ERNST THEODOR AMADEUS HOFFMAN,
aka Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman
Lawyer by profession, musician
by preference, painter by avocation, litterateur by default.
Hoffman was the child of a badly broken home. When neither his
father nor mother was willing or able to care for their child,
he was taken in by an uncle and sent to study for the law. He
became a part of the Prussian
bureaucracy which ruled parts of Poland. Napoleon's conquest
of this area following the battle of Jena (1806) not only ended
the Holy Roman Empire, it
placed Hoffman at loose ends and free, therefore, to pursue his
music, in which he took great delight, composing many pieces
in a Schubertian sort of
style. He even composed for the ballet, writing a score for Harlequin
He held various musical positions in Bamberg and Dresden. Around
1813, he changed his third name "Wilhelm" to "Amadeus"
out of respect for Mozart. As with many precipitate actions,
this name change had an unusual effect -- Hoffman now had two
names that meant the same thing. "Theodor" and "Amadeus"
both mean "lover of god."
His writing career came about as
a sideline that mushroomed and consumed his available artistic
life until his death in 1822. Hoffman wrote in the Gothic
style which blossomed out of the Romantic movement. He was a
sort of a Stephen King for the eighteen-teens. However, unlike
King, Hoffman's stories lean toward the extremely sinister and
frightening, while displaying a cynicism and pessimism which
make them unpalatable to many readers. Two of his stories have
served as the bases for great ballets: "The Nutcracker and
the Mouse-King" for The Nutcracker, and "The
Sandman" for Coppelia. In both cases, the stories
were filtered through intermediary retellings in order to make
them acceptable for ballet audiences of their day, who did not
wish to be confronted with ugly and depressing librettos.