Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Correspondence with Countess Ottonie Degenfeld

August 2000
17 black and white illustrations
487 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571130303
Format: Hardback
Camden House
BISAC LCO008030, LCO011000

Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Correspondence with Countess Ottonie Degenfeld

The Poet and the Countess. Edited by Marie-Therese Miller-Degenfeld

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Translated by W. Eric Barcel

Edited by Marie-Therese Miller-Degenfeld

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The English translation of the correspondence between the turn-of-the-century Austrian poet and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Countess Ottonie Degenfeld.
The tragic early death in 1908 of her husband, combined with the birth of her child, left Countess Ottonie Degenfeld confined to a wheelchair and in a state of severe depression. But two years earlier, she had met the famous young Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Learning of her situation, he now started writing to the 27-year-old Countess, and her road to a new life enriched by literature and the arts began. Presented here for the first time in the English language, their remarkable correspondence provides invaluable insights into the creative processes of Hofmannsthal, whose works were strongly influenced by this unusual relationship.
The lively correspondence is a window into a vanished world of European high society. It is a period piece reflecting the life of the affluent German aristocracy and its interaction with the arts in the first quarter of the century. Against this background, the lives and works of a number of prominent cultural figures, such as Richard Strauss and Max Reinhardt, are brought into a new light. Hofmannsthal's reports on the trials and triumphs of his libretti for Strauss's revolutionary operas are fascinating, as are his poignant comments on the First World War and its castastrophic consequences.
The correspondence reveals an intense friendship and shows how a sensitive and compassionate man, considered one of the foremost writers in the German language, helped a young woman recover from the depths of despair to find new meaning. It also reveals that, as Ottonie matured, it was she who helped lift the poet from his own gloom and personal problems.

Marie-Therese Miller-Degenfeld is the daughter of Ottonie, and edited the German editions of the correspondence. She lives in Virginia.

Table of Contents

Preface by Marie-Therese Miller-Degenfeld
Introduction by Andrew Zimmer
The Correspondence


The letters paint a vivid picture of aristocratic social life in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Characters and events are depicted with a master hand.... Of greatest interest to the musician are, of course, those letters which treat of the collaboration with Strauss. There are special insights here.... As the editor points out, the Ariadne story was very much Ottonie's story.... This was no isolated instance of Ottonie's influence on Hofmannsthal's work.... Equally explicit passages link Ottonie with Der Rosenkavalier.... The book simply overflows with such treasures.... The correspondence contains a wealth of historically valuable 'on site' commentary... Fascinating documents are ... made available to an English-reading public who will not be unaware of Hofmannsthal's status as a unique literary figure and one of the greatest poet-dramatists of his age. The task was well worth doing, and the book will be savoured by students of European literature and music alike. MUSIC AND LETTERS [Kenneth Birkin]

Not love letters in the usual sense, but letters full of poetic feeling ... The story of an enchanting woman of warmth and high spirits, inspired by a poet. DIE WELT [Joseph Wechsberg]

These historical letters will enable Hofmannsthal scholars to see how Hofmannsthal expressed his most inner thoughts outside of hispublic works--a valuable insight, since he kept no diary. CHOICE

The book will be savoured by students of European literature and music alike. MUSIC AND LETTERS

A treasure trove, to be plundered at will... Almost any page, selected at random, contains material of the greatest interest.... RICHARD STRAUSS SOCIETY NEWSLETTER

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