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This list of composers is continuously updated and does not claim to be complete.

E. T. A. Hoffmann (24.01.1776–25.06.1822)

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann was a lawyer, writer, musician and artist. In 1813/14 he was music director and Kapellmeister (conductor, bandmaster) of the Secondaschen Operngesellschaft (Seconda’s Opera Society) as well as a freelance artist.

  1. Biography
  2. Private Life
  3. Connection to Leipzig
  4. Reception
  5. Works
  6. Sources and Links

1. Biography

E. T. A. Hoffmann (actually Ernst Theodor Wilhelm; he changed his third given name in 1805 out of admiration for Mozart) was born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Oblast Kaliningrad, Russia) on January 24th, 1776 as the youngest son of the royal court advocate Christoph Ludwig Hoffmann and his cousin Lovisa Albertina Doerffer.

From 1782 Hoffmann attended the reformed castle school in Königsberg and received lessons in drawing and music.

In 1792 he began studying law at the Albertus University in Königsberg. In 1795 he successfully passed the first juridical state examination, followed by positions at courts in Königsberg and Glogau (now Głogów, Poland). Additionally, he played music and drew, and also took lessons from the organist and Bach admirer Christian Podbielski. In 1798, after his second state examination, Hoffmann went to the Chamber Court in Berlin. There he continued his musical education with the composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt.

In 1800 he went to Posen (now Poznań, Poland) as an assessor. Here a musical work by Hoffmann was performed in public for the first time, a cantata celebrating the new century; performances of his music for Goethe's Singspiel “Scherz, List und Rache” (“Jest, Ruse and Revenge”) followed. In 1802 Hoffmann was punitively transferred to Płock for the public dissemination of caricatures about Posen society. In 1804 he was allowed to transfer to Warsaw, where he was also able to conduct his own works thanks to his involvement with the Musical Society. In 1806, the French occupied Warsaw during the Napoleonic Wars and presented all Prussian officials with the alternative of taking the oath of allegiance to Napoleon or leaving the city. Hoffmann decided to leave for Berlin and tried to gain a foothold as an artist there but failed. Financially, the family did badly.

In 1808 he went to Bamberg as Kapellmeister (music director, conductor) of the court theatre, but lost the position again after a short time. He remained in the city and tried his hand as a freelance artist, above all as a writer, among other things with the story “Ritter Gluck” (“Knight Gluck”). This was published in 1809 in the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (Leipzig General Musical Newspaper). Its editor Johann Friedrich Rochlitz offered Hoffmann the opportunity to write music reviews for the paper. Beethoven's music was particularly important to Hoffmann, who thanked Hoffmann by letter in 1820 for supporting his works in his music criticism . In his reviews, Hoffmann developed his literary alter ego, the figure of the Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler; later he incorporated two of the Beethoven reviews into the story “Kreisleriana”. From 1810 Hoffmann was again employed at the Bamberg theatre as a directorial assistant with artistic duties. For financial reasons, he also gave music lessons in Bamberg.

In 1812 Hoffmann followed a call from the Leipzig Opera director Joseph Seconda to join his opera company as music director, which performed in Leipzig's Comödienhaus (comedy house) on the Ranstädter Bastei (bastion) and also in Dresden, where Hoffmann also lived for some time. Here, in the autumn of 1813, the troupe also escaped the fighting of the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig but experienced its severe effects. At the beginning of 1814, after repeated disputes with Seconda, Hoffmann was dismissed. Under difficult conditions, he then lived in war-damaged Leipzig from music criticism and the sale of caricatures.

His friend Theodor Gottlieb Hippel, a Prussian statesman, helped him to return to the Prussian civil service. Hoffmann left Leipzig in September 1814. His appointment as a counsel of the Chamber Court in Berlin secured him an annual salary of 1,000 Reichstalers from 1816 and finally a solid livelihood again. His existence as a freelance artist was over, but not his being an artist. His romantic opera “Undine”, which he had begun in Bamberg and completed in Leipzig in 1814, was successfully premiered in the same year at the National Theatre in Berlin. With his collection of stories “Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier” (“Fantasy pieces in Callot’s Manner”, 1814/15), he gained a reputation as a writer, and other successful collections of stories and novels followed, creating an extensive literary œuvre. Hoffmann socialised in Berlin with Tieck, Chamisso, Eichendorff, de la Motte Fouqué, Alexander von Humboldt and other important personalities of the time. However, he incurred the displeasure of the Berlin police director, disagreeing with him on the assessment of defendants. In the novel “Meister Floh” (“Master Flea”, published in 1822), Hoffmann caricatured the police director, the work was subsequently censored and he was subjected to disciplinary proceedings.

In 1822 Hoffmann, who had been ailing for a long time, suffered from progressive paralysis and was confined to an armchair. He died on June 25th, at the age of 46. E.T.A. Hoffmann's grave is in the cemetery of the Jerusalems- und Neue Kirchengemeinde (Jerusalem and New Church Congregation) in front of Hallesches Tor in Berlin-Kreuzberg.


2. Private Life

Hoffmann had a difficult relationship with his parents – his father drank, his mother was mentally unstable. Two years after his birth, they separated and he came to live in his grandmother's house, where he was brought up by his strict uncle Otto Doerffer, who also provided for his artistic education.

In 1798 Hoffmann became engaged to his cousin Minna Doerffer. During his time in Posen, he met the Polish woman Michaelina Rorer-Trzcinska, called Mischa. After he broke off the engagement with Minna, who remained in Berlin, they married in 1802. The couple's only child, daughter Caecilia, born in 1805, died in Posen in 1807.

Hoffmann had numerous affairs throughout his life, the most famous being during his Bamberg years, when he fell in love with his much younger singing pupil Julia Mark in 1811, provoking a violent scandal and contributing to her departure from Bamberg.

Hoffmann was very fond of alcohol, preferring rum and punch, and he called his forays into the pubs "Schlampampen" (informal for gourmandising, feasting). His everyday life in his last years in Berlin took place between the Chamber Court and the Lutter & Wegner wine bar.


3. Connection to Leipzig

Hoffmann arrived in Leipzig in May 1813, staying at the "Golden Heart". He wrote to his friend and municipal coroner Friedrich Speyer: "There cannot be a greater antipolarity in scientific and artistic terms than Bamberg and Leipzig. Yes, I would like to say: if there is too little of a good thing in Bamberg, there is almost too much of a good thing in Leipzig. But this much is certain, that one can move happily and freely like a fish in water, in the right element..."

In Leipzig he was not only Kapellmeister of the Opera for some time, but also wrote his fairy tale “Der goldene Topf” (“The Golden Pot”) and the novel “Elixiere des Teufels” (“Elixirs of the Devil”), both of which would later contribute to his literary fame. In 1814, Hoffmann's musical fantasy “Teutschlands Triumph in der Schlacht bei Leipzig” (“Germany’s Triumph in the Battle near Leipzig”) was published in Leipzig under the pseudonym Arnulph Vollweiler, and is considered lost.

Hoffmann was also a frequent guest in Leipzig at the relevant venues; of his favourite coffee houses, one can still find the Coffe Baum in Kleine Fleischergasse. Here he met other artists and local celebrities, including the father and uncle of Richard Wagner, who was born in Leipzig on May 22nd, 1813.

4. Reception

Hoffmann's stories, especially from the collection “Serapionsbrüder” (“Serapion Brothers” after his circle of friends in Berlin, 1819/21), have often inspired composers to write their own works.

Robert Schumann published his piano cycle “Kreisleriana” in 1838, so named after the literary figure of Kapellmeister Kreisler created by E.T.A. Hoffmann, in whom Schumann saw the embodiment of Romantic artistry. In eight fantasy pieces, Schumann portrays himself as Kreisler; he considered the cycle to be the best of his piano compositions.

Léo Delibes composed the ballet Coppélia (première 1840) based on the story “Der Sandmann” (“The Sandman”) from the collection “Nachtstücke” (“Night Pieces”, 1816/17).

Richard Wagner drew inspiration from “Serapionsbrüder” in his operas “Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg” (“Tannhäuser and the Singers’ War at Wartburg Castle”, first performed in 1845) and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (“The Master Singers of Nuremberg”, first performed in 1868). “Der fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”, premiere 1843) probably also owes its mystical character to Hoffmann's works.

Michel Carré and Paul-Jules Barbier made the poet, whose works had great success in France, the main character of their play “Les contes d'Hoffmann” (1851). They transformed three of his stories – “Der Sandmann”, “Rat Krespel” (“Counsellor Krespel”) and “Die Abenteuer der Sylvester-Nacht” (“The Adventures of Sylvester Night”) – so that Hoffmann becomes the main character in each, adding details from other stories and his biography. Jacques Offenbach was enthralled by the play and created the opera for it, “Les contes d’Hoffmann” (“The Tales of Hoffmann”, premiere 1881).

Peter Tchaikovsky used Hoffmann's “Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”) from “Serapionsbrüder” as a model for his ballet “The Nutcracker” (premiere 1892).

Ferruccio Busoni's opera “Die Brautwahl” (“The Bridal Choice”, premiere 1905) is based on the story of the same name from “Serapionsbrüder”.

Paul Hindemith's opera “Cardillac” (premiere 1926) and Manfred Knaak's musical “Das Collier des Todes” (“The Necklace of Death”, premiere 2007) are based on the story “Das Fräulein von Scuderi” (“The Damsel of Scuderi”) from “Serapionsbrüder”.


5. Works

(Restricted to his compositions)

Hoffmann's estate was auctioned off in the year of his death, and much was lost. Part of the compositional estate is in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin National Library) and the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg. Of his compositions, which show an astonishing variety – singspiels, operas, incidental music, ballets, vocal and instrumental works – 85 are known, of which less than half have survived:

Stage Works

Die Maske (“The Mask”, libretto: E. T. A. Hoffmann), singspiel (1799)

Die lustigen Musikanten (“The Merry Musicians”, libretto: Clemens Brentano), singspiel (1804)

Stage music for Zacharias Werner’s tragedy “Das Kreuz an der Ostsee” (“The Cross at the Baltic Sea”, 1805)

Liebe und Eifersucht (“Love and Jealousy”, Calderón/August Wilhelm Schlegel; 1807)

Arlequin, ballet music (1808)

Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit (“The Potion of Immortality”, libretto: Julius von Soden), romantic opera (1808, premiere 2012)

Wiedersehn! (“See you again!”, libretto: E. T. A. Hoffmann), prologue (1809)

Dirna (libretto: Julius von Soden), melodrama (1809)

Stage music for Julius von Soden’s drama Julius Sabinus (1810)

Saul, König von Israel (“Saul, King of Israel”, libretto: Joseph von Seyfried), melodrama (1811)

Aurora (libretto: Franz Ignaz von Holbein), heroic opera (1812)

Undine (libretto: Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué), fantastical opera (1816)

Instrumental Music

Rondo for piano (1794/1795)

Ouvertura. Musica per la chiesa in D minor (1801)

5 piano sonatas: in A major, F minor, F major, F minor, C sharp minor (1805–1808)

Symphony in E flat major (1806)

Harp quintet in C major (1807)

Grand Trio in E major (1809) for violin, violoncello and piano

Vocal Music

Mass in D minor (1805)

Trois Canzonettes à 2 et à 3 voix (Three Canzonettas for 2 and 3 voices) (1807)

6 Canzoni per 4 voci a cappella (6 Songs for 4 voices a cappella) (1808)

Miserere in B flat minor (1809)

In des Irtisch weiße Fluten (“In the White Tide of the Irtysh”, lied, 1811)

Recitativo ed Aria (Recitative and Aria) Prendi l’acciar ti rendo (1812)

Tre Canzonette italiane (Three Italian Canzonettas) (1812)

6 Duettini italiani (6 Little Italain Duets) (1812)

Nachtgesang (“Night Song”), Türkische Musik (“Turkish Music”), Jägerlied (“Hunter’s Song”), Katzburschenlied (“Tomcat’s Song”) for male-voice choir (1819–1821)

Audio Samples

Piano Sonata in A major  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF04bCnNndA

Harp Quintet in C minor  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF04bCnNndA

Symphony in E flat major  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V77ztPIidbE


6. Sources and Links

Braun, Peter: E.T.A. Hoffmann. Biografie, Artemis & Winkler 2004.

Allroggen, Gerhard: E.T.A. Hoffmanns Kompositionen. Ein chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis seiner musikalischen Werke mit einer Einführung, Bosse 1970.

The E.T.A. Hoffmann-Gesellschaft e. V. (E.T.A Hoffmann Society) based in Bamberg is devoted to Hoffmann’s life and work and also oversees the Bamberg E.T.A. Hoffmann House: https://etahg.de/e-t-a-hoffmann-en/

The National Library in Berlin offers an E.T.A. Hoffmann portal: https://etahoffmann.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ (German only)

Hoffmann in the Gutenberg Project: https://www.projekt-gutenberg.org/autoren/namen/etahoff.html (German only)


Self-portrait by E.T.A. Hoffmann

From Walter Daugsch, Lorenz Grimoni: Museum Stadt Königsberg in Duisburg. Leer 1998, ISBN 3-7921-0472-5, S. 123., public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ETA_Hoffmann.jpg