Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (originally: Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann).
German author. Born January 24, 1776 in Königsberg. Died June 25, 1822.
E.T.A. Hoffmann studied law in his native city of Königsberg, and became a civil servant for the Prussian administration of the Prussian-occupied part of Poland. It was during his tenure there that he resolved the administrative problem of keeping census of the Jewish population (which used a patronymic naming convention), by inventing frequently fantastic family names (such as Goldfarb, Rubin, Kleinfuss, etc.).
After the Prussian defeat by Napoleon in 1806, Hoffmann was dismissed. As a prominent connoiseur of music and composer (he had changed his third name, Wilhelm, to Amadeus, in honour of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), he made a living in the following years as a scenographer and conductor at the theatre in Bamberg. From 1812 to 1814, he was Kapellmeister at theatres in Leipzig and Dresden. From 1814 until his death in 1822, he was an employee of the privy court at Berlin. It was here that he composed his opera Undine (1816) as well as most of his poetry and fantastic tales.
Hoffmann is the central figure in the "dark" half of the Romantic movement, writing horror stories telling of family curses, revenants, macabre crimes, etc. However, his tales also demonstrate a playful element of a comical and satirical nature.
Hoffmann's début as an author, Ritter Gluck (1809) shows evidence of this double-sided style. In the midst of a comical depiction of contemporary Berlin, the long-dead composer Christoph Willibald Gluck appears, doomed to roam the world as a revenant because he has "revealed the sacred to the profane" with his music.
The theme of music as revelation and curse also appears in Kreisleriana about the ingenious Kapellmeister Kreisler. Both these stories became part of the cycle of short stories, Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier (1814-1815), the most famous part of which is the fairy tale Der goldne Topf. In this "modern" fairy tale, the student Anselmus is drawn into a fantastic spirit-world which finally consumes him. The story leaves open the question of whether Anselmus is going insane or undergoing a true mystic experience.
Hoffmann's following cycle of short stories, Nachtstücke (1816-1817) also deals with the subjects of insanity, the occult, and insight into underlying truths about reality. Sigmund Freud analysed one of the short stories from this collection, Der Sandmann, in his monograph Der Unheimliche (1919).
The novel Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815/1816) unfolds another aspect of the subconscious. The protagonist, a monk called Medardus, is compelled to obsessively repeat his ancestors' crimes.
Hoffmann's final cycle of short stories, Die Serapionsbrüder (1819-1821) contains the ambiguous fairy tale Nußknacker und Mausekönig and the mystery short Die Fräulein von Scuderi.
The final works of Hoffmann, the novel Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr (1819-1821) and the short story Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober (1819), show the satirical elements of Hoffmann's writing at their clearest.
The influence of Hoffmann on European literature and music was enormous. Hans Christian Andersen, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Dickens were inspired by Hoffmann. Robert Schumann set Kreisleriana to music (1838); Jacques Offenbach created the opera Les Contes d'Hoffmann (1881); and Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky composed the ballet The Nutcracker (1892).