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
Hegel’s subject-object is a subject. This explains the contradiction, unresolved according to Hegel’s own demand for consistency on all sides, that while the subject-object dialectic, devoid of any superordinate abstract concept, constitutes the whole, it is yet fulfilled as the life of the absolute spirit. According to this view, the quintessence of the conditional is the unconditional. The floating aspect of Hegel’s philosophy, the keeping-itself-aloft, its permanent skandolon: the name of the
[n. 2], pp. 53ff. – In Negative Dialectics, Adorno took up the motif with reference to Beethoven and Bach: ‘The autonomous Beethoven is more metaphysical, and therefore more true, than Bach’s ordo. Subjectively liberated experience and metaphysical experience converge in humanity’ (p. 397). 112 Syntactical error in manuscript. 113 Syntactical error in manuscript. 114 Adorno does not follow Kant’s wording exactly here. 115 In Aesthetic Theory Adorno extended the definition of the sublime,
263 On the question of the superiority of Bach or Beethoven, Adorno writes in Aesthetic Theory: To ask which of the two ranks more highly is therefore a moot question. It is only when we use the criterion of truth content – the emancipation of the subject from myth and the reconciliation of both – that Beethoven emerges as the more advanced composer. This criterion outweighs all others in importance. (1984 edition, p. 303) 264 Adorno is probably referring to the Sonata op. 42, D 845. – In his
of absolute dissonance, his blackness’, Adorno writes: ‘the outbreak, from the place it has escaped from, appears as savage: the anti-civilizational impulse as musical character. Such moments evoke the doctrine of Jewish mysticism that interprets evil and destructiveness as scattered manifestations of the dismembered divine power […]’ (Adorno, Mahler, p. 51). It is not inconceivable that this motif was taken from Beethoven because – despite the ‘immoderately wild’ second movement of the F major
assertion that ‘I’m just fine’; what is true and yet, in relation to the whole, untrue and, by that yardstick, comic. Much like the announcement: ‘This tastes good.’ What is decisive is not just that Beethoven, as a ‘Netherlander’, has this element, but that he has it as something sublated and positively negated. NB: The comic element in all eating, partly because it is never happiness itself but an Id mediated by the Ego.  Certain expressive configurations in Beethoven have attached to