Sunday, February 17, 2008

The arrogance of the man!

Skipping through 7 centuries in 7 weeks in my music course (topic, roughly - the social location of composers) right up to punk, Kraftwerk and other such music - which I find quite interesting, actually - I find myself nose to nose, or eyeball to eyeone with one Theodor W. Adorno (a German philosopher who has also done a lot of work on music). He was a mate of Schoenberg's, amongst others.

Hey, I think, I have a book of his essays, so I dip into it. Have done well to get to page 24....

Typically German philosopher, he writes in an extremely dense, turgid style. If I were in a bookshop and saw paragraphs of that length, I would just put the book back. In my course materials he is described as a Marxist; I would have noticed without being pointed in that direction with a huge plank of wood....I suspect he's also a Freudian, using quite a few Freudian expressions (fetishism, infantile, regression,sadomasochistic and so on). All very interesting, if it weren't such hard work. I wonder if his work, translated into English, is more accessible? Also I am planning to read some Freud, who I gather won the Goethe-Prize for his quality of writing - but will that be more readable?

I see this site states that ' Adorno's writing is notoriously difficult to understand'. I'd say!

But he, having fled Germany during the Hitler period, arrives in the US and begins in 1937/38 by telling people what to think - and feel! - about music. Now, remember that the US got a huge influx of intellectuals from Germany during that time - did they all behave like that? (Answer, if they were German, they probably did).

So he tells people that the question of 'taste' is out of date, that all 'light and pleasant' art is a lie, that music should not be enjoyed (I see he concedes that Schoenberg's music is not enjoyable), and that if cultural goods are cared for by radio stations, this will turn them into something bad. Basically he suggests, if I understand him right (which might be doubtful), that music must only be listened to for its own sake, not because your company is sponsoring the concert, and not because you happen to like it. Instead you should listen to it as a reflection of the state of society at the time it was written, and it should also act as a critique of social developments. Now, the latter makes me think about the huge difference between English music in the first half of the 20th century (all imperial, when not pastoral) and effectively post-revolutionary German and Austrian music. He's probably right on that one. As far as composers writing earlier are concerned - did anyone tell them this?

Will I read the rest of the book? I will try - there are just so many distractions....


Henry Holland said...

I see he concedes that Schoenberg's music is not enjoyable

I love Schoenberg's music, which disproves your insipid statement.

What period of Schoenberg are you talking about, not that you'd know what those periods are anyway? His early pieces are quite popular, especially Verklarte Nacht, his atonal pieces are performed quite frequently and even his knottier later 12-tone stuff gets pretty regular airings, especially the chamber music. Looking at his publishers website, there's 120+ performances of his works being done in the next 9 months alone. That's a lot of performances of music that's not enjoyable.

If you'd have written "I don't find Schoenberg enjoyable", that's different.

Now, remember that the US got a huge influx of intellectuals from Germany during that time - did they all behave like that? (Answer, if they were German, they probably did).