‘One hardly dares breathe when reading Hoffmann,’ said Schumann of the great writer in whose work the borderlines between dream and reality, art and life, the natural and the supernatural so often become blurred. From Hoffmann, Schumann borrowed the titles of some of his best-known piano pieces – Kreisleriana, Fantasiestücke, Nachtstücke – while the young Brahms signed some of his early compositions ‘Kreisler Junior’, in homage to the fictional musician created by the author. Hoffmann’s tales inspired ballets by Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker) and Delibes (Coppélia), as well as operas by Offenbach, Busoni (Die Brautwahl) and Hindemith (Cardillac). Hoffmann himself was also a composer, and his proto-Romantic opera Undine was praised by Weber. His influence as a writer, meanwhile, was felt as far afield as France, Russia and America, those who fell under his spell including Baudelaire (for whom he was simply ‘the divine Hoffmann’), Balzac and Maupassant, as well as Dostoevsky, Pushkin and Gogol, and Edgar Allan Poe.
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