WBecause musical instruments are very aesthetic structures even before they sound, relevant museums like the one in Berlin actually find their purpose quite well in themselves: you stroll through a world of noble and ingeniously shaped materials that appeal to both the eye and the imagination appeal to sounds to be elicited from them.
Despite this, the building, alongside the philharmonic hall, is not only content with its rich core inventory, presented in the clear expanse of an Edgar Wisniewski building from 1984, but also often sets individual thematic focal points that grow out of the permanent exhibition without much additional effort.
Caricaturist, conductor, piano teacher
This is also currently the case when it comes to Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. Although today, almost two hundred years after his death on June 25, 1822, he is known more as a fantastically brilliant poet, who likes to wander in surreal intermediate and spirit worlds, than as a musician (and also as a Prussian civil servant as well as a gifted caricaturist and passionate drinker), but also earned his salary in important phases of his life as a conductor and piano teacher.
He would have preferred to follow in the footsteps of the highly revered Mozart or Beethoven. According to a letter from 1813, he wanted to “become known to the world not otherwise than through a successful musical composition”, although he was already striving for a first literary high point with the “fantasy pieces in Callot’s manner”. Ultimately, his musical ambition was not in vain either, because alongside his own productions such as the opera “Undine”, which is still occasionally performed today, there is hardly any other writer of the nineteenth century who, as a prose author, essayist and daily critic, is so stimulating dealt with questions of musical creation and its interpretation.
With regard to the latter, Hoffmann, not only a pianist and singer, but also a talented violinist and harpist, was one of the first to emphasize the importance of intellectual and emotional empathy with the musical text, in addition to mechanical dexterity with the throat and fingers. All of this is also touched upon in the sparse, yet easily understandable accompanying commentary of the Berlin show.
The world of instruments
If you want to know more, you will find a compilation of texts with music-related judgments and descriptions by the poet. Above all, however, one sticks to the tangible, for example when his harp quintet from 1807 is virtually recreated with a collection of instruments from that time, or a Kisting fortepiano, the qualities of which he praised in his last novella, can actually be viewed here as a material object.
One focus is the artist’s relationship to music machines of all kinds, which oscillates between distrust and fascination, and which in turn has itself become the subject of music history in the machine form of Olimpia from the “Sandman” novella and its processing in Jacques Offenbach’s Hoffmann opera.
Corresponding research and demonstrations are all the easier in Berlin, because the strange individual world of mechanical musical instruments through to modern electronic sound production is a focal point of the house anyway. Anyone who has worked their way through a somewhat complicated access procedure as a visitor can not only experience a number of such exhibits visually, but also hear them on their cell phones.
The Musical Instrument Museum, once the outpost of Hans Scharoun’s Kulturforum project, which was pushed furthest towards the Wall, was always a little overshadowed by the neighboring Philharmonic Hall, not only in the literal sense of the word, but also in terms of public awareness.
In the meantime, through Helmut Jahn’s Sony Center, the interim line of sight to the towers of Gendarmenmarkt has been obstructed, near which ETA Hoffmann had his last Berlin apartment, not far from the newly built theater. The poet-musician used to like coming from there to the Tiergarten, to promenade or to enjoy spiritual things in the beer tents; He would also have enjoyed the relaxed, sensory spirituality of the museum that is now on the edge of the Tiergarten. The extra collection dedicated to him is currently giving it an additional attractive touch.
E.T.A. Hoffmann and the music. In the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum; until August 8, 2022. No catalogue.
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