Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music
Theodor W. Adorno
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Beethoven is a classic study of the composer’s music, written by one of the most important thinkers of our time. Throughout his life, Adorno wrote extensive notes, essay fragments and aides–mémoires on the subject of Beethoven’s music. This book brings together all of Beethoven’s music in relation to the society in which he lived.
Adorno identifies three periods in Beethoven’s work, arguing that the thematic unity of the first and second periods begins to break down in the third. Adorno follows this progressive disintegration of organic unity in the classical music of Beethoven and his contemporaries, linking it with the rationality and monopolistic nature of modern society.
Beethoven will be welcomed by students and researchers in a wide range of disciplines—philosophy, sociology, music and history—and by anyone interested in the life of the composer.
“Great works of art, Adorno knew, always resist the attempt to subsume them under theoretical categories. In the case of a supreme artist like Beethoven, a lifetime of futile efforts by Adorno to complete a major philosophical study bore ironic witness to this insight. The struggle to write his impossible book left behind, however, a wealth of tantalizing fragments, which have the added value of revealing Adorno’s own process of intellectual production. Masterfully reconstructed and annotated by Rolf Tiedemann, they are now available in Edmund Jephcott’s elegant translation. In their very ‘failure’ they demonstrate the abiding power of Adorno’s claim that the dialectic of art and philosophy must remain unreconciled and negative.” —Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley
“These fragments shed valuable light not only on Adorno’s thinking on Beethoven, but also equally importantly on the sources of Adorno’s philosophy of music. Rolf Tiedemann’s sensitive editing has produced a remarkably coherent volume out of the most disparate material, while Edmund Jephcott’s translation rises magnificently to a difficult task.” —Max Paddison, University of Durham
totality, (p. 268) – The quotation is from: Goethe, The Elective Affinities, transi, by R.J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978, p. 261. 289 Cf. Ludwig Nohl, Beethovens Leben, 2nd completely revised edition by Paul Sakolowski, vol. 1, Berlin 1909. 290 A quotation from Aesthetic Theory may be compared to the same passage: The D flat major passage in the slow movement of Beethoven’s op. 59, no. 1, for example, would not radiate spiritual solace were it not for the balanced euphonia of
with the manifest, outward, sonata-like one. Thus, the ontological emerges precisely from subjective spontaneity, a key to the whole theory of form. How the catastrophe in the coda of the first movement is brought about. The Gb [bar 243], as a false progression, cutting off the harmonic flow, like a higher authority, but ‘the objection is overruled’, the G appears a second time [bar 246], and now it is as if the collective were standing behind it.185 Regarding the slow movement, Kerr’s
theme and a harmonic figure in the closing section, but with such élan in the whole form that its freshness is carried forward even over the empty phrases. The inward relationship between the whole and its moments still unresolved. – The second movement has a very charming theme, but gives a curiously abrupt impression, whether because it has too few variations or because the coda, though deeply felt, is out of balance. One of the few movements which gives an impression of failure. At the same
a thesis, as if they were a free act over which no material has precedence. Technically, this requires extreme dynamic intensity: loudness, here, is no mere sensuous attribute; it is the condition of something spiritual, of structural meaning. Unless the nothing of the first bars is realized at once as the everything of the whole movement, the music has bypassed the movement’s idea before it has properly started. The composition is reduced to inconsequentiality, no tension is accumulated. But the
compulsion of the subject matter, not from subjective reflection. Nevertheless, there is subjective, biographical support for the idea that the development leading to the late work, and the constitution of this work, were critical in nature. And this takes me to a point which, I suspect, has been given far too little attention. Beethoven’s late style is not simply a reaction of a person who has grown old, or even of one who, having gone deaf, no longer has full mastery of the sensuous material.