E.T. A. Hoffmann
Self portrait - undated

Should, whenever music is discussed as an independent art, not always be referred to instrumental music which, refusing the help of any other art (of poetry), expresses the unique essence of art that can only be recognized in it?--It is the most romantic of all arts, one would almost want to say, the only truly romantic one, for only the infinite is its source.-- Orpheus' lyre opened the gates of the underworld.  Music opens to man an unknown realm, a world that has nothing in common with the outer sensual world that surrounds him, a realm in which he leaves behind all of his feelings of certainty, in order to abandon himself to an unspeakable longing.

Did you poor composers of instrumental music who have labored to express certain feelings, nay, even occurrences, have even the faintest idea of its peculiar nature?--How could you even think of trying to treat this art that is the very opposite of plastic depiction, in a plastic manner? Your sunrises, your thunderstorms, your battles of three emperors and so on were certainly ridiculous errors and are deservedly punished by being entirely forgotten. 

In song--in which poetry hints at certain emotions with words, the magical force of music works like the wonderful elixir of the wise, of which a few drops make every drink taste more delicious and wonderful.  Every passion--love--hatred--anger--despair, etc., as opera presents it to us, cloaks music into the purple light of romanticism, and even that which we feel in real life leads us from life into the realm of the infinite.

The magic of music is so strong, and, growing ever more powerful, it had to break all constraints put on it by other forms of art.

It was certainly not only the improvement of the means of expression (perfection of the instruments, greater virtuosity of the players), but also the deeper, more profound realization of the essence of music that causes great composers to elevate it to its present height.  

Mozart und Haydn, the creators of contemporary instrumental music, showed this art in its full glory, for the first time; who looked at it with all of his love and penetrated to its innermost essence, is--Beethoven!--The instrumental compositions of all of these three masters breathe the same romantic spirit, which lies in the same inner grasp of the peculiar essence of this art; however, the character of their compositions differs noticeably.--The expression of a child-like, serene mind, governs Haydn's compositions.  His symphonies lead us  to endlessly green pastures, to a merry, colorful throng of happy people.  Dancing youths and maidens are floating by; laughing children, hiding behind trees and rose bushes, throw flowers at each other.  A life full of love, of bliss, like before original sin, in eternal youth; no suffering, no pain, only a sweet, melancholy longing for a figure that floats by in the distance, at dusk, and does not come nearer, does not vanish, and, as long as it is present, it does not turn into night, since it is the evening glow, itself, in which mountains and fields are steeped. --Mozart leads us into the realm of spirits, but, without pain, it is more of an anticipation of the infinite.

Love and melancholy sound in lovely spirit voices; night arrives in a purple glow, and with unspeakable longing,  we move towards them who wave at us to join their ranks and to fly with them through the clouds in their eternal  dance of the spheres.  (Mozart's Symphony in E-flat Major which is known by the name of swan song.)

Beethoven's instrumental music, too, opens to us the realm of the gigantic and unfathomable.  Glowing rays of light shoot through the dark night of this realm, and we see gigantic shadows swaying back and forth, encircling us closer and closer, destroying us, but not the pain of infinite longing in which every delight, rising up in joyful voices, sinks and drowns, and only in this pain, consuming love, hope, joy, but not destroying it and aiming at bursting our chests with its unison of all passions, do we live on and are we rapturous seers of the realm of spirits!

Romantic taste is rare, and even more rare is the romantic talent; this is probably why there are so few who can play the lyre whose sound opens up the wonderful realm of romanticism.  

Haydn sees the human in human life in a romantic fashion; his music is more commensurable, more comprehensible to the majority.  

Mozart evokes the super-human, the wonderful that dwells in the innermost of spirit.  Beethoven's music moves the levers of fear, of shudder, of horror, of pain and thus awakens that infinite longing that is the essence of romanticism.  Therefore, he is a purely romantic composer, and may it not be because of it, that to him, vocal music that does not allow for the character of infinite longing,--but, through words, achieves certain affects, as they are not present in the realm of the infinite--, is harder? 

Beethoven's mighty genius crushes the musical riff-raff; in turn, it wants to revolt against it, but in vain.--However, the wise judges, looking around in a dignified manner, reassure us that we can believe them, as men of great intellect, that the good B. is, not in the least, lacking a rich, lively fantasy, but that he is not able to constrain it!  To him, there would not even arise the concept of selection and formation of musical thought,  but rather, following the so-called genius method, he would write everything down as it would occur to his fiery fantasy.  What if your limited grasp would not recognize the deeper connection in every composition of Beethoven?  What if it is only you who can not understand the master's language that only the initiated can understand, that the door to the innermost sanctum remains closed to you? --In truth, the master, to be put right next to Haydn and Mozart in his musical thoughtfulness, separates his ego from the inner realm of sound and reigns over it as absolute ruler.  Aesthetic measurement artists have often complained about the lack of inner unity and connectedness in Shakespeare, since only he who looks deeper will see a seed growing into a beautiful tree, leaves, blossoms and fruits; in the same manner, only  deep immersion into  instrumental music, such as  Beethoven's, will result in a high degree of insight that is inseparable from true genius and that is nourished by the study of art.  What instrumental work of Beethoven confirms this to a higher degree than his magnificent and profound Symphony in c-Minor.   Irresistibly, this wonderful composition leads its listeners in an increasing climax towards the realm of the spirits and the infinite.     Nothing could be simpler than the first principal idea of the Allegro, consisting of only two bars that, to begin with as Unisono, does not even indicate the key to the listener.  The character of the fearful, restless longing that is contained in this movement, all the more clarifies the secondary theme!--The human heart, frightened and driven back into itself by premonitions of the unspeakable, threatening destruction, appears to be convulsing and expanding in its search for relief; soon, however, a friendly spirit appears to be emerging and brightening the dark, terrible night.  (The lovely  G-Major theme that has been touched by the horn in E-flat-Major, first).--How simple--let this be said, once more--is the theme that the master invented as the basis of the whole, but how wonderful are all secondary and side phrases arranged in their rhythmic relationship so that they only serve to gradually unfold the the character of the Allegro--which the main theme was only hinting at.   All phrases are short, almost all consisting of only two, three bars, and, at that, even distributed in a constant interchange between wind instruments and strings; one should think that, out of such elements, only something fragmented, unintelligible could emerge, but instead, it is this very arrangement of the whole as well as the constant repetition of the phrases and of single chords that intensifies the feeling of unspeakable longing to the highest degree. Irrespective of the fact that the contrapuntal treatment bears witness to a profound study of this art, these secondary or side phrases, these constant allusions to the main theme, demonstrate how our sublime master conceived and thought the whole through in his mind, with all those passionate traits.--Does not the lovely theme of the Andante con moto in A-flat Major sound like the wondrous voice of a spirit that fills our heart with hope and comfort?--However, even here, the terrible spirit that frightened our hearts in the Allegro, steps threateningly out of the storm cloud in which it had vanished, and the friendly spirits that surrounded us, flee from his bolts of lightning.--What shall I say of the Minuet?--Listen to the unique modulations, to the endings in the dominant Major chord--which the bass takes up as tonic of the following theme in minor--the ever-widening self, by a few bars!  Are you not, again, filled with that restless, unspeakable longing, that foreboding of the miraculous realm of spirits in which the master rules?   But what bright sunlight does the wonderful theme of the final movement spread in the jubilant rejoicing of the entire orchestra.--What wonderful contrapuntal weavings are streaming back into the whole.  The entire work may well pass by some like a genial rhapsody, but the mind and heart of every careful listener will certainly be deeply filled with a feeling that is this very unspeakable yearning and longing,  and until the final chord, nay even in the moments following these, he will not be able to emerge from this wonderful realm of spirits, where pain and delight surrounded him, cloaked in sound. --By their inner design, the movements, their execution, instrumentation, the manner in which everything is sequentially arranged, everything is aimed at one goal; however, it is predominantly the close relationship of the themes to each other that create that unity that alone is able to hold the listener under its spell.  Often, this relationship will become clear to the listener when he can recognize it by listening to the various movements or when he discovers the through-bass that is common to two different movements, often, however, a more profound relationship that does not reveal itself in this manner, only speaks to kindred spirits, and it is this very relationship between the two Allegro movements and the Minuet  that pronounces the master's thoughtful geniality in this wonderful manner.

Sublime master, what profound effect have not your wonderful piano compositions had on me; how shallow and unimportant now everything appears to me that does not come from you, from the inventive Mozart and the towering genius of Sebastian Bach.--With what delight did I receive his [Beethoven's] seventieth work, the two wonderful trios, since I knew very well that, after some practice, I would hear them beautifully.  And this is how wonderful I felt tonight, so that I can still not escape from the windings and turns of your trios, like someone who is walking in the mazes of a fantastic park that is adorned with many rare trees, plants and wonderful flowers.    The magic voices of your brilliantly colorful phrases draw me deeper and deeper towards them.--The intelligent lady who was playing the Trio No. 1 so wonderfully to me, Kapellmeister Kreisler, in my honor, and before whose piano I am still sitting and writing,   has really made me realize that only that which the mind brings forth is worthy of being cherished and that everything else is evil. Just now, I have repeated a few surprising turns in both trios at the piano.--It is true, the piano (piano-forte) remains an instrument that is better suited to harmony than to melody.  The finest expression that the instrument is capable of does not give life to melody in its thousands and thousands of nuances that the violinist's bow, the wind instrument, can produce.  In vain, the pianist  wrestles with the resistance created by the mechanism that makes the strings reverberate.  However, there is hardly an instrument (except, perhaps, the more limited harp) that is able to span the realm of harmony like the piano with its full chords and to unfold its treasures to the connoisseur in the most wonderful forms and shapes.  The master's fantasy having been fired up by an entire tone-painting with richly adorned groups, bright lights and deep shadows, he was able to bring it to life at the piano, so that it emerged colorfully and brilliantly from the inner world.   The complete score with all parts, this veritable musical book of magic, that contains in its notes all miracles of the art of music, the mysterious chorus of manifold instruments, comes to life under the hands of the master at the piano, and, if well-performed, can be compared with an excellent etching prepared from a great painting.   Thus, for improvisation, for rendition of music from a score, for sonatas, chords, etc., the piano is extremely well suited,  as much as also trios, quartets, quintets, and so forth, where the usual string instruments provide the accompaniment, belong into the realm of piano compositions already for the reason that, if they truly consist of four or five parts, the harmonic execution is most important, which excludes the emerging of solo instruments, as a matter of course.

I really do not like all actual piano concertos.  (Mozart's and Beethoven's concertos are rather symphonies with obligatory piano than concertos.) Here, the virtuosity of the pianist is supposed to be showcased in particular passages; however, even the best pianist who is playing on the most beautiful instrument will fail to bring forth what the violinist can easily do.

After the tutti of the strings and wind instruments, every solo sounds stiff and dull, and one admires the pianist's manual dexterity without seeing one's emotions addressed.

How well has not the master understood the peculiar nature of this instrument and taken care of it in the most suitable manner!

A simple, yet fertile and cantabile theme, suitable for various contrapuntal turns, abbreviations, etc., is the basis of each movement, all other side themes and figures are closely related to the main thought, so that everything is arranged to the highest unity of all instruments.  Thus presents itself the structure of the whole; however, in the artistic construction, the most wonderful images pass by in restless flight, in which joy and pain, melancholy and bliss emerge next to each other and intertwined. Wondrous creatures begin an airy dance while flowing towards the light, moving away from each other, glowing here and glittering thee and chasing each other in manifold groups; and in the midst of this unlocked realm of the spirits,  the delighted soul is listening to the unknown language and understaning the most secret longings which have taken hold of it.

Only that composer truly penetrates into the secrets of harmony who is able to have an effect on human emotions through them; to him, relationships of numbers, which, to the Grammarian, must remain dead and stiff mathematical examples without genius, are magic potions from which he lets a miraculous world emerge.

Regardless of the cozy feeling that is prevalent in the first trio, even the plaintive largo not excepted, Beethoven's genius remains serious and solemn.  It is as if the master meant that, in mysterious matters, even if the mind is very familiar with them and feels joyfully elevated by them, one can not speak in a common, but only in a serious, solemn manner; the dance of the priests of Isis can only be a hymn of praise.

Instrumental music, wherever it wants to only work through itself and not perhaps for a certain dramatic purpose, has to avoid all unimportant punning, all dallying.    It seeks out the deep mind for premonitions of joy that, more beautiful and wonderful than those of this limited world, have come to us from an unknown country, and spark an inner, wonderful flame in our chests, a higher expression than mere words--that are only of this earth--can spark.  This seriousness of Beethoven's instrumental and piano music alone already forbids the break-neck-jumps, the dainty Cappricios, those fancy five-and six-level virtuoso structures which fill newer piano compositions. - When it comes to mere dexterity, the piano compositions of the master do not offer any special difficulties, since the few virtuosic figures can be handled by any skilled pianist; and yet, their performance is justifiably difficult.  Many a so-called piano virtuoso discards the master's piano composition while calling it 'very difficult!' and 'very unrewarding!'--As far as the difficulty is concerned,  a good and relaxed performance of Beethoven's piano works  consists of no less than understanding him, penetrating his nature deeply, so that one can boldly dare, relying on one's own preparedness, to enter the realm of his magical creations that his works conjure up.  Who does not feel this calling in himself, who considers this sacred music only as a game, as a means of whiling away idle hours, as a momentary stimulation of dull ears or as a means of one's own proliferation, should stay away from it.   Only he can rightfully exclaim, "and extremely unrewarding!"  The real artist lives only in that work that he has understood in the manner in which the composer has composed it and that he now performs. He foregoes any reference to himself and all of his striving aims at brilliantly bringing to life with a thousand colors all those wonderful, sublime images and appearances that the master locked up in his work with magical force,  so that they can surround man with their light, sparkling circles and ignite his fantasy, his innermost and carry him in hasty flight into the realm of sound.

(Source: Musikalische Novellen und Aufsätze von E.T.A. Hoffmann
[Insel-Bücherei, Leipzig])

(Translation copyright: Ingrid Schwaegermann, 2001)