The Sanctus

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The Sanctus is a novella by ETA Hoffmann , which appeared for the first time in 1817 in the volume of stories "Nachtstücke".


There are three main characters in this book: the doctor , the bandmaster, and the traveling enthusiast . At first the doctor talks to the conductor about a young girl named Bettina, probably the conductor's daughter. This looks healthy, but as soon as she wants to sing, her voice fails. This is a very big problem for her because she used to sing along in many choirs and it gave her a lot of joy. But now she has not been able to practice her hobby, singing, for several months. The doctor admits that he cannot help the poor child, he says that the failure of the voice has psychological reasons. Of course the conductor is quite beside himself, he even insults the doctor, but he can soon calm down. At that moment the enthusiast realizes that he could be to blame for this misery, he begins to tell:

When he went to town last year and attended church, he saw the girl there singing in the choir. He was very enthusiastic about her talent, but he had to find out that Bettina wanted to leave the Eucharist early. Immediately he stopped her and said to her:

“'You want to leave?' I spoke to her. 'It is high time,' she replied in a very friendly manner, 'that I should now go to ... church to sing along in a cantata , as I promised, and I also have to try a couple of duets that I have today in the morning evening in which I will perform singing tea at ***, then supper is at ***. Are you coming? A couple of choirs will be made from Handel's Messiah and the first finale from Figaro's wedding . ' During this conversation the full chords of the Sanctus rang out and the incense offering passed through the high vaults of the church in blue clouds. 'Don't you know,' I said, 'that it is sinful, that it does not go unpunished to leave the church during the Sanctus? - You will not be singing in church any more soon! '”(P. 653).

Of course he didn't mean it very seriously, but his words sounded very solemn.

The story becomes too much for the doctor and quickly leaves the room. The enthusiast also mentions that he has heard of such a disease, voice failure. He would like to tell about it. The conductor really wants to hear the story and write an opera about it.

The enthusiast's second story is about a war between the Spaniards and the Moors :

Isabella and Ferdinand of Aragon besieged the Moors in Granada . There were often attacks, but the Moors held out. One day the two decided to build a wooden monastery , which soon happened. During an attack on the Moors many prisoners were taken, among them also Zulema, "the light of song in Grenada" (p. 656). Isabella noticed her immediately, there was something wonderful about her singing and playing the zither . Zulema often visited the monastery, and soon she was baptized in the name of Julia. From then on she sang in the nuns' choir , but from time to time strange Moorish sounds emerged from her singing. Once when the choir was singing the Sanctus, the following happened:

“[It] went a piercing zither tone through the choir, Julia quickly folded the paper and wanted to leave the choir. 'What are you starting?' called Emanuela. ,Oh!' said Julia, 'don't you hear the splendid tones of the master? over there with him, I have to sing with him! ' Julia hurried to the door with it, but Emanuela spoke in a very solemn solemn voice: 'Sinner, you profane the service of the Lord, since you praise his praise with your mouth and have worldly thoughts in your heart, flee away, the strength is broken of the song in you, the wonderful sounds in your breast that the Spirit of the Lord kindled are silent! ' - Julia staggered away from Emanuela's words as if struck by lightning ”(p. 658).

Shortly afterwards, during an attack by the Moors, they set the monastery on fire and it burned down completely. Julia has been missing since then. It was believed that she died in the flames. Isabella and Ferdinand decided to build a city on the spot where the monastery had been. Today it is known as Santa Fé . A few weeks passed, the Spanish defeated the Moors, and so Ferdinand and Isabella entered Granada. A group of Moors wanted harm to them and attacked them, but the two succeeded in pushing the Moors back into a house, which they finally set on fire. Suddenly the Spaniards heard a familiar voice, it was Julia who was in the house and began to sing:

“[D] a the gates opened, and Julia in the robe of the Benedictine nun came out singing with a strong voice: 'Sanctus - Sanctus dominus deus Sabaoth', behind her the Moors drew their hands folded on their chests to the cross . Amazed, the Spaniards retreated and through their ranks Julia and the Moors went to the cathedral […] ”(p. 662).

All the Moors who followed her appeared converted and received holy baptism on the same day .

With that the enthusiast ends his story, and the doctor re-enters the room with a lot of noise, he is very indignant that Bettina apparently heard the story. However, the enthusiast justifies himself that this was deliberate and that Bettina's illness requires psychological means in order to be cured. The Kapellmeister, however, seems very absent-minded, he just says that you can't make an opera out of this strange story, "but otherwise there were some strange-sounding chords in it" (p. 663). Three months later, the enthusiast is once again a guest of the Kapellmeister and Bettina, she is now even singing a song for him.


What is striking about this book is that three different stories are told. There is a framework story with the Kapellmeister, the traveling enthusiast, the doctor and Bettina. In the course of these actions, the traveling enthusiast tells, on the one hand, of the last year he met Bettina in the church and, on the other hand, of the war between the Spanish and the Moors. Belief in God plays a very important role in this work. The Church is mentioned and glorified on almost every page. Either it is about a song, such as the Sanctus, or about the house of God or a person who is closely related to it, for example a nun. The author also tries to focus on the creativity of the human being. This can be seen in the person of the conductor. He always tries to compose an opera from the stories of the traveling enthusiast.

Quotes from:

  • ETA Hoffman: The Sanctus , ed. v. Dr. Herrmann Liver. Salzburg / Stuttgart: The Bergland Book, ETA Hoffman's works in two volumes

Web links

Wikisource: The Sanctus  - Sources and full texts