Sacred Music by E. T. A. Hoffmann
E. T. A. Hoffmann is rightly regarded as one of the great writers of the German romantic era.
Moreover, this jurist by training and later Prussian court official made repeated attempts to earn
his livelihood as a composer. His more than eighty compositions in almost all the musical genres
demonstrate that he had a firm command of the compositional craft. This month we turn to
Hoffmann’s sacred music. About a fourth of his eighty-five compositions were sacred works
intended for use in Catholic worship, and his predilection for sacred music can be traced back
to his youth. Between 1803 and 1805 he composed his Mass in D minor, writing to his friend
Hippel that he regarded it as his best work thus far. Since the two-part Overtura consisting of a
slow introduction in D minor marked by emotionally charged double dotting and a lively fugue
in D minor ends on a half cadence in A, it is perfectly suited – as on this recording – for the
introduction to the Mass, even though it was originally intended for another Mass in D minor.
Hoffmann’s Miserere sets eleven of the twenty-one double verses of Psalm 50 and stands in a
long Miserere tradition initiated by Josquin des Prez and reaching its high point in Gregorio
Allegri’s famous nine-part Miserere from the beginning of the seventeenth century.