Essays On Music

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Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969), one of the principal figures associated with the Frankfurt School, wrote extensively on culture, modernity, aesthetics, literature, and—more than any other subject—music. To this day, Adorno remains the single most influential contributor to the development of qualitative musical sociology which, together with his nuanced intertextual readings of musical works, gives him broad claim as a continuing force in the study of music. This long-awaited collection of twenty-seven essays represents the full range of Adorno's music writing. Nearly half of the essays appear in English for the first time; all of the essays are fully annotated; and the previously translated essays have been corrected and missing text restored, making this volume the definitive resource on Adorno's musical thought.

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Editorial Reviews

Lydia Goehr
An invaluable contribution to Adorno scholarship, with well chosen essays on composers, works, the culture industry, popular music, kitsch, and technology. Leppert's introduction and commentaries are consistently useful; his attention to secondary literature remarkable; his interpretation responsible. The new translations by Susan Gillespie (and others are outstanding not only for their care and readability, but also for their sensitivity to Adorno's forms and styles.
Martin Jay
The developing variations of Adorno's life-long involvement with musical themes are fully audible in this remarkable collection. What might be called his 'literature on notes' brilliantly complements the 'notes to literature' he devoted to the written word. Richard Leppert's superb commentaries constitute a book-length contribution in their own right, which will enlighten and challenge even the most learned of Adorno scholars.
Lawrence Kramer
This book is both a major achievement by its author-editor and a remarkable act of scholarly generosity for the rest of us. Until now, English translations of Adorno's major essays on music have been scattered and often unreliable. Until now, there has been no comprehensive scholarly treatment of Adorno's musical thinking. This volume remedies both problems at a single stroke. It will be read equally-and eagerly-for Adorno's texts and for Richard Leppert's commentary on them, both of which will continue to be essential resources as musical scholarship seeks increasingly to come to grips with the social contexts and effects of music. No one knows Adorno better than Leppert, and no one is better equipped to clarify the complex interweaving of sociology, philosophy, and musical aesthetics that is central to Adorno's work. From now on, everyone who reads Adorno on music, whether a beginner or an expert, is in Richard Leppert's debt for devoting his exceptional gifts of learning and lucidity to this project.
Gary Tomlinson
There is afoot in Anglo-American musicology today the first wholesale reconsideration of Adorno's thought since the pioneering work of Rose Rosengard Subotnik around 1980. Essays on Music will play a central role in this effort. It will do so because Richard Leppert has culled Adorno's writings so as to make clear to musicologists the place of music in the broad critique of modernity that was Adorno's overarching project; and it will do so because Leppert has explained these writings, in commentaries that amount to a book-length study, so as to reveal to non-musicologists the essentially musical foundation of this project. No one interested in Adorno from any perspective-or, for that matter, in modernity and music all told-can afford to ignore Essays on Music.
Village Voice
[I]n a luxuriously thick new volumeŠyou are reminded of truths about art that our cultural institutions wish you'd forget.
James Deaville
With its careful, full edition of Adorno's important musical texts and its exhaustive yet eminently readable commentaries, Richard Leppert's magisterial book represents a brilliant solution to the age-old dilemma of bringing together primary text and interpretation in one volume.
Rose Rosengard Subotnik
A book of landmark importance. It is unprecedented in its design: a brilliantly selected group of essays on music coupled with lucid, deeply incisive, and in every way masterly analysis of Adorno's thinking about music. No one who studies Adorno and music will be able to dispense with it; and if they can afford only one book on Adorno and music, this will be the one. For in miniature, it contains everything one needs: a collection of exceptionally important writings on all the principal aspects of music and musical life with which Adorno dealt; totally reliable scholarship; and powerfully illuminating commentary that will help readers at all levels read and re-read the essays in question.
Independent UK
Dense with insight, Theodor Adorno's Essays on Music are essential lessons in the art of hearing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520226722
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2002
  • Pages: 764
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Leppert is Samuel Russell Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota. His previous books include Art and the Committed Eye: The Cultural Functions of Imagery (1996) and The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body (California, 1993).

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Essays on Music

By Theodor W. Adorno

University of California

Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23159-7


Richard Leppert

Life and Works

Adorno was a genius; I say that without reservation.... [He] had a presence of mind, a spontaneity of thought, a power of formulation that I have never seen before or since. One was unable to grasp the emerging process of Adorno's thoughts; they emerged, as it were, finished. That was his virtuosity.... When you were with Adorno you were in the movement of his thought. Adorno was not trivial; it was denied him, in a clearly painful way, ever to be trivial. But at the same time, he lacked the pretensions and the affectations of the stilted and "auratic" avant-garde that one saw in George's disciples.... By all notable standards, Adorno remained anti-elitist. Incidentally, he was a genius also in that he preserved certain child-like traits, both the character of a prodigy and the dependence of one "not-yet-grownup." He was characteristically helpless before institutions or legal procedures. Jürgen Habermas, "A Generation Apart from Adorno"

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was born in Frankfurt am Main on 11 September 1903. He died from a heart attack just short of his sixty-sixth birthday on 6 August 1969 while on vacation in Switzerland.

Adorno's father, Oskar Wiesengrund (1870-1946), was a wine merchant and an assimilated Jew who converted to Protestantism at about the time of his son's birth. The family was well off. Adorno was an only child whose youth was as sheltered as it was happy. As Martin Jay put it, "His childhood provided him a model of happiness whose memory served as a standard against which he would measure all subsequent disappointments." His mother, Maria Calvelli-Adorno della Piana (1864-1952), was Catholic, and it was her family name that Adorno exchanged for Wiesengrund in 1938. Also living in the household throughout Adorno's childhood was his mother's unmarried sister, Agathe Calvelli-Adorno (1868-1935). Adorno referred to both as Mother. Maria had been a very successful professional singer, her career ending with her marriage; Agathe had been a successful professional pianist; she had accompanied singer Adelina Patti in numerous recitals.

Adorno's intellectual training was rigorous and came early. By age fifteen, he began a long period of study-occupying Saturday afternoons-of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason mentored by family friend Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966), who at the time was editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung. By Adorno's own account, the Kant study sessions went on "for years." By 1923 Kracauer and Adorno were studying Goethe's Elective Affinities and, thereafter, the first draft of Walter Benjamin's essay on this work. Hauke Brunkhorst states the impact of the Kant studies as "the key work in Adorno's intellectual development. The idea of a negative dialectic, which is Adorno's most unique philosophical contribution, owes much to it." Adorno himself acknowledged as much: "I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I owe more to this reading [of Kant] than to my academic teachers."

Leo Lowenthal (1900-1993), later the distinguished sociologist of literature, whom Adorno met in 1921, also studied with Kracauer. In a letter to Lowenthal of 4 December 1921, Kracauer mused about their mutual friend: "Something incomparable puts him in a position over both of us, an admirable material existence [referring to Adorno's family's wealth] and a wonderfully self-confident character. He is truly a beautiful specimen of a human being; even if I am not without some skepticism concerning his future, I am surely delighted by him in the present." Lowenthal, late in life, described Adorno at eighteen in more personal terms as "a delicate, slender young man. Indeed, he was the classical image of a poet, with a delicate way of moving and talking that one scarcely finds nowadays. We would meet either at a coffee house-mostly at the famous Café Westend at the opera, where intellectual enfants terribles met-or at one or at the other of our parents' places. Naturally, I knew Adorno's parents well, also his aunt Agathe. It was an existence you just had to love-if you were not dying of jealousy of this protected beautiful life-and in it Adorno had gained the confidence that never left him his entire life."

With Kracauer's guidance Adorno notes that he experienced Kant "from the beginning not as mere epistemology, not as an analysis of the conditions of scientifically valid judgments, but as a kind of coded text from which the historical situation of spirit could be read, with the vague expectation that in doing so one could acquire something of truth itself." No less important, Adorno noted that "What pressed for philosophical expression in [Kracauer] was an almost boundless capacity for suffering: expression and suffering are intimately related. Kracauer's relationship to truth was that suffering entered into the idea-which usually dissipates it-in undistorted, unmitigated form; suffering could be rediscovered in ideas from the past as well." The question of suffering, and the responsibility of both philosophy and art to address it, remained with Adorno his entire career.

In 1921, at age seventeen, Adorno entered Frankfurt's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University where he studied philosophy, sociology, psychology, and music. He completed a doctorate in philosophy just three years later at age twenty-one. During these years he met and formed friendships with two men of particular importance to his later professional and intellectual life, respectively: in 1922 Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), eight years Adorno's senior; and in 1923 Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), eleven years older. By the late 1920s Adorno was also acquainted with a number of other heterodox Marxists, including Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, Herbert Marcuse, and Kurt Weill.

As an adolescent, Adorno's musical training included piano lessons from Bernhard Sekles, also the teacher of Hindemith. As a young man he seriously entertained the possibility of a career as a composer and concert pianist. He acted on this ambition in January 1925 with a move to Vienna, after having been deeply affected by excerpts from Berg's Wozzeck, prior to the opera's world premiere, played at a concert in Frankfurt, where he also met Berg. Berg accepted him as a composition student and gave him lessons twice weekly. Adorno also took additional piano training from Eduard Steuermann, a champion of twentieth-century piano works, who like Berg was part of the Schoenberg circle.

Adorno did not find Vienna to his liking. Moreover, the Schoenberg "circle," which he hoped to join, turned out to be not much of one. Schoenberg himself was remote personally and inaccessible physically, having moved outside the city to Mödling following his second marriage; and in 1926 Schoenberg moved to Berlin. Not least, Schoenberg and Adorno did not hit it off, despite Adorno's admiration for the composer's music. Adorno returned to Frankfurt in the summer of 1925, though he traveled back to Vienna on and off until 1927, maintaining his contacts and publishing music criticism, notably in the music journals Pult und Taktstock and Anbruch; for the latter he acquired an editorial position with Berg's help in 1929 which he retained until 1932. Both journals championed new music. Adorno's career in music journalism in fact predated his Vienna experience-and vastly exceeded his publication in philosophy, the first philosophical essay appearing only in 1933. Between 1921, while still a teenager, and 1931 he published dozens of opera and concert reviews, reviews of published new music, as well as essays on aesthetics, and heavily favoring new music. Thus in 1922, at nineteen, he praised in print Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire (1912) in the Neue Blätter für Kunst und Literatur. During the late 1920s and early 1930s he and Ernst Krenek carried on in-print debates about free tonality and serialism, and problems of musical form and genre; he also collaborated with violinist Rudolf Kolisch on developing a theory of musical performance.

Returning to Frankfurt at twenty-four, Adorno began his association with the Institute of Social Research, founded in 1923, with which Horkheimer was already connected-only after the Second World War was the Institute's work referred to as the "Frankfurt School." Adorno's first publication for the Institute came in 1932, with the essay "On the Social Situation in Music," included in this volume; it appeared in the first issue of the Institute's journal, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. Adorno formally joined the Institute only in 1938, during its American exile.

The right to teach in German universities depends on the Habilitationsschrift, a kind of second dissertation. Adorno's first attempt ("The Concept of the Unconscious in the Transcendental Theory of Mind") in 1927 was rejected by his advisor, philosopher Hans Cornelius. His second effort, successful, concerned Kierkegaard ("Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic") and constituted one of the early critiques of Existentialism. Paul Tillich, the theologian, was Adorno's official advisor to this project, since Cornelius had left the university, emigrating to Finland. Adorno's Kierkegaard study was published in 1933, on the very day that Hitler assumed office.

The Marxist orientation of the Institute of Social Research was well known and in no sense disguised; moreover, its members were almost exclusively Jewish. On 30 January 1933, the day of Hitler's ascendancy, the house shared by Horkheimer and Friedrich Pollock in a Frankfurt suburb was seized by Hitler's SS. The Institute itself was searched and closed by the police on 13 March. In July the Gestapo office in Berlin sent notice of the confiscation of "Communist property," charging that the Institute "has encouraged activities hostile to the state." Most of its sixty-thousand-volume library was confiscated. (The Institute's substantial private endowment had been transferred to Holland two years earlier and was later moved again to the United States, thereby protecting it from seizure.) In September, on his thirtieth birthday, Adorno's right to teach, the venia legendi, was revoked by the Nazi government, and he moved, briefly, to Berlin. (To that point in his career Adorno had principally supported himself, however poorly, by journalistic music criticism, rather than teaching.)

Horkheimer, who had assumed the directorship in 1931, and his colleagues initially moved the Institute to Geneva, where a branch office had been established the same year as Horkheimer became director-until the start of the war there were also branch offices in Paris and London. In May 1934 Horkheimer traveled to New York and secured an affiliation for the Institute with Columbia University. Soon thereafter, Horkheimer was joined by Leo Lowenthal, Herbert Marcuse, and Friedrich Pollock.

In 1934 Adorno left Germany for England, dividing his time between London and Oxford where he studied at Merton College. (His entry to Merton was supported by references from philosopher Ernst Cassirer and musicologist Edward Dent; Adorno had written to Alban Berg for the favor of intervening with Dent, whom Adorno had met through the International Society for New Music.) Thereafter, Adorno made numerous trips back to Germany, some quite extended, in particular to see Gretel Karplus (1902-1993) in Berlin, whom he married in 1937. It was possible for Adorno to return to Germany more or less freely for two reasons. First, he was not politically active, nor was he a member of the Institute; second, he was, as Rolf Wiggershaus puts it, "'only' a 'half-Jew'"; the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 treated Mischlinge like Adorno more leniently than "full" Jews. Leo Lowenthal accounts for Adorno's reluctance to leave Germany as typical of the assimilated German-Jewish middle class, the upper middle class especially. "Adorno had such an incredibly hard time finally leaving Germany (we had to drag him almost physically); he just couldn't believe that to him, son of Oskar Wiesengrund, nephew of aunt Agathe, and son of Maria, anything might ever happen [i.e., so secure and happy was his childhood], for it was absolutely clear that the bourgeoisie would soon become fed up with Hitler. This kind of naïve unfamiliarity with the real world-particularly that of Germany and the at-first complicated and then not-so-complicated relations of Christians and Jews-must be borne in mind if one is to fully understand Adorno's personal history."

In June 1937 Adorno briefly visited the United States for the first time, at the urging of Horkheimer. Adorno and Gretel emigrated in February 1938, thanks to a part-time position established for him by Horkheimer in the music division of the Princeton University Radio Research Project. Adorno remained in New York until November 1941, when he moved to Los Angeles, following Horkheimer who had gone West for health and climate reasons several months earlier. Adorno's nearly eight-year California exile was intellectually highly productive. Indeed, in a 1957 letter to Lowenthal he confided that "I believe 90 percent of all that I've published in Germany was written in America."

Major works written during this period include Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) written with Horkheimer at the beginning of his stay, and, at the end, The Authoritarian Personality (1950), a multi-person collaboration with Adorno the senior author. The Authoritarian Personality, by far the largest monograph Adorno wrote in English, was part of a series of projects that fell under the heading Studies in Prejudice, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, which had hired Horkheimer to direct its Department of Scientific Research. Between these two major collaborative projects came Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life completed by 1946 but published only in 1951. Dedicated to Horkheimer, it is Adorno's most personal book, an often deeply moving analysis of late modernity viewed through the condition of exile. At about the same time, he collaborated with Hanns Eisler on Composing for the Films (1947), the first monograph on film music. Philosophy of Modern Music (Adorno's German title is more accurately rendered "New Music"), a highly influential-and controversial-account of music by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, appeared in 1949, though part of it was written several years earlier. In Search of Wagner, parts of which he had published in essay form in 1939, appeared in 1952.

During the war years, Adorno came into close contact with fellow émigré Thomas Mann, then writing his great novel Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend, a sustained critique of Nazism using the fictional composer's biography and work as a metaphor for Germany's cultural decline.


Excerpted from Essays on Music by Theodor W. Adorno Copyright © 2002 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Translator's Note

Introduction (by Richard Leppert)

Commentary (by Richard Leppert)
Music, Language, and Composition (1956)
Why Is the New Art So Hard to Understand? (1931)
On the Contemporary Relationship of Philosophy and Music (1953)
On the Problem of Musical Analysis
The Aging of the New Music (1955)
The Dialectical Composer (1934)

Commentary (by Richard Leppert)
The Radio Symphony (1941)
The Curves of the Neddle (1927/1965)
The Form of the Phonograph Record
Opera and the Long-Playing Record (1969)
On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening (1938)
Little Heresy (1965)

Commentary (by Richard Leppert)
What National Socialism Has Done to the Arts (1945)
On the Social Situation of Music (1932)
On Popular Music [With the assistance of George Simpson] (1941)
On Jazz (1936)
Farewell to Jazz (1933)
Kitsch (c. 1932)
Music in the Background (c. 1934)

Commentary (by Richard Leppert)
Late Style in Beethoven (1937)
Alienated Masterpiece: The Missa Solemnis (1959)
Wagner's Relevance for Today (1963)
Mahler Today (1930)
Marginalia on Mahler (1936)
The Opera Wozzeck (1929)
Toward an Understanding of Schoenberg (1955/1967)
Difficulties (1964, 1966)

Source and Copyright Acknowledgments


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