Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (HAWF-mahn) is known as E. T. A. Hoffmann, because he changed the name “Wilhelm” to “Amadeus” as a tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the German composer. Hoffmann was born on January 24, 1776, in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). He came from a family of lawyers with a long tradition of service to the state, a calling that he also felt obliged to follow. His parents were separated when he was three years old, and he was cared for by a bachelor uncle, who was eccentric and demanding but a great lover of music. Hoffmann’s thorough education in instrumental music and theory may have been the only positive aspect of his lonely childhood.
Hoffmann displayed virtuoso talents. He wrote music throughout his career and was middle-aged before he abandoned the notion that he would be remembered by posterity as a composer. Hoffmann was also a gifted artist and an inspired caricaturist, an ability that had a negative effect on his career. Yet his irrepressible humor and dualistic personality contributed to his genius. Hoffmann displayed a lifelong tendency toward excess in his lifestyle and in the consumption of alcohol, factors that help to explain his early death at the age of forty-six.
From 1792 to 1795, Hoffmann attended the university in Königsberg as a law student. He passed difficult examinations, making him eligible for service as a high-ranking legal official in the Prussian government. His life, like that of the writer Franz Kafka a century later, was compartmentalized into pursuit of the traditional legal career during business hours and devotion to his artistic talents during his off-hours. Hoffmann also gave private music lessons and fell in love with one of his pupils, Cora Hatt, who was married.
From 1797 to 1807, Hoffmann held positions in Prussian courts of law in Posen, Plozk, and Warsaw. He was sent to the remote hamlet of Plozk because of an indiscretion involving his caricature portrait of one of the leading military personalities in Posen, who was not amused by the likeness. In 1802, Hoffmann married Michalina...
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