Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Ritter Gluck” was E. T. A. Hoffmann’s first tale and marked his emergence as one of German Romanticism’s most important and influential writers. For many years Hoffmann thought his true calling to be that of a composer or conductor. In 1809, when “Ritter Gluck” was published, he served as orchestral director in the small southern town of Bamberg, and it must have seemed only natural to him to submit his short tale to Germany’s leading musical journal, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. Hoffmann’s preoccupation with music is still quite obvious in the story, and literary critics have occasionally tried to dismiss it for that reason as little more than a barely disguised essay in musical criticism. However, in spite of several musical references that the uninitiated reader today will find difficult to understand or appreciate, “Ritter Gluck” is now widely recognized as one of the finest examples of Hoffmann’s literary genius, an amazingly concise prefiguration of several of his most obsessive themes.

The outward, historical circumstances of the modest plot are taken from Hoffmann’s stay in Berlin between 1807 and 1808 and, more specifically, center on a performance of Gluck’s opera Armida that Hoffmann attended and whose staging convinced him of the abominable tastes of Berlin’s musical circles. On this experience, Hoffmann built a story that proclaims the fundamental incompatibility between artistic...

(The entire section is 536 words.)