The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel, and Mechanical Music

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This essay examines the notion of tact at the intersection of technology, music, and literature around 1800. Focusing on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann and Die Automate, it situates his texts in the longer history of musical automata in the eighteenth century and alongside the invention of the metronome by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel and Johann Nepomuk Maelzel in the early 19th century. This mechanization of music spurred debates about the problem of aesthetic order among composers and music critics, specifically about different conceptions of musical tact. Against this background the article reads Hoffmann’s texts as an attempt to articulate an inner sense of tact at once dependent on and irreducible to the mechanical musical instruments of his contemporaries.

Tact, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Johan Nepomuk Maelzel, the metronome, musical automata, Der Sandmann, Die Automate
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Germanic Review
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)351-372
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Part of: Klangfiguren - Special Issue


  • Der Sandmann
  • Die Automate
  • E.T.A. Hoffmann
  • Johan Nepomuk Maelzel
  • Musical automata
  • Tact
  • The metronome

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Sense of Tact: Hoffmann, Maelzel, and Mechanical Music'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this