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Book Review

Volume 14 • Number 2

Fall 2007

 

Music: The Most Romantic of All Arts

 

by Dennis F. Mahoney

Abigail Chantler. E. T. A. Hoffmann's Musical Aesthetics. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. xii, 202 pp.

In the opening paragraph of "Beethovens Instrumentalmusik" in Part I of E. T. A. Hoffmann's Kreisleriana (1814), the composer Johannes Kreisler calls instrumental music "die romantischte aller Künste, beinahe möchte man sagen, allein echt romantisch, denn nur das Unendliche ist ihr Vorwurf " (the most romantic of all arts, one might almost say the only one that is genuinely romantic, since its only subject matter is infinity). Hoffmann's unsigned, pathbreaking review of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, published in the 4 and 11 July 1810 issues of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, made a similar claim, although there Hoffmann did not yet link instrumental music with that other key concept of German Romanticism—inexpressible longing (Sehnsucht) for the eternal. David Charlton's edition of Hoffmann's musical writings has helped provide English-language readers with a frame of reference for both the compositions of Beethoven and those of the many lesser-known contemporaries treated in Hoffmann's essays, newspaper articles, and more narrowly defined literary works. Making copious use of quotes and commentary from this edition, Abigail Chantler now aims to situate Hoffmann within the literary, philosophical, musicological, and sociopolitical context of his day. Chantler's endeavor is ambitious, particularly given the relatively compact dimensions of her monograph, and Romantic artists like Hoffmann would have applauded her all-encompassing aims. If, in this reviewer's judgment, not all areas are equally well addressed, this does not negate the considerable virtues of her well-researched monograph, whose footnotes and critical commentary also bear careful study.

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