Theodor W. Adorno  

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"I believe that attempts to bring political protest together with ‘popular music’ – that is, with entertainment music – are for the following reason doomed from the start."--"Theodor W. Adorno on political protest and popular music, 1968, 3sat

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Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund Adorno (September 11, 1903August 6, 1969) was a German sociologist, philosopher, musicologist, and composer. He was a member of the Frankfurt School of critical theory and a noted cultural pessimist and elitist.

On jazz and popular music

Adorno criticized jazz and popular music, viewing it as part of the culture industry, that contributes to the present sustainability of capitalism by rendering it "aesthetically pleasing" and "agreeable".

Adorno's reputation as a musicologist has been in steady decline since his death. His sweeping criticisms of jazz and championing of the Second Viennese School in opposition to Stravinsky have caused him to fall out of favour. The distinguished American scholar Richard Taruskin declared Adorno to be "preposterously over-rated." The eminent pianist and critic Charles Rosen saw Adorno's book The Philosophy of New Music as "largely a fraudulent presentation, a work of polemic that pretends to be an objective study." Even a fellow Marxist such as the historian and jazz critic Eric Hobsbawm saw Adorno's writings as containing "some of the stupidest pages ever written about jazz". (The Jazz Scene) The British philosopher Roger Scruton saw Adorno as producing "reams of turgid nonsense devoted to showing that the American people are just as alienated as Marxism requires them to be, and that their cheerful life-affirming music is a ‘fetishized’ commodity, expressive of their deep spiritual enslavement to the capitalist machine." Irritation with Adorno's tunnel vision started even while he was alive. He may have championed Schoenberg, but the composer notably failed to return the compliment: "I have never been able to bear the fellow [...] It is disgusting, by the way, how he treats Stravinsky." On the other hand, the scholar Slavoj Žižek has written a foreword to Adorno's In Search of Wagner, where Žižek attributes an "emancipatory impulse" to the same book, although Žižek suggests that fidelity to this impulse demands "a betrayal of the explicit theses of Adorno's Wagner study."

Following Horkheimer's taking up the directorship of the Institute, a new journal, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, was produced to publish the research of Institute members both before and after its relocation to the United States. Though Adorno was not an Institute member, the journal published many of his essays, including "The Social Situation of Music" (1932), "On Jazz" (1936), "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" (1938) and "Fragments on Wagner" (1938). In his new role as social theorist, Adorno's philosophical analysis of cultural phenomena heavily relied on the language of historical materialism, as concepts like reification, false consciousness and ideology came to play an ever more prominent role in his work. At the same time, however, and owing to both the presence of another prominent sociologist at the Institute, Karl Mannheim, as well as the methodological problem posed by treating objects—like "musical material"—as ciphers of social contradictions, Adorno was compelled to abandon any notion of "value-free" sociology in favour of a form of ideology critique that held on to an idea of truth. Before his emigration in autumn 1934, Adorno began work on a Singspiel based on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer titled The Treasure of Indian Joe, which he never completed; by the time he fled Hitler's Germany Adorno had already written over 100 opera or concert reviews and 50 critiques of music composition.

Bibliography

Theodor W. Adorno bibliography

See also




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