The fermata

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The Fermata is a music novella by ETA Hoffmann , which was written in January / February 1815 and was preprinted towards the end of the same year in the “Women's pocket book for the year 1816” by Schrag in Nuremberg. In 1819 the text appeared in the first section of the first volume of the collection " Die Serapionsbrüder " at G. Reimer in Berlin.

An artist genesis is discussed as a self-discovery procedure. The composer Theodor remembers his musical awakening in his youth and reflects on the occasion about the eponymous art of pausing. According to Safranski, the whole thing is “a picturesque and cheerful story about the failure of completion” and according to Schulz “the comically easy counterpart to Krespel's tragedy ”.

Notation : The Silence sign Fermate


JE Hummel: The Fermata, ca.1814

Serapion's brother Theodor (that's ETA Hoffmann) reads from his manuscript: In autumn 1814 the two friends Eduard and Theodor stand in front of Hummel's painting “The Fermate” in the Berlin art exhibition . Two Italians and a clergyman then play music in a Roman restaurant. The latter plays the conductor who is marking a fermata for the guitarist and the singer. Theodor immerses himself in the scenery until he believes himself to be the conductor and mistakes the Italians for Lauretta and Teresina. Theodor, still completely dazed by his daydreams, is led by Eduard into the little Italian room Sala Tarone - Unter den Linden 32, corner of Charlottenstrasse. There Theodor tells his friend his story of Lauretta and Teresina over a bottle of wine.

At the age of 19 he met the two slim, tall Italian women in his father's town in the German province. When Lauretta sings, Theodor's “inner music, dead and rigid for so long, is ignited”. Enchanted and enthusiastic at the same time, he listens to duets by Abbate Steffani , performed by the two sisters. Theodor cannot part with his ideal Lauretta and accompanies the two women to the residence. During the concert there, Theodor accompanies the Italians on the piano, he spoils it with his beloved. Theodor breaks off the last fermata prematurely and steals the show from Lauretta - one of her otherwise long-lasting harmonica trills. Because Theodor is being dismissed by Lauretta, he wants to go home, but Teresina manages to get closer to the young man. Lauretta is angry. As a coincidental ear-witness of a conversation among Italians, Theodor becomes aware that he is considered a German clumsy man and that he is being exploited.

Years later in the vicinity of Rome - Theodor is now dubbed Signor Maestro by the Italians - he meets the sisters again in a well-known scene. Lauretta scolds and curses. The trillo was cut off again in the middle of the fermata. This time a certain Abbate Ludovico - just like in Hummel's painting - is the culprit during a canzonetta by Anfossi . When the furious Lauretta of the composer Teodoro catches the eye, all arguments are forgotten.

Rich in art experience, Theodor sees the now aged sisters with different eyes after fourteen years of separation. Lauretta is no longer slim. Theodor disappoints her singing. Music wants to die away that lived on inside the composer from his youth.

In spite of all this, both friends toast to the well-being of the two sisters, leave the little Sala Tarone on Unter den Linden and agree that first love passes - even in the composer. But it remains “a heavenly tone and it lives on in eternal youthfulness and beauty and from it the melodies are born”.


On the late re-encounter of the unhappy musician Theodor with Lauretta: "Happy is to be praised the composer who never again sees in earthly life those who knew how to ignite his inner music with mysterious power."


  • In 1826, Eichendorff went into the text very specifically in his “ Good for nothing ”: “ Barbarian! shouted one of the round tables to him, you are running into the middle of the ingenious tableau of the beautiful description which Blessed Hoffmann, on page 347 of the ›Women's Pocket Book for 1816‹, gives of the most beautiful Hummel picture that appeared in the autumn of 1814 Berlin art exhibition was to be seen! "
  • See Segebrecht for details.
  • At the beginning of the text, Theodor wants his friend and the reader to believe that Hummel's painting reflects reality in the sense that Theodor really experienced what is depicted in the picture. This is how ETA Hoffmann keeps the tension.
  • Kaiser names works by James M. McGlathery (1978), Ernst Scheyer (1973) and Christoph E. Schweitzer (1973).
  • Schulz philosophizes about “the totality of timeless, divine art”: The interpreting conductor works artistically by setting the duration of the fermata in a consistent manner. With all this, the artist remains trapped in time.
  • Whether his - in modern terms - multimedia text references, many a wide-ranging treatise, such as that of Danica Krunic (see under “Weblinks”), is still being produced almost two hundred years after ETA Hoffmann's writing.


The first edition in the Serapion Brothers

  • The fermata in: The Serapion Brothers. Collected stories and fairy tales. Published by ETA Hoffmann. First volume. Berlin 1819. With G. Reimer. 604 pages

Used edition

  • ETA Hoffmann: The Fermata. P. 71–94 in: Wulf Segebrecht (Ed.): ETA Hoffmann: The Serapions Brothers. German classic publisher in paperback. Vol. 28. Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-618-68028-4 (corresponds to: Vol. 4 in: Wulf Segebrecht (Ed.): "ETA Hoffmann: Complete Works in Seven Volumes", Frankfurt am Main 2001)

Secondary literature

  • Peter von Matt : The eyes of the machines. ETA Hoffmann's theory of imagination as a principle of his storytelling . Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1971, ISBN 3-484-18018-8 .
  • Rüdiger Safranski : ETA Hoffmann. The life of a skeptical fantasist. 2nd Edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001 (1st edition 1984), ISBN 3-596-14301-2 .
  • Gerhard R. Kaiser: ETA Hoffmann. Metzler, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-476-10243-2 . (Metzler Collection; 243; realities on literature)
  • Helmut de Boor , Richard Newald: History of German literature from the beginnings to the present. Volume 7: Gerhard Schulz : The German literature between the French Revolution and the Restoration. Part 2: The Age of Napoleonic Wars and Restoration. 1806-1830. Beck, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-09399-X .


  1. ETA Hoffmann goes much further. He lets Theodor claim to his friend: "By the way, you can see that the company I went to is the one that Hummel painted, at the moment when the Abbate is about to strike into Lauretta's fermata." Edition used, p. 90, 4th line vo)

Individual evidence

  1. Segebrecht, p. 1287, 1st line vu, to p. 1288, 8th line v
  2. Segebrecht, p. 1287, 6th line from above
  3. Segebrecht, p. 1221, 4th line above, and p. 1681 above
  4. by Matt, p. 74, 17th line vu
  5. Safranski, p. 400, 13th line vu
  6. Schulz, p. 436, 20. Z. vo
  7. ^ Johann Erdmann Hummel: The Fermata
  8. Edition used, p. 92, 12th line vo
  9. Edition used, p. 92, 7th line vo
  10. ^ ETA Hoffmann in Eichendorff's "Good Nothing"
  11. Segebrecht, pp. 1287–1297
  12. Edition used, p. 73, 15. Z. vo
  13. by Matt, p. 166, 11th line from and 18th line from
  14. ^ Kaiser, p. 82, third section
  15. Schulz, p. 436, 12th line vu
  16. Segebrecht in the edition used, p. 1221 above

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