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Hugo von Hofmannsthal: 1874-1929

The following should serve as a brief outline as to the life of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It is mostly exerpted from Hugo von Hofmannsthal by Lowell A. Bangerter and from the "Materialien" to Hofmannsthal's Ein Brief and Reitergeschichte, published by Klett.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal was born February 1, 1874 in Vienna. His full name was Hugo Laurenz August Hofmann Edler von Hofmannsthal, and he was the only child of Anna and Dr. jur. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, a prominent Vienese bank director. As a child he was educated by private tutors, but in 1884 he entered the Wiener Akademisches Gymnasium. On the one hand, his social status set him apart, but at the same time, he was not a spoiled child, and he was part of the school community. A talented youth, he absorbed academic material very quickly, was an avid reader, and his intellectual abilities tended to set him apart from his peers more than his social status.

With the publication of his poem "Question" (1890) under the pseudonym Loris Melikow, Hofmannsthal made his entrance into the literary world. In little time he had made acquaintance and friendship with Hermann Bahr, Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan George, Gerhart Hauptmann, Maeterlinck, Rodin, and others. It is no overstatement to say that Hofmannsthal's intellectual Kreis was composed of some of the most influential artists of his time - all of them considerably older than he. From the beginning, his works were marked by a mature style, and few could believe that "Loris" was a 16-year old high school student.

Of those who were impressed by Hoffmansthal and who exerted considerable influence upon him, Stefan George was perhaps the most important. It is not that his own style was taken up by the young Hofmannsthal, but that George was both a father, friend, and promoter of the aspiring artist. George, a staunch symbolist and artistic elitist, brough Hofmannsthal into his circle and saw to the publication of many of his early works. They met in 1891, and had a friendship that lasted over 15 years, but as time wore on, the differences in their visions became obvious, and eventually they took differnent paths, finally terminating contact shortly after the turn of the century.

After completing the Gymnasium in 1892, Hofmannsthal spent two years studying law, and in the fall of 1894 he started a year of active duty in the Sixth Dragoon Reigment. Law was his father's idea, and instead of returning to it, he came back to the university to study Romance Philology, and received his Doctorate in 1899. In 1905 he resigned his military commission, after having achieved the rank of reserve lietenant during his time in the reserves.

1901 marks Hofmannsthal's marriage to Gertrud Schlesinger, seven years his junior. Their marriage was a happy one, albeit one marked by the fact that she did not share the same passions as he with regard to his work.

In 1903 Hofmannsthal wrote his drama Elektra, based upon the play by Sophocles. This led to contact with Richard Strauss, which turned out to be a very important contact for Hofmannsthal indeed. Elektra was set to music, and was the first of six works on which Hofmannsthal and Strauss collaborated. The two worked together for the rest of Hofmannsthal's life, yet their relationship, too, was marked by stress - primarily caused by differences of opinion and Strauss's demanding nature.

Hofmannsthal's life took a rather dramatic change during WWI. As Bangerter writes: "As an officer in the reserve, Hofmannsthal was recalled to the army in July, 1914. He served in the war ministry, and during the next two years traveled widely on secret political missions. He wrote patriotic articles and made speeches to groups of Austrian officers. When the Hapsburg monarchy fell, Hofmannsthal was not unprepared for it. Nonetheless, he viewed the death of the old regime as a personal disaster, the loss of an important part of his own life. It was a loss from which he did not fully recover." (Bangerter, 14)

After the war, Hofmannsthal became increasingly involved with supporting and promoting the arts in Austria, and is noticable in his involvement with the Salzburg Festival. He also took part in writing for several commercial ventures, such as Das deutsche Lesebuch and Wert und Ehre deutscher Sprache. These endeavors fit in with Hofmannsthal's desire to "make German cultural heritage more accesible" (Bangerter, 17), but at the same time, the financial difficulties facing Europe after WWI affected Hofmannsthal as well, and he suffered several period of financial hardship.

The end of Hofmannsthal's life was marked by great activity - in the 1920's he traveled a great deal and worked on numerous literary projects. He had three children, two of whom who survived him. On July 15, 1929 - two days after the suicide of his eldest son, Franz - Hugo von Hofmannsthal suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and died.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal is born in Vienna on February 1
Hofmannsthal enters the Wiener Akademisches Gymnasium
Using the name Loris, Hofmannsthal publishes his first poem, "Question."
He meets Bahr and George, and his first drama, Gestern, appears.
He graduates from the Gymnasium, mades a trip to France, and enters law school in Vienna. Der Tod des Tizian is published, and he starts writing for George's Blätter für die Kunst.
Finishes Der Tor und der Tod. Due to friction with George, he stops publishing in Blätter für die Kunst.
After finishing his first Staatsexamen, he drops out of the universtity and begins active military service.
He reenters the university to study Romance Philology. Writes Terzinen (Über Vergänglichkeit) and Das Märchen der 672 Nacht.
Dissertation: Über den Sprachgebrauch bei den Dichtern der Plejade. He finishes several dramas.
First performance of Die Frau im Fenster (in Berlin).
Contact with Gerhart Hauptmann in Berlin. Finishes Reitergeschichte. Receives his doctorate in March.
Meets Maeterlinck and Rodin
Marriage to Gertrud Schlesinger
Visit by Rudolf Borchardt. Daughter Christine is born. Writes Ein Brief.
Son Franz is born. Writes Elektra. Meets Max Reinhardt. Meets with George in München.
Meets André Gide in Paris. Work done on König Ödipus by Sophocles.
Meets Richard Strauss. Termination of friendship with George. Son Raimund is born. Jedermann is published (prose version).
First performance of the opera Elektra. He begins work on the libretto for Der Rosenkavalier as well as Lucidor.
First performance of Der Rosenkavalier in Dresden. The drama Jedermann is finished and performed, but received poor reviews. He writes the libretto for Ariadne auf Naxos.
First performance of Ariadne auf Naxos in Stuttgart.
Hofmannsthal is recalled to duty due to WWI. He is posted in Pisino.
He writes Der Schwierige and participates in the founding of the Salzburg Fesitval.
Die Frau ohne Schatten premieres in Vienna.
Jedermann is performed in Salzburg and becomes very popular.
premiere of Der Schwierige in München.
premiere of Das Salzburger Große Welttheater in Salzburg.
premiere of Das Unbestechliche in Vienna. Film script of Der Rosenkavlier is written.
Die ägyptische Helene is finished, as is the first version of Der Turm
Arabella and the second edition of Der Turm appear.
The two versions of Der Turm premiere simultaneously in München and Hamburg. Die ägyptische Helene premieres in Dresden. Daughter Christine weds Heinrich Zimmer.
On July 13, son Franz commits suicide. On July 15, Hofmannsthal suffers a fatal brain hemorrhage at his home near Vienna.

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