NECROLOGY
ERNST THEODOR AMADEUS HOFFMANN
ALLGEMEINE MUSIKALISCHE ZEITUNG

 



E.T.A. Hoffmann, 1822
Etching by Johann Passini
after Wilhelm Hensel

 

The 9th of October                                                No. 41.                                                                 1822.

                                                               N E C R O L O G Y.

                                                                   ___________

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.

With respect to this publication one is used to the fact that it will not allow to depart from the circle of the living any man who was important to the art which it is dedicated to, without sending him off with a well-considered, just and well-meant farewell; and this custom that had already been introduced at its inception has always been considered as one of its not too unimportant features.  According to this, readers who have known the above-named (known to the wider public as the author of the Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier) or who, at least, know of him--and of them there are many--they will have expected something about him, particularly about him as musician and music writer, in these issues.   This would have been provided had we not hoped that that the manifold attempts at obtaining more in-depth information about him, more than we already head, would yield important results; and through this, we would have considered ourselves abve to present you with something thorough.  However, this did not happen, and thus it will not happen:  on account of these fruitless endeavors, we hope that you will be satisfied with our following presentation.--  

Hoffman was born in favorable circumstances in Königsberg in Prussia, in the year 1775*)[in a notice of the Allgemeine Zeitung, the year 1778, perhaps due to a printing error, has been mentioned.]   In his early years, none too little has been done for his acquisition of knowledge; however, as he himself said, less for his upbringing--"and that's where the evil lay!" he added. His very capable, particularly swift mind ensured that a thousand details from the most diverging disciplines of science and art easily stuck in his brain, so that a great deal remained there.  As a youth, that which one considers the preparation of the scholar, was certainly not alien to him; and many a thing that does not belong to it was also already somewhat familiar to him. In the arts, he proved himself to be a good pianist (the respected composer and organist Podbielsky was his teacher), he also had a pleasant singing voice that was particularly suited for comical pieces.  At the same time, he showed himself to be a skilled draftsman, preferably of cartoons and the like, and even of an excellent acting talent, particularly for the comical and burlesque, he showed some signs.-- This was his state of affairs when he joined the community of scholars of his native city and turned his attention to the study of law.  Certain changed circumstances caused him to take this discipline seriously.  In his new situation that was somewhat less favorable than his previous one, he led a more regular life and was also more diligent than before.   And thus already here, as it should be to a greater degree in his later life, he proved that he belonged to those men who can suffer misfortune much more easily than fortune.   Having received favorable evaluations from his academic teachers, he began his practical career as a junior lawyer with the [Prussian] government at Glogau and, since he proved himself both as hard-working and talented, he was soon transferred to the Superior Court of Justice in Berlin, as an articled clerk.   With his vast knowledge and skills, with his extraordinary intellectual agility and restlessness [even that of his small, light body] and with his unchanging dedication to the subject [of law], in spite of all the tasks that he had to fulfill in his profession, he still did not forget his previously acquired artistic skills and their practice; however, they remained mere pastimes to him, so that he did not make more use of the products of his rich talents than for the pleasure of the moment.  Once they were produced, they provided him and some of his friends with momentary pleasure but were as soon forgotten and destroyed.   Writing poetry, writing as such, with the exception of that which he had to write--he did not want now and not for some time to come.  He was not inclined towards it and, as he told himself, he also had no talent for it.   

During the course of the new Prussian organization of Poland, [in the year 1800] H. was hired as a government assessor at Posen; having been transferred soon thereafter, again, in 1808, he was transferred to Warsaw and promoted to Government Councillor.  In Poland, he encountered a great deal of new things--to do, to experience, to enjoy.  He liked that a great deal. He ensured that his lodgings were nicely furnished, worked hard, continued to pursue his artistic interests, lived well and, since his superiors were satisfied with him, he looked forward to a brilliant career.  He also married a Polish girl and became friends with Zacharias Werner with whom he, however, did not stay in touch--as can best be witnessed in his "Serapions-Brüder".   Hardly had he settled into these favorable circumstances when, in 1806, with the change of matters in Prussia, matters in Poland also changed all of a sudden.  Abruptly, he saw himself pulled into a maelstrom.  All Prussian civil servants were, only too quickly, dismissed without any financial compensation and even displaced.  Thus H. who, with his frequent transfers, had not yet thought of, and perhaps was not even in a position, yet, to set something aside, lost his position, his income and perhaps, until matters would turn to the better again, also any prospects for a new position.  However, he did not lose his courage, his head and his survival skills.  He went to Berlin and soon resolved to work in a field that, heretofore, had only been his leisure:  he wanted to teach music. Respected men in this field in whom he confided, particularly his fellow countryman, Reichardt, tried to help him in this, and it went well to a degree:  however, with the unstable situation of most well-to-do Berlin families and with the great number of already established music teachers in the city, he could hardly eke out a living.  Since it could not be foreseen how long this situation would last and how long H. would be forced to make his living in this field, he also wanted to advance his skills and knowledge in this art form in order to become capable of more substantial and advantageous endeavors in it; and thus he began, almost in all of his leisure hours, with an eagerness and dedication that, in his need, were his pride and joy, to embark on the most serious, strict studies and exercises in compositions, and that, right away, in the most difficult genres ot it.  Thus, for example, after his thorough study Mozart's Requiem, merely for his own education, practice and advancement, he also wrote a Requiem, almost as long as Mozart's, conceived in a similar manner and, as far as he was able, rendered in a similar style. He has never had it performed, never wanted it to be performed; however, later he sent it to us; we can not do otherwise but judge as follows:  as close as it stays to and reminds one of the original after which it was conceived, it does not lack its own originality, intensity and strength of expression; however, its technical execution--if one considers that it is the first attempt of a dilletante--once can only admire.  

Thus H. spent almost two years--dirt poor, burdened with having to give dry music lessons, but working for himself, cheerfully and with dedication; then (in 1808) Count Soden established a permanent stage in Bamberg and hired him to be its music direct.  What a fortune!  What a flurry of activities he enmbarked on!  The matter went well, but only for a brief period, when it began to falter more and more so that H., as a consequence, had to work as music director, stage director, theatre painter and what not else, in one person, and thereby he gained material galore for his later little work, Die Leiden und Freuden eines Theaterdirektors [The Joys and Sufferings of a Theatre Director].  Finally everything came to a halt; the slim sailboat ran into the ground and burst and was swallowed up by the waves.  We will hardly have read anything more amusing than H's account of his experiences as a theatre director and when he painted its main scenes not only with words but transformed everything into the most lively, plastic action.--As amusing as this was to read about later on, as serious it must have been in real life.  Now, H. hat noting, not even a prospect and also no means to open these up for himself.  In his need that would have driven most, if not into despair, at least into a serious lack of courage, he remained cheerful and wrote to the then-editor of this musical periodical who, by the way, had never heard of him.  The letter is before us; it is as witty and as cheerful as anything that H. has written in his life.  In it, he told his prior life story [we have taken the above almost entirely from it], then his most recent fate and then, in a very amusing manner, his present situation, that he, actually, was nobody, had nothing but wanted to be and do anything, but he did not know, what?  This, he hoped, he would learn from his new correspondent:  however, it at all possible, it had to happen, right away, since hunger pained him, if not his own, then that of his wife; only one thing would pain him more--to receive money without being able to work for it.  He wanted to work, even to write, if it had to be--either in that genre that the people call "stupid stuff" or also in musical matters, that, in the end, bordered on it.  As proof of his musical skills he enclosed his Requiem.  A reply was written, right away.  One urged him to write as he had written in his letter; as a publication forum, one offered him the "Musikalische Zeitung" and, in order to fulfill his request more precisely, one asked him, in order to get to know him from various sides, to write the following:  a story or a character description of a musician who, in later years had become insane but who, not unlike the profound Friedemann Bach, was great and bold in his art, if somewhat confused and who held the fixed idea that he was Mozart or Handel or a similar hero and who was thus described by him in a touching manner that would find the reader's interest.  At the same time, one sent him the score of the great, wonderful Symphony in C minor by Beethoven that had been in the hand of the publisher's etchers and asked him to either write a review--which, in the event of a work by such a master, was probably not required, or a description of it, a fantasy about the fantasy, a work of art about the work of art, etc.  In ten days, both items were here; and our readers may, if they turn to H's "Kapellmeister Johannes Kreissler"  and his "Betrachtungen über Beethovens Symphonie" in the Musikalische Zeitung or in the "Phantasiestücke" and, in doing so, consider that these were his first attempts in these disciplines, find his admirable qualities, for which reason this entire anecdote has been inserted here.  However, that this characterization and this review were his best that he had rendered in the field of music, we want to, for the sake of the truth, also mention.  However, this institute still has to thank him for many a witty, ingenious and valuable contribution and we should also mention, right away, that he remained faithful to it until he found publishers who, on account of his popularity, would offer him more advantages than we could offer him here.--

Not long after his embarking on his new writing activity, it occurred that the opera society of the late Joseph Seconda who played at the baths near Dresden during the summer and in Leipzig during the winter, lost its music director.  H's acquaintances in the latter city arranged for him to be hired for this position, arranged on his behalf that he would receive a far higher salary than he had asked for, himself, and thus he took on this position with the greatest pleasure (in 1812).  The war activities in Dresden, where he stayed with his theatre company at that time, made on his lively mind, that was attracted by everything new and truly important, a rather invigorating instead of a depressing or discomforting impression.  He was everywhere, where something important could be seen or experienced; a couple of times, he was in obvious danger for his life, which, however, did not bother him, the least; and he still had enough time and energy to fill his new position rather well.  In the fall of this year he traveled to Leipzig with his theatre company where his acquaintances saw him in person, for the first time and where they, from then on, could delight in his utterly lively conversation and in his never-ceasing good mood.  On this journey, he experienced that accident in which his heavily-laden coach was turned over.  He, himself, was only injured slightly while his wife was dangerously hurt, and since it was her head that was particularly inflicted, it took several months for her to recuperate.  Aside from this accident, H. now lived completely happy and contented; however, since, at least still in those years, he could not endure a happy situation for too long, also here, he ended up in quarrels, first with members of the opera society, then with the director who, as such, was very incapable, but otherwise a very honest and reliable man. At the outbreak of these quarrels from both sides, H., suddenly, quit his post and left it immediately, as well.  He was also not deterred by the fact that, at that very time [1815] the armies closed in on the city, that the so-called "Völkerschlacht" [Battle of the Nations] was at hand, and that he, himself, suffered bouts of gout.  During the days of the battle and the hardships that immediately followed it, when everyone was completely occupied with having to take care of utter necessities, Leipzigers did not hear anything about him; however, after the first weeks, one of them looked him up. He found him in one of the worst rooms in one of the words inns, sitting on a wretched bed, scarcely protected against the cold, his feet turned in crookedly on account of his gout.  In front of him, he had a board with which he appeared to be preoccupied.  My God!, the Leipziger called out, what are you doing?  "I'm making cartoons!", H. said and laughed.  "Cartoons, depicting the wretched French!  I invent, draw and color them.  For each of them I get from . . . , the cheapskate, a ducat."  And, indeed, the mostly witty, delightful etched sheets that were published at that time, were by him. -- -- In good cheer, filled with the most delightful ideas, he talked about his fate during the last couple of weeks; it was a story that filled the listener's innermost with admiration and compassion, pain and delight, at the same time.  He [H.] was looked after as well as was possible and he let it happen without making a fuss, which was quite sensible.

From this his sickbed, torn apart by the pain of gout that he despised, he wrote to the Royal Prussian State Chancellor, Prince von Hardenberg, to Paris, to which the latter had followed the victorious army; and, in spite of the incredible amount of highly important and highly urgent business that this great man had to attend to, only after a few weeks, H. received a reply, support and the comforting news that, as soon as possible, something would be done to hire him on in changed circumstances.  Spring had arrived, it was beneficial to H's health, and there also appeared the fulfillment of the promise he had been made:  H. was called to Berlin as Councillor of the Supreme Court of Justice, and left for Berlin in a couple of days.--         

About the remainder of his life, we can be quite brief.  In the interim, he had already published the first two volumes of his "Phantasiestücke" that, for the most part, consisted of essays that had been published in the Musikalische Zeitung, previously; Jean Paul Friedrich Richter wrote a witty preface to it and with it, contributed to a swift distribution of the work; it found great applause: H's reputation as a writer, as well as his particular occupation as such, had thus been determined; thereby, his life became a public one; and therefore, we can assume that it is also known to our readers; and since, with respect to his works that are, more or less, concerned with music, also here, whenever something new was published, mention has been made, and since with respect to others that are not concerned with music, this is not the right place to talk about them, we do not have anything to add about them.--

With respect to his activity as a professional, we are not informed any more that others are, through the official press; he was respected and thoroughly occupied--for a time, he was also engaged by the Commission for the Investigation of secret, demagogic activities;--but he was also well rewarded.  This rich reward and the large payments that he received from the publishers of his works, but even more the reputation that they earned, since they, preferably, touched subjects that many wanted to see touched and in a manner that they also wanted to see them touched, and the request of the booksellers for novelties, many novelties, peculiar novelties--these things combined made such an impact on his highly sensitive nature that they provided, if not the reason, then at least the inducement for the proof that H. was much better able to suffer hard times than happiness, also in this case, so that he passed away already in his 47th year in Berlin, namely on the 25th of June.--

No-one will doubt the rich measure of intellect that H. was bestowed with by nature; but those who knew him will also not doubt that he was bestowed with a great energy of will, steadfastness and endurance that deserves respect.  In his execution and application of both of his wonderful gifts that nature had granted him, he was a man of his time, inasmuch as it prefers to strive for the utmost in the most varied directions.  This guided him, and to it he succumbed, it uplifted him, carried him and tore him apart.--



(I
n the background, you can see Hoffmann's pencil drawing, "Kreisler im Wahnsinn", 1822)