Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Music is not only a major theme of this novel but also a plot device, a motif, a meaning, a linguistic style, and practically a character. One could speak of the musical structure of the work as a whole, in which the harmony of the Murr episodes alternates with the dissonance of the Kreisler episodes—rather than assume that there is any logical connection between them. (The problem of how to tell a story is thus an implicit theme of the novel, which presents a tour de force of narrative possibilities.) The language of the novel is imbued with musical terminology. For example, Kreisler characterizes Prince Hector as “a damn [tritone] which must be resolved.” To understand the power of this vituperation, one must know that the tritone is the most dissonant interval in the twelve-note scale, often referred to as the “devil in music.” Music appears at every crucial point in the novel: Julia and Hedwiga first meet Kreisler on a walk through the park, when they perceive him singing a wild song; at a point of crisis, the two women again take a walk and hear a hymn which Kreisler had composed. They embrace and say to each other, “It was he.” In other words, Kreisler is his music, which means that his personality is indefinable.

Here, music stands for art in general. Hoffmann—who always believed that he would be remembered for his musical compositions rather than his writings—shared the Romantic perception of music as the highest art form because...

(The entire section is 515 words.)