BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, June 25, 1822

Today, E.T.A. Hoffmann, one of Beethoven’s most prominent critical supporters, dies in Berlin of liver disease, spinal marrow degeneration and paralysis, perhaps related to syphilis, at age 46. He had been a writer for the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, and his articles on the Fifth Symphony, the Coriolan Overture, the Mass in C, the incidental music to Egmont, and other Beethoven works were perceptive and regarded well by Beethoven himself.

Beethoven would probably also approve of Hoffmann’s views regarding Rossini in an 1821 article written shortly before his final illness:

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s self-portrait, probably 1810-1820. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Inventory no. A II 920.

“One can hardly understand how it could have happened, that in the country that gave birth to the greatest composers, whose immortal works should still dazzle the world, all authenticity in art could so completely disappear! Rossini, admittedly a frivolous composer and therefore not worthy of true art, has actually stood the principle on its head; accordingly, in an opera, which should be a drama, what matters is neither character, nor situation, nor any other requirement of the drama; accordingly, the words, regardless of rhythm and declamation, serve only as an incidental vehicle for strings of notes, forming successions of flourishes that titillate the ear, or justified merely by fashionable taste or by the particular idiosyncrasies of some adulated prima donna. It is also curious that Rossini, and with him the latest Italian composers too, with crass stupidity trample underfoot that flowing vocal style which was previously regarded in Italy as an indispensable prerequisite of any composition. One need only think of the grotesque leaps and roulades of Rossini and his ilk, of the clumsy violin figures, and of the odious trills that often take the place of melody and then incite female singers to a surfeit of gurgling.”

David Charlton, ed. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Musical Writings, Cambridge Univ. Press 2003, p.441.