Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

Portrait of E T A Hoffmann

Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann was a German author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a jurist, composer, music critic and artist. He was born in Konigsberg, Germany on 24th January 1776 and died in Berlin, Germany on 25th June 1822 aged 46.

Major Works

“Die Elixiere des Teufels” (1815)
“Undine”, “Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (Nutcracker and Mouse King) (1816)
“Nachtstücke” (1817) 
“Seltsame Leiden eines Theater-Direktors” (1819)
“Little Zaches” (1819)
“Die Serapionsbrüder” (1819) 
 “Lebensansichten des Katers Murr” (The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr) (1821)
Meister Floh” (Master Flea) (1822)

Biography Timeline

Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann was born on 24th January 1776 in Konigsberg, Germany. (now Kaliningrad, Russia). His father Christoph Ludwig Hoffmann was a barrister as well as a poet and amateur musician. His mother was Lovisa Albertina Doerffer and Hoffman was the youngest of three children.

1778: His parents separate. His father goes to Insterburg (now Chernyakhovsk) with his oldest son, Johann Ludwig while Ernst’s mother stays in Königsberg with her aunts, Johanna Sophie and Charlotte Wilhelmine Doerffer and their brother who educate the young Hoffman.

1781: He attends the Lutheran school (Burgschule) where he studies the classics, drawing and musical counterpoint. He shows a talent for playing the piano.

1787: He becomes friends with Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel whose father was the friend of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. He also reads widely at school including works by Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Stern and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes part of his first novel “Der Geheimnisvolle”.

1792: He attends some of Kant’s lectures at the University with Hippel. 

1794: He falls in love with a married woman, Dora Hatt, whom he had given music lessons to. She is ten years older and pregnant with her sixth child. 

1795: Dora Hatt gives birth.

1796: In February Dora’s family protest about his attentions and ask one of his uncles to move him away. He finds him a job as a clerk in Glogau, Silesia where he lives. Hoffman visits Dresden where he is impressed by the paintings in the gallery.

1797: His father dies.

1798: His uncle is promoted to a court in Berlin and he moves there with his daughter Minna and Hoffman in August. Hoffman wants to be seen as a composer in the city and writes an operetta called “Die Maske” and even sends a copy to Queen Luise of Prussia who advises him to write to the director of the Royal Theatre. By the time the reply comes back he has passed his third round of legal examinations and left for Posen in South Prussia with Hippel. His mother dies.

1800: He becomes a Prussian Government official in Posen.

1802: His job is threatened when caricatures of military officers appear and it becomes obvious that it is Hoffman who has drawn them. Complaints are made but authorities in Berlin are reluctant to punish their bright young official so they promote him to Plock in East Prussia. He visits Plock but then returns to Posen to marry Marianna Thekla Michaelina Rorer (known as “Mischa”). The couple move to Płock in August but he is unhappy there and draws caricatures of himself drowning in mud with local villagers. The isolation, however, allows him to continue writing and composing

1803: He has an essay published in Kotzebue’s periodical, “Die Freimüthige” and enters a competition in the same magazine for playwright’s with “Der Preis” (The Prize). His entry is praised but none of the fourteen entrants are deemed worthy of the first prize. His uncle J. L. Hoffmann dies in Berlin and his Aunts Sophie and Dora Hatt die in Königsberg. He begins his diary on 1st October.

1804: Early in the year he accepts a post in Warsaw, a place where he was to be at his happiest. His neighbour Julius Eduard Itzig, a fellow lawyer, had once been a member of the Berlin literary group called the “Nordstern” and introduces Hoffman to the works of Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano and a host of others. 

1805: He writes his Mass in D minor.

1806: On 28th November Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops enter Warsaw and the Prussian authorities divide up the contents of the treasury between them and flee the city.

1807: In January his wife and Cäcilia, his daughter return to Posen. Hoffman himself is ill and cannot decide whether to go to Vienna or back to Berlin. The French authorities demand that all former officials swear allegiance to Napoleon or leave the country and as they refuse a passport for Vienna he sets off for Berlin where he arrives on 18th June. Berlin is also occupied by French troops and he finds it difficult to get work and has to rely on friends for money and food. He hears word that his two year old daughter has died. He writes “Six Canticles for a Cappella Choir” and an opera entitled “Liebe und Eifersucht” (Love and Jealousy) based on the story“La Banda y Flor” by Calderón de la Barca and translated by August Wilhelm Schlegel

1808: On 1st September he takes up the post of theatre manager in Bamberg and travels there with his wife but his efforts to improve performances mean he is ousted and the job given to Heinrich Cuno instead. Next he begins working as the music critic for the Leipzig newspaper “Allgemeinen Musikalischen”. He becomes an influential critic and his reviews of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony set a high standard for musical criticism which others then follow. Beethoven himself is particularly impressed. The Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler alter ego first appears in this newspaper. He writes the ballet score “Arlequin” (Harlequin).

1809: The publication of the novel “Ritter Gluck” enhances his reputation as a serious writer. It concerns a madman who believes he is the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. He begins using the pen name E. T. A. Hoffmann for the first time and states that the “A” stands for Amadeus, as in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

1810: He returns to the Bamberg Theatre as a stagehand, set decorator and playwright. He also gives private music lessons to make ends meet. He falls in love with Julia Marc, one of his singing students. Julia’s mother disapproves and finds her another match straight away. 

1813: Joseph Seconda offers Hoffmann the position of musical director for his opera company in Dresden and he leaves to take up the post on 21st April. Prussia had declared war on France in March and his journey there is difficult. When he arrives, he realises Seconda has moved on to Leipzig and he tries in vain to seek transport to the city as the bridges have been destroyed by the French. Finally, he manages to leave on 20th May but the coach is involved in an accident and kills one passenger and injures his wife. He arrives in Leipzig on 23rd and takes up work with the orchestra. The company then returns to Dresden however on 22nd August the cease fire in fighting ends and the Battle of Dresden begins. He is forced to move from their house in the suburbs in to the central area. After the main battle is over, he visits the battlefield and writes about it in “Vision auf dem Schlachtfeld bei Dresden”. On 11th November the company travels back to Leipzig. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat he returns to Berlin and takes up a post in the Chamber Court. Magazines and newspapers are now eagerly asking him for contributions. He publishes “Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier” which is a collection of previously published stories.

1815: He publishes the novel “Die Elixiere des Teufels” (The Devil’s Elixirs)

1816: He publishes one of his most famous stories “Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (Nutcracker and Mouse King), which is later used by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky for his ballet “The Nutcracker” in 1892. His opera “Undine” receives its premiere on 3rd August at the Konigliches Schauspielhaus in Berlin.

 1817: The short story “Der Sandmann” (The Sandman) is also used by Jacques Offenbach in his opera “Les Contes d’Hoffman” (The Tales of Hoffman) in 1881.

1819: Despite ill health he manages to write the novella “Das Fräulein von Scuderi. Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten“ (Mademoiselle de Scuderi. A Tale from the Times of Louis the Fourteenth) which is published in 1820 with great commercial success.

1821: He publishes the novel which many think a masterpiece, “Lebensansichten des Katers Murr” (The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr) which he began writing in 1819. Excessive alcohol consumption and syphilis, contracted in his youth, now take a toll on his strength.

1822: He is paralysed from the beginning of the year and dictates his last works to his wife or a secretary. When Hoffmann caricatures Kamptz, the King’s Commissioner against political dissidents, in his fairy tale “Meister Floh” (Master Flea) Kamptz begins legal proceedings against him which are only ended when it is realised Hoffman is terminally ill. “Meister Floh” is published again with the offending passages removed. 

Hoffmann died on 25th June 25 1822 of syphilis in Berlin, Germany. He is buried near the Hallesches Tor in the Protestant Friedhof, No 3 der Jerusalems- und Neuen Kirchengemeinde (Jerusalem and New Churches Community Cemetery) in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

Further Information

List of works by Hoffmann.