In class we have been reading about the early nineteenth century when the focus on the visual is changing to an emphasis on the auditory and the power of sound. E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Councillor Krespel is a story based on this principal. Each character is moved and swayed with music, persuaded and tempted by sound, and they all contribute further to the ethereal force of music that drives the events in this story.
Krespel is an interesting man to say the least. His wild intellect and uncouth mannerisms define the outward appearance of his character, but much gentle emotion lies beneath his surface. A man who cared little for visual aesthetics, Krespel had a passion for music and sought ever better instruments and sounds throughout his early years. It is quite obvious that Krespel’s life is surrounded by music: it is the force that drives him from place to place, it directs important events of his life, it is used to express Krespel’s emotions. His passion for music brought him his daughter, and took her away. In Krespel’s life, music is fate. Hoffmann writes of Krespel’s story to convey the power of sound. Hoffmann’s story opposes the classical idea of recognition through sight that stories like The Odyssey or Oedipus convey. The story is meant to incite the idea that that which is visual and timeless is not all that can affect somebody. That which seems insubstantial, a passing moment in time, can cause great pleasure, or pain.
The use of this concept in Councillor Krespel is indicative of the time period in which it was written. This piece of early nineteenth century literature shares the same philosophy commonly adopted in the science of the time. E. T. A. Hoffmann’s eye opening work of fiction allows us to adopt this point of view through a short story in which sound drives the characters, music creates drama, and song produces death.