Musicologists have come to see E. T. A. Hoffmann’s review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as establishing the foundation for serious musical cultures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In casting Hoffmann as a modern musical thinker, however, scholars have overlooked alternative aspects of his writings, such as his remark that in listening to Beethoven’s instrumental music we become “spirit-seers” (Geisterseher). The term “spirit-seer” points to a set of philosophical debates, literatures and performance practices centred on the question of whether it is possible to perceive ghosts - a question that transferred uncertainties about sensory deception and extension from optical technologies to the imagination. This chapter traces the development of audiovisual strategies for inducing ghost belief, and rational strategies for defending against such belief, that culminated in the form of ghost show called phantasmagoria. Hoffmann’s review is shown to advance a phantasmagorical hearing of Beethoven’s Fifth. This in turn recasts his discussion of underlying rational coherence – recognized as heralding a new focus on musical structure – as a means to prove that the spirit-seeing induced by the symphony consisted not in wild imaginings or optical deceptions but rather in metaphysical truth.
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