Ritter Gluck
By E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822)

Late fall in Berlin usually has a few beautiful days. The sun comes benignly out of the clouds and dries the moisture out of the tepid air which blows through the streets. Then a long colorful column of people comes into view, making their way through the linden trees to the park: among them are dandies, townsmen with their wives and their children in Sunday best, clergymen, Jewesses, young lawyers, prostitutes, dancers, officers, and so on. Soon all the tables at Klaus & Weber are occupied; the chicory coffee steams, the dandies are lighting their cigars, there is conversation about war and about peace, about the shoes of Madame Bethmann the actress (whether she recently wore gray ones or green ones), about Fichte's treatise on high tariff barriers, about counterfeit money, etc. Gradually everything blends into an aria from the light opera Fanchon, with which an out of tune harp, a few discordant violins, a consumptive flute, and a spasmodic bassoon torture themselves and their audience. Close by the railing which separates Weber's cafe from the Heerstrasse, there are several small round tables and garden chairs; here one can breathe fresh air and can observe people coming and going, but still be removed somewhat from the cacophonous din of that confounded orchestra. I take a seat there and give myself over to the light play of my fantasy, which provides me with familiar figures with whom I can converse about knowledge, about art, about everything which is supposed to be dearest to man. The mass of strollers surges by me, becoming more and more colorful, but nothing disturbs me, nothing can frighten away my imaginary company. Only the cursed trio from a completely worthless waltz tears me out of my dream world. I am the only one to hear the shrill upper voice of the violins and the jarring bass of the bassoon. They go up and down, firmly clinging to each other in octaves which pierce the ear. Instinctively, like someone who is seized by a burning pain, I cry out, "What crazy music! Those abominable octaves" - Next to me is a murmur: "Cursed Fate! Another man who objects to octaves!"

I look up and only now become aware that, unnoticed by me, a man has taken a seat at the same table as mine. He fixes his eyes rigidly on me and my eyes cannot escape his stare.

I have never seen a head, never a figure which made such a deep impression on me so quickly. A softly curved nose was joined to a broad, open forehead, which had marked bulges above bushy, graying eyebrows, and under the man's eyes flashed with an almost wild youthful fire. (The man was perhaps over fifty.) The delicately molded chin contrasted strangely with the tight shut mouth. A ludicrous smile, formed by the strange play of muscles in his sunken cheeks, seemed to protect against the expression of deep melancholy and seriousness lingering on his forehead. Only a few gray locks of hair lay behind the large ears which stood out from his head. A huge cloak enveloped this great lean figure. As I glanced at the man, he cast down his eyes and continued the activity which my outcry had probably interrupted. With evident pleasure he was shaking tobacco out of various small paper bags into a large snuff box which was standing before him, and wetting it with red wine from a pint-sized bottle. The music had stopped and I felt it necessary to speak to him.

"It is good that the music has stopped," I said, "I couldn't endure it."

The old man cast a fleeting glance at me and shook the last paper bag.

"It would be better if they didn't play at all," I continued. "Do you agree with me?"

"I have no opinion," he said. "You are a musician and an expert... "

"You are mistaken; I am neither. Once I did learn to play the piano and the bass fiddle as part of my general education. At that time I was told that nothing creates a more unpleasant effect than having the bass move forward with the top melody in octaves. I accepted that then as authority and have since found it valid."

"Really?" he interrupted me, got up, walked slowly and deliberately over to the musicians, all the while gazing off into space and striking his forehead with the flat part of his hand in the manner of one who wants to awaken some kind of memory. I saw him speaking with the musicians, whom he treated with authoritative dignity. He returned, and hardly had seated himself when they began to play the overture of Iphigenia in Aulis.

His eyes half closed, his folded arms resting on the table, he listened to the Andante. Softly moving his left foot, he indicated the entrance of the instruments: now he raised his head - glanced quickly around - his left hand rested with widespread fingers on the table, as if he were striking a chord on the piano, his right hand he lifted up into the air. He was a conductor indicating the entrance of another tempo to the orchestra - the right hand falls and the allegro begins! A burning flush spreads over his pale cheeks: his eyebrows draw together over his wrinkled forehead, an inner fury inflames his wild expression gradually consuming the smile which was hovering about his half-opened mouth. Now he leans back, his eyebrows are raised, and the play of his muscles on his cheeks resumes; his eyes gleam, a deep inner pain resolves itself into a desire which grips all of his nerves. Shaken convulsively, he draws his breath from deep in his chest - beads of sweat stand out on his forehead. He indicates the entrance of the Tutti and other main passages. His right hand maintains the beat, with his left hand he takes out a cloth and runs it over his face. - In this way, he gave flesh and color to the skeleton of the piece, as presented by the two violins in the overture. I heard the soft melting lament which the flute takes up after the storm of violins and basses has abated and the thunder of the drums is silent. I heard the gentle sounding tones of the violoncello and the bassoon, which filled my heart with inexpressible sadness. The Tutti returns; like a giant the Unison moves forward majestically, the somber lament dies among its crushing steps.

The overture was over; the man let both arms drop and he sat with closed eyes like someone exhausted by too great an exertion. His bottle was empty; I filled his glass with Burgundy, which I had ordered in the meantime. He sighed deeply and seemed to awaken from a dream. I urged him to drink, which he did without hesitation. While he gulped down the full glass without stopping, he cried out: "I am satisfied with the performance! The orchestra gave a good account of itself!"

"And yet," I began to speak, "yet they only gave us the weak outlines of a masterpiece."

"Do I judge correctly? You are not a Berliner."

"Quite right. I only stay here intermittently."

"The Burgundy is good; but it is getting cold out here."

"Then let's go into the room and empty the bottle there."

"A good suggestion. I don't know you; you don't know me. We don't want to ask each other's names; names at times are troublesome. I'm drinking Burgundy, we feel comfortable with one another, and so it is good."

He said all of this with good-natured cordiality. We had entered the room and when he sat down, he opened his cloak and I noticed with amazement that he wore an embroidered waistcoat with long tails, black velvet trousers, and a small silver sword. He buttoned the cloak carefully together.

"Why did you ask me whether I was a Berliner?" I began.

"Because it would have been necessary in that case to leave you."

"That sounds puzzling."

"Not in the least, as soon as I tell you that I - I am a composer."

"I still can't guess what you mean."

"Then forgive my outcry before, for I see that you are not at all an expert on Berlin and Berliners." He stood up and walked back and forth a few times with great agitation. Then he stepped to the window and in a voice that was barely audible sang the Chorus of the Priestess from Iphigenia in Tauris, now and then beating the entrance of the Tutti on the window panes. With astonishment I noticed that he introduced certain different turns of melody which were striking for their novelty and power. I didn't interfere with him. When he had finished he returned to his place. I was silent, quite taken by this unusual behavior and the fantastic expressions of a rare musical talent. After awhile he began to speak.

"Have you never composed?"

"Yes, I tried my hand at that art, but I found everything which I had written in moments of inspiration to be insipid and boring afterwards; so I left it alone."

"You have done wrong; for the fact that you rejected your early attempts is not an indication of lack of talent. One learns music as a boy because Papa and Mamma want it that way; from that time on there is fiddling and tinkling, but imperceptibly the senses become more receptive to melody. Perhaps it was the half-forgotten theme of a little song which one now decided to sing a little differently - the first real idea. So this embryo, nourished with difficulty by strange powers, grew to a giant which consumed everything around it and transformed it into it's marrow and blood! Ha, how is it possible to indicate the thousands of ways one comes to compose! It is a wide highway, and there everyone is bustling around, cheering and screaming: We are the chosen people! We are at the goal! - Through the ivory gates there is a way into the realm of dreams; a few see the gate only once, still fewer go through it! The place has a mysterious aspect. Peculiar figures hover here and there, but they have distinction, some more than others. They can't be found on the highway, - only on the other side of the ivory gate. It is difficult to come out of this realm, because the monsters outside of Alcina's castle block the way - it's whirling - it's turning - many dream their dreams away in this dream world - they dissolve into a dream - they no longer even cast a shadow, otherwise they would perceive in that shadow the ray of light which shines through the land of dreams - they come to the truth, - the highest note is the contact with the Eternal, the Inexpressible! Look at the Sun, it is a triad from which chords, like stars, shoot down and entangle you with fiery threads. You are changed into a chrysalis of fire, and you lie there until Psyche soars up to the sun."

With these last words, he sprang up, glanced at me, and threw his hands up in the air. Then he sat down again, quickly emptied the glass, which had been filled. There followed a silence, which I didn't want to interrupt, in order not to divert this extraordinary man. Finally he continued more calmly:

"When I was in the realm of dreams, thousands of pains and fears tormented me! It was night and the grinning faces of monsters rushed on me. One moment they plunged me into the abyss of the sea and the next moment lifted me into the heavens. Beams of light shot through the night, and these beams were tones which surrounded me with lovely clarity. I awakened from my torments and saw a great, bright Eye, which looked into an organ. As it looked, tones came forth and shimmered and embraced each other on marvelous chords, as I had never thought of them before. Melodies streamed up and down. I swam in this stream and wanted to drown in it. Then the Eye stared at me and held me above the roaring waves. It became night again and two Colossi in shining armor approached me: Tonic Basic Tone, and of a Fifth Interval. They lifted me up but the Eye smiled and said: 'I know what fills your heart with yearning. It is the soft, gentle youth, Interval of a Third who will step among the Colossi. You will hear his sweet voice, see me again, and my melodies will become yours.'" He paused.

"And you saw the Eye again?"

"Yes, I saw it again! For years I lived in the realms of dreams - there - yes there! I sat in a wonderful valley and listened to the flowers singing to each other. Only one sunflower was silent and sadly bowed its calyx to the ground. Invisible ties drew me to it - it raised its head - the calyx opened and out of it beamed the Eye at me. Now tones went from my head to the flowers which eagerly sucked them in. The leaves of the sunflower became larger and larger - waves of fire streamed out of them - they flowed around me - the Eye had disappeared and I had disappeared into the calyx." With these last words, he had jumped up and hurried with rapid, youthful steps out of the room. I waited in vain for his return, and decided to leave and go into the city.

I was already in the area of the Brandenburg Gate when I saw a tall figure walking in the darkness and immediately recognized my peculiar friend. I addressed him:

"Why did you leave me so suddenly?"

"It was too hot and the Euphon began to ring."

"I don't understand you."

"So much the better."

"So much the worse, for I would like to understand you completely."

"You hear nothing?"


" - It has gone by! Let us go. Usually I don't like company, - but - you are not a composer - you are not a Berliner."

"I can't understand why you are so set against Berliners. Here, where art is held in such high esteem and carried on in a high degree. It is my opinion that a man of your artistic temperament should be quite happy here."

"You are mistaken! To my despair I am damned to wander here in this desolate world like a departed spirit."

"A desolate world - Berlin?"

"Yes, it is desolate here, for no congenial spirit approaches me. I stand alone."

"But the artists! The composers!"

"Away with them! They carp and carp - refine everything to the finest degree; They stir up everything in order to find one miserable idea; with their chattering about art and the meaning of art, and whatever else, they can't approach the creation of a work of art. They begin to feel happy if they have been able to bring a few new ideas to light; thus this frightful coldness here shows its great distance from the sun - it is like work done in Lapland."

"Your judgement seems much too hard to me. At least the wonderful performances in the theater must satisfy you."

"Once I brought myself to go again to the theater, in order to hear the opera of my young friend - what was it called? Ah, the whole world is in this opera! Through the colorful crowd of costumed people pass the spirits of the underworld, everything here is given voice and powerful sound - confound it, I mean Don Giovanni. But I couldn't endure the overture, which was hurried through prestissimo, without sense or understanding. So I had prepared myself through fasting and prayer, because I know that the Euphon is moved too much by these masses and it speaks then in an impure way!"

"If I am forced to admit that Mozart's works are neglected here for the most part (and it's hardly explainable), then Gluck's works on the other hand enjoy a worthy representation."

"Do you think so? Once I wanted to hear Iphigenia in Tauris. When I stepped into the theater, I hear that they are playing the overture to Iphigenia in Aulis. Hm, I think, an error. They are giving the other Iphigenia. I am astonished, when now the Andante from Ipeigenia in Tauris began and the storm follows. Twenty years lie between these two operas. The whole effect, the whole well-calculated exposition of the tragedy is lost. A silent Sea - a Storm - the Greeks are cast on the shore, the opera comes to life! Do you think that the composer scribbled in the overture that it could be played just as one pleases, like a little piece for the trumpet?"

"I admit my mistake. However, everything is being done to give Gluck's work more importance."

"Oh yes!" he said abruptly and smiled then more and more bitterly. Suddenly he got up and nothing could hold him back. In a flash he had dissappeared. In vain I looked for him during the next few days in the park.

A few months had passed when I found myself quite late on a cold evening in a distant part of the city and I was now hurrying to my home on the Fredrichstrasse. I had to go by the theater; the surging music, the trumpets and drums reminded me that just then Gluck's Armida was being performed. I was on the verge of going in, when my attention was caught by a strange monologue close by the windows of the theater where one could hear almost every note coming from the theater.

"Now the King is coming - they are playing the march - keep on beating. It is quite lively! Yes, yes, they have to do it eleven times today - the procession is otherwise not a procession. Ha ha - maestro - move back my children. Look, there is a character with his shoe strings dangling. - Right for the twelfth time! always ending up with the dormant key - Oh you eternal powers - that never ends! Now he bows - Armida thanks him graciously. Once more? Correct, two soldiers are missing! Now they're stumbling into the recitative. What evil spirit holds me spellbound here?"

"The spell is broken," I cried. "Come!"

I took my strange acquaintance out of the park, for no one else would be talking to himself like that. I quickly grasped him by the arm and took him with me. He seemed surprised and followed me in silence. We were already in the Friedrichstrasse when he suddenly stood still. "I know you," he said. "You were in the park - we spoke about a lot of things - I drank some wine, became quite heated - afterwards the Euphon rang for two days - I have endured a great deal - but it is all past!"

"I am happy that chance has led me to you again. Let us get better acquainted. I don't live very far from here; how would it be if... "

"I cannot go to anyone's house."

"No, you are not going to escape me; I am going with you."

"Then you will have to walk with me a few hundred more steps. But didn't you want to go to the theater?"

"I wanted to hear Armida, but now... "

"You shall now hear Armida. Come!"

We went up the Friedrichstrasse in silence; he turned quickly into a side street, and I was hardly able to follow him, so quickly did he walk up the street until he finally stopped before a plain-looking house. He knocked for a rather long time before the door finally opened. Groping in the darkness we reached the stairs and climbed to a room on an upper floor, where my guide carefully unlocked the door. I heard another door being opened; soon thereafter he appeared with a lighted lamp.The sight of the strangely furnished room surprised me not a little. Old fashioned richly decorated chairs, a wall clock with guilded casing, and a ponderous mirror gave the room a sad air of past grandeur. In the middle of the room stood a small piano on which was a large inkstand made of porcelain. Next to it lay a few pieces of ruled paper. A sharp glance at these preparations for composition convinced me, however, that nothing had been written for a long time, for the paper was quite yellowed and thick cobwebs covered the inkstand. The man stepped before a cabinet in the corner of the room, which I had not yet noticed, and when he drew away the curtain, I saw a row of finely bound books with golden inscriptions: Orfeo, Armida, Alceste, Iphigenia, etc., in short I saw all of Gluck's masterpieces standing together.

"You have Gluck's collected works?" I cried out.

He didn't answer, but his mouth was twisted into a convulsive smile and the twitching of the muscles in his sunken cheeks, momentarily distorted his face into a horrible mask. With his dismal glance rigidly fixed on me, he seized one of the books - it was Armida - and strode to the piano. I opened the piano quickly and set up the folded music stand; he seemed to like to see that. He opened up the book - who can describe my amazement! - I saw ruled pages, but not a note written on them.

"Now I will play the overture!" he said. "Please turn the pages at the appropriate times!" I promised him that I would and he proceeded to play magnificently and masterfully, with full harmonies, the majestic Tempo die Marcia with which the overture begins, almost entirely faithful to the original score. The Allegro, however, was only built on Gluck's main themes. He brought in so many new, ingenious expressions, that my amazement grew more and more. In particular his modulations were quite striking without being harsh and he knew how to add so many melodic variations to the main themes that they seemed to return in a new and rejuvinated form. His face glowed. One moment his eyebrows drew together and a long-supressed anger struggled to break loose, the next moment his eyes were filled with tears of a deep sadness. At times he sang the theme with a pleasant tenor voice as both hands worked in careful variations; at times he knew how to imitate with his voice, in a quite special way, the hollow tone of the drums. Diligently I turned the pages while following his glances. The overture had ended and with closed eyes he fell back exhausted into his chair. However, he soon pulled himself back together again and while he hastily turned several empty pages of the book, and said with a somber voice:

"All of this, sir, I wrote when I came from the realm of dreams. But I betrayed the sacred world to the profane. An ice cold hand gripped my glowing heart! It didn't break but I was damned to wander in the profane world, like a departed spirit - without form, so that no one knew me, until the sunflower should lift me again to the Eternal. Ha - now let us sing Armida's scene!"

He now sang the final scene from Armida with an expression that penetrated my innermost being. Here too, he deviated noticeably from the original score, but his altered music was a greater intensification of Gluck's scene. Everything which can express hate, love, despair, and madness was powerfully united in tones. His voice seemed to be that of a young man, for it rose from deep somberness to penetrating strength. All my nerves trembled - I was beside myself. When he had finished, I threw myself into his arms and cried in a choked voice:

"What is that? Who are you?"

He stood up and measured me with an earnest, piercing look. However, as I began to ask further questions, he escaped through a door with the lamp and left me in total darkness. Almost a quarter of an hour went by and I despaired of seeing him again. Oriented by the position of the piano, I was searching for the door when he suddenly he entered with the lamp in his hand, dressed in an embroidered court costume of the 18th century, a rich waistcoat and sword at his side. I was paralysed. Solumnly he approached me, took me by the hand and said with a strange smile: "I am the composer Gluck."

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Ritter Gluck