A Treasury of Christmas Carols

The Victorian Christmas Revival

Part 5. German Romanticism

ETA_Hoffman.JPG (119561 bytes)In Germany, Christmas did not suffer as it did under English and American Puritanism. But one German contribution to the Victorian revival was Ernest Theodore Amadeus (E.T.A.) Hoffman (1776-1882, shown left), [1] whom many consider the first of the German Romanticists. In 1816 Hoffman published "Nutcracker and the Mouse King" (Nussknacker und Mauskonig). Based in part on his own life experiences – he had built a cardboard castle in 1815, just as Godpapa Drosselmeier does in the story – Hoffman published the story in the children’s Christmas book Kindermarchen von C.W. Contessa, Friedrich baron de la Motte Foque und E.T.A. Hoffman. Hoffman was a noted popular musician, fantasy author, and music critic who produced and directed musicals in Bamberg, then the center of the German Romanticist movement. Hoffman and his friends did not consider The Nutcracker entirely a success, and preferred the next year’s story, "The Stranger Child." Three of his stories served as the basis of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman (first produced in 1881, the year after Offenbach’s death).

During the 19th Century, many of the great German carols and hymns were translated and published in several volumes by the English writer and poet Catherine Winkworth. See: Christmas Poetry of Catherine Winkworth.

Tchaikovsky.JPG (79907 bytes)Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1940-1892, shown left) wrote his last ballet, the Nutcracker, in 1891-1892. The ballet was based on Alexander Dumas’ adaptation of Hoffman’s original story. Prior to its first performance in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892, Tchaikovsky had conducted several concerts of the piece. Interestingly, the ballet was not well received by the critics – likely due to the choreography – although the music was a popular success. Since then, the ballet, which Tchaikovsky considered the least of his works, has been a perennial favorite.

Hoffman’s original story, as perpetuated in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, helped to fuel the Victorian revival of the Christmas season.


1. Much of the material concerning Hoffman is from the Introduction by E. F. Blieler, ed., to The Best Tales of Hoffman (New York: Dover, 1967). Return

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Douglas D. Anderson

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