint sein, welche, jede Hülfe, jede Beimischung einer anderen Kunst [verschmäht] [
]. Sie ist die romantischste aller Künste, fast möchte man sagen, allein rein romantisch. (Hoffmann, Schriften zur Musik 34)
In numerous musicological treatises and music histories the idea of pure instrumental music (i.e. music without words) as “the most romantic of all arts” has given rise to the view that within his musical writings Hoffmann laid the basis for what, during the Romantic period in music, was to become the aesthetic ideal of ‘absolute music’. While Peter Rummenhöller observes that such a statement seems to stand in direct opposition to the general view of the Romantic Universalkünstler, he nevertheless follows the tradition that what Hoffmann champions in this review is the idea of instrumental music as absolute music (Romantik in der Musik: Analysen, Portraits, Reflexionen cf. 68). Similarly Roger Scruton, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, states:
The expression [absolute music] is of German origin, first appearing in the writings of Romantic philosophers and critics such as J.L. Tieck, J.G. Herder, W.H. Wackenroder, Jean Paul Richter and E.T.A. Hoffmann. It features in the controversies of the 19th century - for example, in Hanslick’s spirited defence of absolute Tonkunst against the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner [
]. (“Absolute Music”)
However, instead of providing an origin for the concept of absolute music Barry Millington, in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, cites Hoffmann’s musical aesthetics as providing the foundation for Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and thus the symbiosis of the arts.
The notion of the reunification of the arts did not originate with Wagner: others who had previously advocated some sort of unification, either in theory or in practice, include G. E. Lessing, Novalis, Tieck, F. W. J. Schelling and Hoffmann. (“Gesamtkunstwerk”)
The text to which Millington most likely refers is another of Hoffmann’s more famous musical writings, “Der Dichter und der Komponist” (1814), in which the composer of the story proposes that “Dichter und Musiker die innigst verwandten Glieder einer Kirche [sind]: denn das Geheimnis des Worts und des Tons ist ein und dasselbe, das ihnen die höchste Weihe erschlossen” (Die Serapions-Brüder 83).
If, as Scruton claims, absolute music (music without words) and the Gesamtkunstwerk (the combination of all the arts and thus also of music and words) are two ideals that stand at opposing and mutually exclusive ends of the musical spectrum, how does one explain the paradox that the same person can be seen as precursor for both ideas? How is it that Hoffmann manages to support both ideas in reviews written only four years apart from each other? And how - in light of Hoffmann’s own artistic output - does one explain his move not only from composer to writer of tales and musical reviews, but also from composer of instrumental music, sacred music, and small stage works to major operatic works? The obvious answer would be to go back to the perceived origin of such opposing thoughts to establish whether Hoffmann’s own writings might hold the key to explaining how such opposing aesthetic positions can at least be unified within one person’s Weltanschauung.
Let us briefly leave behind the world created by Hoffmann as music critic and composer and turn to the much better known world created by Hoffmann as writer of tales. Readers of the tales know Hoffmann as the creator of dualisms, constantly shifting between the two apparently opposing worlds of reality and fantasy. The boundaries between the two are generally so blurred that it often becomes impossible for the reader to distinguish between them and instead of being mutually exclusive, the two worlds are generally perceived as two sides of the same coin: one cannot exist without the other. The theme of dualism runs though Hoffmann’s literary (and indeed musical) writings from early on. In Die Serapions-Brüder (1819-1821) he names it the Serapiontic Principle. Considering that its definition appeared in a literary work, it is not surprising that this principle has generally been understood as an exclusively poetic principle. Because of its seemingly vague and sometimes contradictory definitions through tales critics have often approached it rather tentatively. Hilda Meldrum Brown has recently observed that “there is little agreement about its precise meaning, nor have there been serious attempts to unravel its multifaceted exposition [
]. Few, if any, seem to wish to extend its scope beyond the literary to fields like the visual arts and music.” (E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle, 1). While the term Serapiontic Principle has indeed appeared several times in musicological research, a detailed application to Hoffmann’s musical aesthetics is yet to be undertaken.
While the scope of this paper does not allow for a detailed study of either the Serapiontic Principle or its relationship to Hoffmann’s music-aesthetic writings, the following brief outline attempts to show how such an effort might help to explain the perceived paradox within Hoffmann’s musical aesthetics.
The Serapiontic Principle was introduced in the first volume of Die Serapions-Brüder, a compilation of works that had appeared previously in magazines. Towards the end of Hoffmann’s life, between 1819 and 1821, four volumes with a total of around thirty stories and shorter texts were published. Hoffmann united the compilation by embedding the items within the discussions of a fictitious group of friends, who during eight meetings tell each other stories and discuss their content. In the first meeting Cyprian relates the story of how he encountered the hermit Serapion, a madman who lives in the woods and firmly believes himself to be St. Serapion. It turns out that he has great poetic talent, telling his stories so well that the listener “daran glauben mußte, daß Serapion alles selbst wirklich [
] erschaut” (Hoffmann, Die Serapions-Brüder 26-27).
From this realisation stems the first idea of the Serapiontic Principle, according to which the friends believe a true poet should be judged: “[Der] Einsiedler [
] war ein wahrhafter Dichter, er hatte das wirklich geschaut was er verkündete, und deshalb ergriff seine Rede Herz und Gemüt” (54). Conversely, a poet would fail if he,
nicht das wirklich schaute wovon er spricht, daß die Tat, die Begebenheit vor seinen geistigen Augen sich darstellend [
] ihn nicht begeisterte, entzündete [
]: Vergebens ist das Mühen des Dichters uns dahin zu bringen, daß wir daran glauben sollen, woran er selbst nicht glaubt, nicht glauben kann, weil er es nicht erschaute. (54)
The second idea stands in opposition to the life of the hermit. The hermit is a madman and thus cut off from the real world, permanently living in the world of his fantasies. While the group of friends accept that Serapion’s existence within the fantastical realm allows him to become a visionary and true poet, and wish to follow his example, they do not want to lose their connection to the Außenwelt, the outer realm, in order to gain access to the innere Welt, the fantastical realm. Lothar, another member of the group, observes:
Armer Serapion, worin bestand dein Wahnsinn anders, als daß irgendein feindlicher Stern dir die Erkenntnis der Duplizität geraubt hatte, von der eigentlich allein unser irdisches Sein bedingt ist. Es gibt eine innere Welt und die geistige Kraft, sie in voller Klarheit, in dem vollendetsten Glanze des regesten Lebens zu schauen, aber es ist unser irdisches Erbteil, daß eben die Außenwelt, in der wir eingeschachtet, als der Hebel wirkt, der jene Kraft in Bewegung setzt. [
] Aber du, o mein Einsiedler! statuiertest keine Außenwelt, du sahst den versteckten Hebel nicht, die auf dein Inneres einwirkende Kraft [
In opposition to the one-sided existence of Serapion the friends aim towards a balance between the real world and fantastical realm. Later, another member of the group illustrates this idea metaphorically when he states that
...die Basis der Himmelsleiter, auf der man hinaufsteigen will in höhere Regionen, befestigt sein müsse im Leben, so daß jeder nachzusteigen vermag. Befindet er sich dann [
] in einem fantastischen Zauberreich, so wird er glauben, dies Reich gehöre auch noch in sein Leben hinein [
Only if a balance between the two worlds is achieved can the poet “das Märchenhafte in die Gegenwart, in das wirkliche Leben zu versetzen” (599) and make the reader believe in the fantastical realm as if it was part of his reality. The fantastical realm therefore stands in opposition to the real world, innere Welt versus Außenwelt, and can only be reached through a medium - in this case the poet - who, in order to give a believable account, has to be inflamed by it and see it as an extension of his own reality. Interestingly Cyprian’s story illustrates the Serapiontic Principle inasmuch as the reader cannot be sure whether the narrator has really met the hermit or whether he is a figment of his imagination.
As mentioned earlier, the general reading of the famous quote from Hoffmann’s review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which opened this paper, generally leads to the claim that instrumental music is “the most romantic of all arts" because of the absence of words. It is capable of revealing to the listener “ein unbekanntes Reich [
], eine Welt, die nichts gemein hat mit der äußern Sinnenwelt, die ihn umgibt, und in der er alle bestimmten Gefühle zurückläßt, um sich einer unaussprechlichen Sehnsucht hinzugeben” (Hoffmann, Fantasie- und Nachtstücke 41).
The terminological similarities with the definition of the Serapiontic Principle within Die Serapions-Brüder, written and published nine years after the first appearance of the Beethoven review, are indeed striking. In the Beethoven review the fantastical realm and real world are called “unknown realm” and “outer sensual world”, but clearly represent similar ideas. The main difference, however, is that the later definition of the principle emphasises the need for a connection between what Hoffmann here describes as “quite separate” worlds. Viewed through the lens of Hoffmann’s dualistic Weltanschauung, the idea that words are a distraction from the fantastical realm suggests that while music both leads to and represents this realm, words are positioned at the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e. the real world. This conception of the relation between words and music is later identified by Schopenhauer when he states that “[music] never expresses an outward phenomenon but the inner essence, the immanent soul of all phenomena [
]” (qtd. in Taylor, Hoffmann: a Study of Romanticism 49) or as Ronald Taylor expresses it “not a particular joy, [
] a particular sadness, but Joy, [
] Sadness an sich” (49). Hoffmann probably wanted to express a similar idea: music reveals to the listener the fantastical realm, because it is capable of describing emotions an sich instead of precise feelings. Words, on the other hand, generally concentrate on precise emotions and are thus to be located in the real world. This interpretation would lead to the conclusion that while music leaves some room for interpretation and facilitates the listener’s access into the fantastic realm, with the addition of words this freedom of interpretation would be limited because of the focus on specific emotions. The transition from real world to fantastic realm would become more difficult.
The musicological paradox treated above has now become one concerning Hoffmann the musician and writer on music and Hoffmann the author of the tales: while the poetic Serapiontic Principle claims that the poet, through words, is capable of building a connection between real world and fantastical realm, the review of Beethoven’s Fifth seems to reserve this right to music alone (and specifically to music without words). So what happens according to Hoffmann when words are added to music and when are words capable of becoming part of the fantastical realm? Let us first consider the special case of church music.
The story of the hermit Serapion contains a religious connection inasmuch as Serapion believes himself to be a saint. Considering the religious connotations of the fantastical realm it is no surprise that the main ideas of the Serapiontic Principle are also found in Hoffmann’s aesthetic writings on sacred music. In his article “Alte und neue Kirchenmusik” (1814) Hoffmann explains that the composer of true church music must
sein Inneres wohl erforschen [
], ob der Geist der Frömmigkeit [
] ihn antreibe, Gott zu preisen und von den Wundern des himmlischen Reichs in den wunderbaren Tönen der Musik zu reden; [
] Nur in dem wahrhaft frommen, von der Religion entzündeten Gemüt wohnen die heiligen Gesänge, die mit unwiderstehlicher Macht die Gemeinde zur Andacht entflammen. (Schriften zur Musik 231)
While the poet is later portrayed as the visionary and medium, in this earlier formulation it is the composer who acts as the connection between the “heavenly realm” - the religious equivalent to the fantastical realm of Die Serapions-Brüder - and the real world of the listener. To adequately portray the heavenly realm the composer, as later the poet, must also be “inflamed”. The heavenly realm has to be brought into the real world of the listener, so that “dem Irdischen entrissen, sein Gemüt [sich] ganz dem Himmlischen zuwendet” (181). Thus one of the main ideas of the Serapiontic Principle, the connection between and interdependence of the two opposing worlds, is established within a musical context.
In the context of sacred music, words are regarded as arbitrary. Hoffmann praises their “Allgemeinheit [
], die [die tiefere] Beziehung, [die innere] Bedeutung, welche jeder nach seiner individuellen Gemütsstimmung dareinlegt, nicht vorgreift [
]” (154). Thus in order to enable freedom of musical interpretation, depending on the emotional inspiration of the composer and its communication to the listener, words should be “...so einfach als möglich, und zwar am besten und kräftigsten rein biblisch” (340). Therefore words are only acceptable within sacred music if they are either simple enough to become arbitrary and thus adaptable to various emotional states, or biblical and, as God’s word, have their origin in the heavenly realm.
As indicated in the discussion above, both music and poetry, and with them the tasks of both the composer and the poet, are governed by similar principles, based in each case on the dualism of the two opposing worlds of the fantastic realm and the real world. If this is the case, how does one explain the paradox that Hoffmann’s writings on sacred and instrumental music seem to view the addition of words to music, unless simple or biblical, as barring the listener’s path to the fantastical realm whereas in the case of Serapion they are clearly necessary to access it? How could Hoffmann arrive at an opera aesthetic promoting the symbiosis of words and music as equal partners that inhabit the same fantastical realm within one art work?
The answer might be found in “Der Dichter und der Komponist” (first published 1814), which describes a discussion between Ludwig, a composer, and the poet Ferdinand. When Ludwig asks “Kann denn die Musik etwas anderes verkünden, als die Wunder jenes Landes, von dem sie zu uns herübertönt?” (Die Serapions-Brüder 83), Hoffmann not only reintroduces the idea of the opposing worlds, but for the first time clearly indicates his belief that music itself is part of the fantastical realm and not just a tool used by the composer to facilitate the listener's access to it.
Taken together with the following remark from “Der Opern-Almanach des Hrn. A. v. Kotzebue” (1814), in which the dialogue between the poet and the composer is partially reproduced, Hoffmann’s understanding of the difference between music and language becomes much clearer:
In der romantischen Oper kommt es freilich darauf an, die wunderbaren Erscheinungen des Geisterreiches so mit der Kraft der poetischen Wahrheit ins Leben zu führen, daß wir willig daran glauben, und sich [
] vor unseren Augen ein romantisches Reich erschließt, in dem auch die Sprache höher potenziert, oder vielmehr jenem fernen Reiche entnommen, d.h. Musik, Gesang ist [
]. (Schriften zur Musik 263)
While language may not be automatically part of the fantastical realm, as is the case with music, Hoffmann clearly believes that it can be elevated to become part of this realm through what he calls “poetic truth”.
Hoffmann established the idea of poetic truth already in his review of Joseph Weigl’s Das Waisenhaus (review published in 1810), one of his earliest opera reviews, where he argues that even a bad text can be made into a great opera as long as it is based on a poetic idea. This is possible because the composer of an opera does not concern himself with “einzelne[n] Verse[n], einzelne[n] Szenen, sondern sein Geist ist mit der phantastischen Idee des Ganzen erfüllt” (52-53). As an example Hoffmann quotes no lesser stage work than Mozart’s Zauberflöte, one of those “zu schlechten Texten [geschriebenen] Meisterwerke[n]”, which is based on a “romantische Idee, wie sie die Oper unerläßlich fordert” (52). The poetic idea depends, therefore, on the right “Stoff, [der] Handlung, [der] Situation, nicht [dem] prunkende[n] Wort” (Hoffmann, Die Serapions-Brüder 94.
In the conversation of the poet and composer, Hoffmann even gives a detailed description of what constitutes a plot with a true poetic idea. As emphasised in his reviews of Joseph Weigl’s Das Waisenhaus as well as Adalbert Gyrowetz’s Der Augenarzt (review published in 1812), he is clearly opposed to plots portraying scenes drawn exclusively from everyday life. Instead, speaking through the voice of the composer Ludwig, Hoffmann names Gozzi’s fairy-tale Der Rabe as an example of an ideal opera libretto. In this story fantastical happenings (e.g. a curse bestowed on a king by a raven, a girl that kills herself and then is mysteriously brought back to life) exist alongside real human traits (e.g. the love between the king and his brother). In essence, Ludwig's ideal libretto is based on Hoffmann's own Serapiontic Principle. Only a visionary poet like Gozzi can mediate between the real world and fantastical realm and can produce an opera libretto which allows the composer (and later the listener) to ascend into higher realms. If the poetic idea has thus been fulfilled, then “[entspringt] die Musik unmittelbar aus der Dichtung als notwendiges Erzeugnis derselben” (83). Abigail Chantler has interpreted this comment as Hoffmann’s acknowledgement of Gluck’s ambition “to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry” (E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Aesthetics 138). If this is true, then within one sentence Hoffmann contradicts everything he has said about music’s power as the true romantic art form. Instead his idea of the relationship between music and words is rather different.
In his review of Reichardt’s Piano Sonata in F minor (1814) Hoffmann praises the composer because in his operas “[durchdrang er] nicht allein die Dichtung, welche er musikalisch auszuschmücken unternahm [
], sondern [schwebte] zugleich als Herr und Meister darüber [
], und [beherrschte] sie unumschränkt” (Schriften zur Musik 203). According to Hoffmann, only language expressing a poetic idea can become part of the fantastical realm to which music automatically belongs. Only if the poet achieves this goal will his text inflame the composer. If the poet fails in this regard, “[lähmt] die vielmehr nicht im mindesten opernmäßige Idee des Ganzen [
] die Schwingen seiner [des Komponisten] Phantasie” (54). Something like a two-fold Serapiontic Principle has thus been created within Hoffmann’s opera aesthetic: the Serapiontic Principle of Hoffmann’s musical aesthetics has been superimposed over the poetic one (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The two-fold Serapiontic Principle of Hoffmann’s opera aesthetic
The poet, in true Serapiontic fashion, transforms what he sees and thus finds a way to make the fantastical realm part of the listener’s (or reader’s) real world. Moreover, not only must the poet make the listener/reader believe in what he sees, but most importantly the poetic idea behind his text must inflame the composer to help him to express it through the fantastical realm of music. Hoffmann advises young opera composers:
Lies das Gedicht [
], gehe ein mit aller Macht deiner Fantasie in die Momente der Handlung; du lebst in den Personen des Gedichts [
]; in dem Feuer der Begeisterung, das deine Brust entflammt, entzünden sich Töne, Melodien, Akkorde, und in der wundervollen Sprache der Musik strömt das Gedicht aus deinem Innern hervor.” (Fantasie- und Nachtstücke 316-317)
We have thus moved from a model in which words and music seemed to stand at opposite ends to each other, as in the ideal of absolute music, to a model where they are equal partners, “die innigst verwandten Glieder einer Kirche”, sharing the same secret “das ihnen die höchste Weihe [erschliesst]” (Hoffmann, Die Serapions-Brüder 83). Of course, this is the idea behind the Gesamtkunstwerk. Instead of being mutually exclusive aesthetic positions, Hoffmann writings seem to open up a connection between the two ideals, showing that one can indeed be read as the logical conclusion of the other.
Especially in light of Wagner and his Gesamtkunstwerk, the notion of poet and composer as “closely kindred members of one church” invariably leads to the question whether Hoffmann believed that librettist and composer could be incorporated within one artist. In “Der Dichter und der Komponist” the poet confronts his composer friend with exactly the question many researchers would probably have asked the composer Hoffmann:
Ich begreife nicht, [
] daß du selbst, dem es bei einer höchst lebendigen Fantasie durchaus nicht an der Erfindung des Stoffs fehlen kann, und dem die Sprache hinlänglich zu Gebote steht, dir nicht längst eine Oper gedichtet hast! (Hoffmann, Die Serapions-Brüder 80)
Ludwig’s answer is very clear:
Das ist wohl wahr, mir kommt es indessen vor, als müsse dem Komponisten, der sich hinsetzte, ein gedachtes Opernsujet in Verse zu bringen, so zumute werden, wie dem Maler, der von dem Bilde, das er in der Fantasie empfangen, erst einen mühsamen Kupferstich zu verfertigen genötigt würde, ehe man ihm erlaubte, die Malerei mit lebendigen Farben zu beginnen. [
] das zum Komponieren nötige Feuer würde verknistern und verdampfen bei der Versifikation [
] Und am Ende würden mir meine Verse selbst nur armselig vorkommen [
]. Ganz unmöglich würde es dem Musiker sein, sich nicht gleich bei dem Dichten mit der Musik, die die Situation hervorgerufen, zu beschäftigen. Ganz hingerissen und nur arbeitend in den Melodien, die ihm zuströmten, würde er vergebens nach den Worten ringen, und gelänge es ihm, sich mit Gewalt dazu zu treiben, so würde jener Strom, brauste er auch noch so gewaltig in hohen Wellen daher, gar bald, wie im unfruchtbaren Sande versiegen. [
] in dem Augenblick der musikalischen Begeisterung würden ihm alle Worte, alle Phrasen ungenügend - matt - erbärmlich vorkommen, und er müßte von seiner Höhe herabsteigen, um in der untern Region der Worte für das Bedürfnis seiner Existenz betteln zu können. (80-81)
The composer cannot do both things equally well. Hoffmann's compositional theory is based on the inspiration of the composer, which in the case of opera only happens through the discovery of a true poetic idea within a text. If the composer writes the libretto himself the inspiration necessary for its musical realisation would be lost in trying to write down the verses. Ultimately either text or music would suffer and the two could never be of the same high desirable quality.
The conversation between the poet and the composer is related by Theodor, himself a composer who endorses the views of Ludwig. However, Lothar, another of the friends who has been listening to the tale, remains unconvinced by the argument.
[Ich] glaube, daß [Theodor] uns nächstens mit einer trefflichen Oper, die ihm, was Gedicht und Musik betrifft, ganz allein angehört, überraschen wird. Alles, was er sophistischerweise über die Unmöglichkeit, selbst eine Oper zu dichten und zu komponieren, vorgebracht, mag recht plausibel klingen, es hat mich aber nicht überzeugt. (96)
Different researchers have taken Lothar’s conviction that Theodor is planning to produce an opera in which he will write both the text and the music as an indication that Hoffmann planned to do the same. In this regard, both Charlton and Chantler cite Hoffmann’s Singspiel Die Maske (1799) for which he wrote both words and music. Chantler observes that throughout “Hoffmann’s dramatic oeuvre there is evidence that he sought to realize his ideal of the ‘perfect unity of text and music’, as that which is ‘possible only when the poet and composer are one and the same person’” (E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Aesthetics, 153). However, the quote Chantler uses stems from the discussion between Theodor and Lothar before Theodor begins his story. And it is Lothar who asks Theodor: “Ist denn nicht vollkommene Einheit des Textes aus der Musik nur denkbar wenn Dichter und Komponist eine und dieselbe Person sind” (Hoffmann, Die Serapions-Brüder 74)? Chantler fails to mention Theodor’s answer: “Das klingt [
] alles ganz erstaunlich plausibel und ist doch so ganz und gar nicht wahr. Es ist, wie ich behaupte unmöglich, daß irgendeiner allein ein Werk schaffe gleich vortrefflich in Wort und Ton” (74-75).
Indeed, instead of proving Hoffmann’s intentions to be both librettist and composer, the fact that Die Maske was unsuccessful may have been instrumental in Hoffmann’s realisation that such an undertaking was bound to fail. Similarly, the fact that for Undine, his most successful opera, Hoffmann adapted the text by Fouqué does not contradict his idea that the composer cannot successfully create both text and music. The composer’s inspiration is based on the poetic idea, the subject-matter, instead of the actual words, which are of no direct consequence for the outcome of his composition. An adaptation of words is thus acceptable as long as the composer does not alter the poetic idea. So when researchers like Linda Siegel conclude that “the poet and the composer [
] is one person, not two” and that in “Der Dichter und der Komponist” “Hoffmann continued to put forth his theory that a genuine Romantic opera should be the product of one individual” (“Wagner and the Romanticism of E.T.A. Hoffmann” 605) they may be reading too much of Wagner’s ideas into Hoffmann’s aesthetic writings. While the discussions between the composer and the poet can be read as Hoffmann arguing with himself, the fact remains that, in the years after the creation of both Undine and “Der Dichter und der Komponist” (both from 1814) until his death in 1822, there are no indications that Hoffmann attempted such an undertaking or even had concrete plans to do so.
This paper began with Hoffmann’s seemingly paradoxical status as precursor for both the ideal of absolute music and the ideal of the symbiosis of the arts within the Gesamtkunstwerk which, according to common musicological thought, are understood as opposite and mutually exclusive aesthetic positions. What I hope to have indicated is that at least within Hoffmann’s own writings the ideals of purely instrumental music and texted music, where words are an equal partner, are not, by necessity, mutually exclusive. Instead, when viewed through the lens of his dualistic Weltanschauung, which is defined in the Serapiontic Principle, Hoffmann's literary and musical writings seem to open up a connection between both positions, showing that one can be read as the logical conclusion of the other. In the end, poet and composer indeed become “closely kindred members of one church” and words are elevated up to share the fantastical realm with music. If the Serapiontic Principle is understood as applying to both poetry and music and - through its superimposition – as a principle that allows for a symbiosis of the arts, Hoffmann as poet and composer might finally be allowed to return to his position as Romantic Universalkünstler instead of advocate of one art over the other.
1. The research for this paper is part of my doctoral dissertation, which is supported by a scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Return to the article
2. (When music is spoken of as an independent art the term can properly apply only to instrumental music, which scorns all aid, all admixture of other arts [
]. It is the most romantic of all arts - one might almost say the only one that is purely romantic.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 236. The review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was first published in 1810 in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. Within the republication of the review as “Beethovens Instrumentalmusik” (Fantasie- und Nachtstücke 41), Hoffmann clarifies that by “other arts” he means specifically “poetry.” (E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 96). Return to the article
3. (poets and musicians are closely kindred members of one church; for the secret of words and sounds is the same, unveiling to both the ultimate sublimity.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 195. This text was first published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1814, but Hoffmann later decided to also include it in Die Serapions-Brüder. Return to the article
4. For references to the Serapiontic Principle and its relationship to musical aesthetics see for example Dobat or Rohr. Return to the article
or. Return to the article
6. ([The] hermit [
] was a true poet, because he had truly seen what he preached and therefore his story captured heart and soul.) Translation by the author. Return to the article
7. (didn’t truly see the things he talks about, [if] indeed, the incident which presented itself before his inner eye [
] did not enthuse and inflame him [
]: in vain are the poet’s efforts to make us believe in what he doesn’t believe himself, can’t believe himself, because he did not see it) Translation by the author. Return to the article
8. (Poor Serapion, your madness only existed because some hostile star had stolen from you the awareness of the dualism, which alone actually governs our earthly existence. There is an inner world [innere Welt] and the spiritual power to see it in complete clarity, in the absolute splendour of most vivid life, yet it is our earthly heritage that precisely this outer world in which we are caught works as the lever which puts this power into motion. [
] But you, oh my hermit, have no outer world [Außenwelt]. You didn’t see the hidden lever, the power, which influences your inner world [
].) Translation by the author. Return to the article
9. Hoffmann uses various terms to describe those two opposing worlds. To avoid confusion, I will henceforth refer to them mainly as ‘fantastical realm’ and ‘real world’. Return to the article
10. (the basis for the ladder to heaven, on which one ascends to higher realms, should be fastened in life, so that everyone can follow. If he then finds himself [
] in a fantastical realm of magic, he will believe that this realm still belongs to his life [
]) Translation by the author. Return to the article
11. (transfer the magical into the present, the real life) Translation by the author. Return to the article
12. (an unknown realm, a world quite separate from the outer sensual world surrounding him, a world in which he leaves behind all precise feelings in order to embrace an inexpressible longing) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 96. This quote has been taken from the re-working of the review titled “Beethovens Instrumentalmusik”. Return to the article
search his soul and confirm that [
] the spirit of truth and piety [
] urges him to praise God and speak of the wonders of the heavenly realm in the magical sounds of music, and that his composing consists only in writing down the sacred melodies that pour from his soul as though in devout ecstasy. [
] Sacred music that irresistibly inflames the congregation to devotion resides only in a truly pious mind [
]) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 372. Return to the article
14. (snatched from all worldly things, he can turn his soul towards the heavenly.) Translation by the author. Return to the article
15. (universality, which does not encroach upon the deeper response, the inner significance that each of us brings to it according to his individual state of mind.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 327. Return to the article
16. (simple as possible and for the best and strongest effect purely biblical). Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 340. Return to the article
17. Hoffmann himself clearly thought this article to be of great importance within his aesthetic writings, a fact emphasised by its re-publication as the last story in the first volume of Die Serapions-Brüder (1819), and reappearance, in abbreviated form, in “Der Opern-Almanach des Hrn. A. v. Kotzebue” another of Hoffmann’s reviews concerned with opera libretti which was also published in 1814. Most of the quotes in this essay are taken from the story as it appears in Die Serapions-Brüder. Return to the article
18. (Can music proclaim anything else than the wonders of that [realm] from which it echoes across to us.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 196. I have translated ‘jenes Landes’ as 'that ‘realm’. Return to the article
19. (In romantic opera it is essential that the wonderful apparitions of the spirit-realm are brought to life through the power of poetic truth, so that we believe in them willingly and a romantic dimension reveals itself before our eyes, in which language is raised to a higher power or rather becomes song, since it is part of that distant realm of music [
]) Translation by the author. Return to the article
20. (individual verses and scenes. Rather his spirit is kindled by the overall imaginative image.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 253. Return to the article
21. (masterpieces [written] to bad texts”, which works because “the whole work was based on a romantic concept, an absolutely indispensable requirement of opera.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 253. Return to the article
22. (subject-matter, plot, and situation, rather than fine words) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 206. Return to the article
23. (music springs directly from the poetry as a necessary product of it) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 196. Return to the article
24. (not only fully penetrated the poetry, which he decorated musically, but at the same time hovered over it as Lord and Master and ruled over it undisputedly) Translation by the author. Return to the article
25. (completely non-operatic, overall idea [will] “cripple [
] the wings of [the composer’s] imagination) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 255. Return to the article
26. (Read the libretto, [
] enter into the dramatic situations with all the resources of your imagination; you live in the characters of the drama [
]; from the fire of inspiration that inflames your breast emerge notes, melodies, chords, and the drama flows from within you translated into the magical language of music) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 155. Return to the article
27. (closely kindred members of one church”, “sharing the same secret which [unveils] to both the ultimate sublimity) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 195. Return to the article
28. (I cannot understand, [
] why you with your vivid imagination and more than adequate command of language, have not written a libretto yourself long ago!) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 192. Return to the article
29. ([It] seems to me that the composer who set himself the task of constructing his own libretto
would feel like a painter who had to make a laborious copper engraving of the picture he had conceived in his imagination, before he was allowed to begin painting with vivid colours. [
] the spark necessary for composition would be smothered and extinguished in the process of versification [
]. It would be quite impossible for a musician, as soon as he started writing the text, not to occupy himself with the music called for by the situation. He would be completely immersed and carried away by the melodies flooding over him, and would struggle in vain to find the words; and if he succeeded in forcing himself to do so, then no matter how forcefully the waves surged over him the torrent would soon drain away as though into barren sand [
]. At the moment of musical inspiration any word or any phrase would seem to him inadequate, lifeless, pitiful, and he would descend from his exalted state in order to be able to beg for the necessities of his existence in the lower region of words.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 193-194. Return to the article
30. (I believe [Theodor - the composer among the Serapiontic friends] will soon surprise us with a first-rate opera, whose libretto and music will be entirely his. Everything that he has so sophistically argued concerning the impossibility of devising and composing an opera oneself may sound plausible, but it has not convinced me.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 208-209. Return to the article
31. (Isn’t perfect unity of text and music possible only when poet and composer are the same person?) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 189. Return to the article
32. (That all sounds remarkably plausible (
) but it’s completely wrong. I maintain that it’s impossible for anyone to create a work by himself that is equally outstanding in word and music.) Charlton, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings 189. Return to the article
33. In the case of Undine Hoffmann clearly stuck to this principle as indicated in a letter to Fouqué in which he writes: “I cannot tell you in words how I not only deeply sensed the very essence of the romantic characters in [Undine], but also how [
] [the] figures immediately, while I read, turn into sounds in my mind. Hence I believe I have penetrated into and recognized their hidden nature in its most wonderful manifestations. Thus the conviction that Undine presents truly operatic material was not the result of reflection but arose spontaneously from the intrinsic virtue of the poesy” (qtd. in Chantler, 154-155). Return to the article
34. The only stage compositions written by Hoffmann after 1814 are Thassilo (1815/16, today lost), a play by Fouqué for which Hoffmann composed the music (Allroggen cf. 117-119) and Der Liebhaber nach dem Tode (1818/1822, unfinished and today lost), an opera in three acts with a text by Carl Wilhelm Salice-Contessa after Calderon’s El Galan Fantasma (Allroggen cf. 129). Other plans included Turandot (planned 1814), an opera after Gozzi, and an Opera Seria after a text by Fouqué, planned in 1819 (Allroggen cf. 133). Return to the article
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