Hugo Von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929)

  • Hans Reiss


Hugo von Hofmannsthal is probably best known to the world at large as the librettist of Der Rosenkavalier (1909), in which the brilliance and power of Richard Strauss’s music is so felicitously matched to an enchanting text. Indeed, few twentieth-century dramatic works have been so widely acclaimed as that delightful, bewitching masterpiece; and, of course, for opera lovers, Hofmannsthal exists as Strauss’s librettist since their fruitful cooperation extended over more than two decades until Hofmannsthal’s untimely death at the age of fifty-five. During that period they produced together a number of well-known operas, including Ariadne auf Naxos (1911), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1913) and Arabella (1929). But Hofmannsthal was also a poet of the first rank. He sprang to fame when he published his first verse under the pseudonym of Loris. This early poetry seemed to reveal a rare maturity. The Austrian writer Hermann Bahr tells the story (doubtless duly stylised) that he expected a man in his fifties when he arranged to meet ‘Loris’ for the first time and, much to his surprise, he encountered a schoolboy of just seventeen. Stefan George believed the young Hofmannsthal to be his peer as a lyrical poet and hoped to revolutionise German poetry in league with him. However, his overtures frightened Hofmannsthal. They appeared too impassioned, tempestuous and imperious, demanding too much.


Aesthetic Experience German Culture Lyric Poet Fruitful Cooperation Austrian Tradition 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. Ludwig Rohner, Der Deutsche Essay. Materialien und Asthetik einer literarischen Gattung Neuwied and Berlin, 1967, a comprehensive study of the literary genre, in which this point is made convincingly.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This view is confirmed by the observation made by Leopold von Andrian, one of his closest friends of his youth, who states that his fine intellect lacked the fullest of systematic thought (‘Erinnerungen an meinen Freund Hugo von Hofmannsthal’, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Der Dichter im Spiegel der Freunde ed. Helmut A. Fiechner, Berne, 1963, p. 8o), a remark quoted with approval by Marcel Reich-Ranicki, ‘Hofmannsthal in seinen Briefen’, Neue Rundschau LXXXV, 1974, p. 146.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. Mary E. Gilbert, Introduction to Hofmannsthal’s Selected Essays Oxford, 1955, p. XVII ff.; ‘Essays 1900–1908’Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Cf. Mary E. Gilbert,‘A poet in transition’, Hofmannsthal:Studies in Commemoration (ed. F. Norman), London, 1963, pp. 30ff., who makes this point in both studies.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. Carl J. Burckhardt, Erinnerungen an Hofmannsthal Munich, 1964 (first published Neue Rundschau LXV1954), who attests to this experience (pp. 7f.)Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Richard Strauss-Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Briefwechsel ed. Willi Schuh, 3rd ed., Zurich, 1964.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Cf. Walter Jens, Hugo von Hofmannsthal und die Griechen Tübingen, 1955, who draws this conclusion.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 10.
    Cf. H. Jürgen Meyer-Wendt, Der frühe Hofmannsthal und die Gedankenwelt Nietzsches Heidelberg, 1973, who discusses Nietzsche’s impact on Hofmannsthal fully; cf. particularly p. 14.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    The significance of Hofmannsthal’s mixed heritage is emphasised by Hermann Broch in his stimulating essay: ‘Hugo von Hofmannsthal und seine Zeit’ (1951) Gesammelte Werke; Essays 1 Zurich, 1953, pp. 106–10.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    For a discussion of this important matter cf. Karl Pestalozzi, Sprachskepsis und Sprachmagie im Werk des jungen Hofmannsthal, Zürich, 1958;Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    cf. also Richard Brinkmann, ‘Hugo von Hofmannsthal und die Sprache’, Dt. Vjs, xxxv, 1961;Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    cf. Rolf Tarot, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Daseinsformen und dichterische Struktur Tübingen, 1970, an important book to which I am much indebted;Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lothar Wittmann, Sprachthematik und dramatische Form im Werke Hofmannsthals Stuttgart/Berlin/Cologne/Mayence, 1966, particularly pp. 60–6.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    For a discussion of Hofmannsthal’s debt to Bacon cf. H. Stefan Schultz ‘Hofmannsthal and Bacon. The Sources of the Chandos Letter’, Comparative Literature XIII, 1961. Hofmannsthal’s emotional disturbance is compared by Franz Kuna, ‘The Expense of Silence. Sincerity and Strategy in Hofmannsthal’s Chandos Letters’, PEGS xi., 1970, pp. 76–85, with a similar experience of Hume’s who after all maintained that it was impossible to vindicate induction philosophically.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Cf. Karl R. Popper, ‘Conjectural Knowledge’, Objective Knowledge. An Evolutionary Approach Oxford, 1972, who argues that the whole problem of induction is a pseudo-problem capable of a logical solution.Google Scholar
  16. 26.
    These experiences are well analysed by David H. Miles, Hofmannsthal’s Novel Andreas, Memory and Self Princeton, N.J., 1972, pp. 50–9, who includes the Chandos letter as another example of an ‘epiphany’. He also draws intention to Theodore Ziolkowski’s seminal study Dimensions of the Modern Novel Princeton, 1969, who discusses the general significance of these monuments for European literature: ‘The great monuments of modern literature are instants of a sudden, intense, almost blindingly vivid perception: what Virginia Woolf in The Waves called “rings of light”, wherever we look, we are confronted with these moments of revelation. Joyce called them epiphanies, and his works are in one sense a catalogue of these moments of Thomist claritas… (p. 212).Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    This aspect is well discussed by Brian Coghlan, Hofmannsthal’s Festival Dramas Cambridge and Melbourne, 1964, who examines ‘three historical studies’, pp. 83–113—Grillparzers politisches Vermächtnis [Grillparzer’s Political Legacy] (1915), Prinz Eugen (1914) and Maria Theresa (1917) — and three cultural-political studies (pp. 114–49) — Oesterreichische Bibliothek [Austrian Library] (1915), Oesterreich im Spiegel seiner Dichtung [Austria in the Mirror of its Literature] (1916), Die oesterreichische Idee [the Austrian Idea] (1917);Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Cf. Claude David ‘Hofmannsthal und die Deutschen’, Hofmannsthal-Forschungen iti, Referate und Diskussionen der dritten Tagung der Hofmannsthal-Gesellschaft (1974), pp. 102–14, in which this view is developed.Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    Cf. the Introduction by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby (eds) to their Schiller: In a Series of Letters, On the Aesthetic Education of Man Oxford,1966, for a profound account of Schiller’s analysis of culture and society. H-Pr., Iv, p. 594. The reference is of course to Nietzsche.Google Scholar
  20. 43.
    Cf. Richard Alewyn, ‘Der Tod des Aestheten’, Über Hugo von Hofmannsthal Göttingen, 1963, pp. 14–77, a sensitive study which, like all ofAlewyn’s work on Hofmannsthal, is seminal. The Nietzschean influence in Hofmannsthal’s conception of life is analysed by Meyer-Wendt (cf. for instance p. 41). (Cf. note 10.)Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    This play has been frequently analysed. Cf. for instance Emil Staiger, ‘Hofmannsthal, Der Schwierige’, Meisterwerke deutscher Sprache des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts 2nd ed., Zurich, 1948, pp. 225–59;Google Scholar
  22. 44.
    cf. also W. E. Yates’s Introduction to Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Der Schwierige, Cambridge, 1966.Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    Cf. also Ewald Grether, ‘Die Abenteurergestalt bei Hugo von Hofmannsthal’, Euphorion XLVIII, 1954, pp. 169–209, who however identifies the adventurer and the poet far too closely.Google Scholar
  24. 46.
    This William H. Rey, ‘Dichter und Abenteurer bei Hugo von Hofmannsthal’, EuphorionXLIX, 1955, pp. 56–69, rightly criticises. Rey’s analysis of this aspect carries conviction.Google Scholar
  25. 47.
    Cf. Peter Christian Kern, zur Gedankenwelt des späten Hofmannsthal. Die Idee einer schöpferischen Restauration Heidelberg, 1969, pp. 87f., who discusses Hofmannsthal’s concern with order as an aesthetic and spiritual criterion.Google Scholar

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© Hans Reiss 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Reiss
    • 1
  1. 1.BristolUK

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