This essay presents Theodor W. Adorno’s case pro and contra the regulation of the work-concept in a tradition that long sustained a great 1800 divide. The case is made through the provocation offered in Lydia Goehr’s Imaginary Museum of Musical Works that “Bach did not intend to compose musical works.” The essay investigates the many references to Johann Sebastian Bach in Adorno’s aesthetic, social, and philosophical writings to show that his Bach case was not merely illustrative but paradigmatic of every case he made for a critical theory of possibility. Adorno’s case was an urgent matter of rescue and justice, made by linking Bach’s compositions to Arnold Schoenberg’s paradigmata of a possible music through the mediation of the work-concept for which Ludwig van Beethoven was made in the tradition paradigmatically to stand.
Making a Case
In my book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, I offered the following statement almost as a first line: “Bach [Johann Sebastian] did not intend to compose musical works.” My aim was to rescue musical production from a both too imperialistic and too generic use of the work-concept. If Bach did categorically compose works, I argued, it was because the compositions were brought under a concept that organized music in a way not of his times but of times to which the name Ludwig van Beethoven and particularly his Fifth Symphony had become attached. To attach a name or work to an entire way of packaging music’s production and reception was to capture a collective intentionality according to a paradigm that had sustained an increasingly authoritative way of going on in a practice. To fall under the work-concept was (in bare outline) for a musical composition to be through-composed, fixed by an exact notation that rendered performances always and everywhere the same as regards the patterns of tones. Had I written that Bach did not intend to compose in alliance with a work-concept that made Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony paradigmatic, I would perhaps better have stated my purpose to liberate not only Bach’s compositions from the work-concept’s strict regulation but Beethoven’s also, and then potentially all other ways of making and composing music as works. This proposed revision gives me my point for the present essay: Adorno had already made such a liberating case. Only coming to know this too late to influence what I wrote in the 1980s, I have been grappling with his views ever since.
This essay presents Adorno’s case through the lens of my own thinking. It is a shared case leading to a striking paradox of emancipation: that Bach’s music was more freely composed despite the regulation of church and court than the compositions (Bach’s then included) that were brought into line, after Beethoven, with the modern ideology of music’s autonomy. Long before my own provocative line, Adorno turned many such lines into productive contradictions and most often by musical illustration. After the introductory overview, I read a single sentence as set within a longer passage from his Aesthetic Theory to show how often music was Adorno’s example of the dialectical movement that he used to render his philosophical theory always also aesthetic and critical. I present Adorno’s many statements that invoke Bach in some way. Moving from more difficult to more familiar thoughts, the final picture reveals its strengths yet also its problematic pressure points.
Throughout I italicize the key terms of Adorno’s overall dialectical labor. The aesthetic in his aesthetic theory, as the critical in his critical theory, captured what he regarded as truth-preserving against the tendency of theory to articulate its concepts so as to subsume their subjects or examples in a perfect fit or identity without any remainder and reminder of what made the subjects free and unique particulars. With the same tension found between his well-known terms of Kultur and Industrie, the subjects could be subjected persons who, made to fall before administered concepts, lost sight of what their production of particulars could contribute to releasing their minds from the tight grip of a supporting theory. Many have addressed the theory dependence of our conceptual and perceptual schemes. But the critical point is then to attend to the dangers of this dependence when the theory encourages too great an ideological servitude to the most hardened of its concepts.
When one makes a good case (as in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Der Fall Wagner), one does justice to the subject by presenting the evidence pro and contra. Justice ought never to be invoked lightly. One might make a case for a subject contra another that comes out against the subject. Adorno, like Nietzsche, described the rise and fall of persons and things according to their use, but much more according to their abuse. He focused on the abuse for reasons of both history and theory, but purposefully to rescue the abused subjects, if, as he always stressed, rescue is possible at all.
I explore the rescue as an exercise of immanent critique regarding the idea of working through a past construed as a history of works. I move between subjects as persons and the subject of inquiry as focused both on the concepts to which we give form and on the things and objects we make. Adorno’s case used political, theological, social, and aesthetic motifs of redemption: resurrecting, recovering, saving, protecting, preserving, commemorating, memorializing, and unburdening. All these terms were heavily invested. My focus rests on a justice to the past effected by not burying Bach in a pastness that kills off the relevance he could have in the present. What, I ask, made Bach’s music so striking a reference point for Adorno, given his aim to rescue not the past per se but the future from a present that, from his historical moment (roughly the 1920s–60s), was so abusing the past?
To pursue this question, I unpack some of the most prominent dialectical lines that Adorno offered when looking back. Once, invoking and then quoting Immanuel Kant, he noted the thought of the critical path (der kritische Weg) being alone still open, but how this thought in his present was incomparably much greater than what Kant meant when articulating it in its first time and place (unvergleichlich viel größer ist als das an Ort und Stelle Gemeinte).1Adorno made this point in his essay “On Tradition” to show that looking back to a moment of critical possibility in the first time and place of the late eighteenth century sustained a second thought: that second time around, the critical way by no means came with a red seal of safe delivery.
Repeatedly, Adorno named Bach in the same first time and place as standing for a beginning of a story told about the emergence of a bourgeois culture with its work-concept, and for an end, before, that is, the promise of Enlightenment’s freedom turned to the terror of an overly rationalized consciousness. He marked the doubled-up dialectical moment as a great divide between Bach and Beethoven. Even if the work-concept had some sort of life already, say, in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, it was the divide around 1800 that mattered most (as it did for me in my own book).2 Adorno described Bach’s music as drawing on local and national styles of Bach’s present and past to produce something that played to the emerging bourgeois spirit while finding in the music something general, universal, or truthful to resist and surpass this trajectory. There had to be this something more for his rescue to work. He comparably wrote about Bach as awakening the through-formed power of a musical shaping (die durch-formende Kraft der musikalischen Gestaltung) (GS, 10.1:145), without the resulting form of the compositions complying, despite their soon being made to comply, with the bourgeois regulation of the work-concept. He then declared this doubled understanding of Bach as coming only first to consciousness along a critical path when the costs of the work-concept became fully evident at the end of the tradition, a second end, to which he attached the name Arnold Schoenberg. He duly drew a singular thread that he never cut: from Bach forward to Schoenberg and from Schoenberg back to Bach. And if a second end, then maybe a new beginning.
In his essay “The Contemporary Relationship between Philosophy and Music,” Adorno insisted that the “analysis of the current status [Standes] of music should give itself (up) to philosophical insight [Einsicht] as, conversely, the philosophical reflection [Besinnung] was not to be separated from the contemporary situation of music” (GS, 18:164). The analysis of the current status was always also a looking back at the tradition: to how music had been produced and received up to his today. He demonstrated the double perspective of present and past in the only essay he ever devoted to Bach, written as a defense against Bach’s most ardent devotees (gegen seine Liebhaber verteidigt). This essay has been often and very well discussed. I draw from it too, although only to supplement the many passing mentions of Bach in relation to Beethoven and Schoenberg in the entire range of Adorno’s writings. For I read these mentions as exemplary invocations in a critical model not only of music’s history but always also of his aesthetic and critical theory. No thought Adorno had about music was only about music if, that is, the thought was to have philosophical import for thinking through the current state of thinking about the social situation, a situation he regarded as overall false. The thinking through found music placed, accordingly, into constant contrast and comparison with the other arts, with language more broadly, but always also with every dimension of society’s means and management.
The very idea of Bach’s being particularly defended was indicative of how Adorno took the side of many a great master when attacking the disciples who, through too much disciplining of thought, erased precisely what he believed made the master worth defending in the first place. Yet he often contradicted a master’s own version of his legacy when he thought that a side had wrongly been taken. Although his targets were mostly the devotees of his own times, he borrowed from what the likes of G. W. F. Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, and Nietzsche had written about as an idolatry, fanaticism, and enthusiasm badly blended with an ideology and nostalgia for a lost past. With these predecessors, and with many contemporaries, Adorno found Faustian pacts made between elite academics and popular or public opinion makers. So when then he heard complaints all around that the lost past should be restored for Bach’s sake, he proclaimed the complaints abusive insofar as the past claimed lost was one with which Bach was only ever half congruent. Bach’s music, Adorno insisted in his Bach essay, being of its time and not of its time, stood anachronistically as “a harbinger of things to come” (der Anachronismus zum Boten der Zukunft) (GS, 10.1:147; Prisms, 141). But when, then, the things reached an actualized or current state, they proved, in Adorno’s view, more to disadvantage Bach’s music than the contrary. With an ear to backward and forward repetitions and remembrances, Adorno turned the looking back into a diagnosis of a history that had gone wrong up to the moment of his present right now.
Adorno wrote of rescuing the tradition’s moment of truth from the bad (schlechter) traditionalism (GS, 10.1:316). The bad traditionalism that aimed to get back to Bach by overcoming the gap between present and past belied the truth of a tradition that gets back by not going back. Or the traditionalism that ignores the irretrievability belies a retrievability that is possible only through consciousness in the present of its irretrievability (Unwiederbringlichkeit) (GS, 10.1:316). This last dialectical thought was written to expose a contradiction inside a bad situation while aimed at retrieving something different immanently, from inside out. Adorno produced countless such dialectical lines to sustain his conviction that to think through to a freedom of a true consciousness was to think through a false consciousness, through the bad current situation to something different in the cracks, without presupposing or reaching a standpoint of truth outside or beyond. The truth was to be worked through in the lie, the antidote in the poison, given the basic premise of his negative dialectic: that nothing false stands without antagonism or contradiction with what is true, not even when the false stands on parade as though having obliterated every truth that opposes it. No falsity without truth, and vice versa, in the play between contingency and necessity in human history.
Because the task of thinking through the false is so very difficult, Adorno always described it as though it were impossible, that today it is too late.3 Nevertheless, at the extreme of crisis or catastrophe, he found his critical starting point. With the past and present actuality on display, every possible sense of thinking through to difference seems, he reasoned, to be covered up in a swindle or covered over entirely by the facade of the false social schema: hence blocked, repressed, suppressed, killed off, concealed. If, however, the impossibility corresponds to what is a matter of how society appears today, the task must be to work through appearance (from durcharbeiten) to get a sense or glimpse of what is or might be possible contra the most dominating claim of the status quo, that this present actuality (of appearance) is all that there is.
How, now, did Adorno appeal to Bach to work and think through the established culture of musical works? Adorno sought to rescue a truthfulness in and about Bach’s music given how it had fallen into a forgetfulness through a tradition of reproduction and reception that had remembered Bach wrongly. To remember Bach rightly, one could not leap back as though Beethoven or anything after Bach had not happened, to how things actually were (wie es eigentlich gewesen). Instead, one had to think in the present of how things might be had things gone differently. To think difference was, to repeat, to think the possible against a current consciousness of its impossibility. The entire schema turned on the musical objects as mediated by what one is able to think about them today given a social structuration that shapes the subject’s consciousness and experience as much as the objects or things the subject finds in a world made.
To think about possibility was to think about what survived in a tradition of reception and production that had done a great injustice to Bach’s music. Yet, given this critical model, Adorno could not bring the content of immanent possibility to explicit articulation, to a determination or specificity that would effectively reduce the possible to what was already actual. In his late book on the negative dialectic, he explained: “With what the negative dialectic interjects into its hardened objects is the possibility whose realization has been betrayed and yet [something in] each object [as possibility] looks out. But even with the utmost effort to express in words the state of affairs of this clotted history, the words used remain but concepts” (GS, 6:62). If music was a problem, so too language: how, then, could one even write or theorize through the problem at all?4
All the time, Adorno looked and listened to what was going on in the currents of his current situation, there to find Schoenberg, whom, in a most striking declaration, he described as working (from arbeiten) toward not works (Werke) but, in their place, paradigmata of a possible music (Paradigmata einer möglichen Musik). It is this line that gives me my subtitle. It comes from a self-contained essay “Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)” (GS, 10.1:179), published in Prisms in company with his essay devoted to Bach. Together, the two essays sustained the Bach-Schoenberg line of possibility, rescue, and survival, a line that then found a match in another line from his Philosophy of New Music : that today, the only works that count are those that are no longer works (welche keine Werke mehr sind) (GS, 12:36).
Working through Adorno’s prismatic lens, I show how, when looking at Schoenberg, Adorno was always also looking back to Bach for a comparable working toward paradigmata of a possible music. And if to Bach, then also to Beethoven as representative of how the entire tradition of so-called classical music could have gone had the history differently unfolded. But then, had the history gone differently, would Schoenberg have composed, even needed to have composed, as he did? This is a tormented question. Yet, given Adorno’s model, it assumes its sense if, by looking back, we come to understand what became of Bach’s music as calling for an entire paradigm change regarding the concept with which Adorno saw Schoenberg’s paradigmata most refusing to comply: namely, the rigidified work-concept. For under the regulation of this concept, Adorno found not only Bach’s works but all artworks lying under a present condition of death in a museum whose industrialized administration had closed its doors to where possibility resides: in the imagination (cf. GS, 12:38).
Adorno offered a critical model of music’s history, with high investments put into the thread that strung together the names not only of Bach and of Schoenberg but always also of Beethoven. Beethoven needed rescuing, too. Reading Adorno through my own lens, we may consider whether the names he named stood for real agents or, more emphatically, for an agency and anti-agency of what in their compositions expressed the difference of the nonidentical to a work-concept forced into a generic or hardened identity. Did their names stand for what was not yet thinkable and hence only still imaginable contra what in the imaginary museum of musical works was currently being thought? And if in the imaginary museum, then in a society at large? These questions sustain not only my subtitle but the broadest reading of Adorno’s main claim: that the musical paradigmata revealed by aesthetic theory assume their sense and truthfulness in a negative dialectic aimed at revealing the cracks in the entire paradigm.
A revealing invocation of Bach in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory reads:
Die neue Kunst, mit ihrer Anfälligkeit, ihren Flecken, ihrer Fehlbarkeit ist die Kritik der in vielem stärkeren, gelungeneren der Tradition: Kritik am Gelingen. Sie hat ihre Basis in der Unzulänglichkeit dessen, was zulänglich erscheint; nicht nur in seinem affirmativen Wesen sondern auch darin, daß es um seinetwillen nicht ist, was es sein will. Gemeint sind etwa die puzzle-Aspekte des musikalischen Klassizismus, der Einschlag des Mechanischen in Bachs Verfahrungsweise in der großen Malerei das von oben her Arrangierte dessen, was unter dem Namen Komposition jahrhundertelang herrschte, um wie Valéry bemerkte, mit dem Impressionismus plötzlich gleichgültig zu werden. (GS, 7:240)
This section unpacks the deeply invested terms of this passage, after which I unpack the unpacking.5 The sentence beginning with Gemeint sind illustrates something Adorno has just said, something puzzling that places modern art, marked by impressionism, in antagonistic relation to a tradition marked by something shared by great painting and the compositional ways of Bach.
Christian Lenhardt offers the following from his 1984 English translation of Aesthetic Theory:
Modern Art with all its blemishes and fallibilities is a critique of success, namely the success of traditional art which was always so unblemished and strong. Modernism is oriented critically to the insufficiency of an older art that presented itself as though it were sufficient. Examples that come to mind are certain puzzle features in classical music, or the purely mechanical element in Bach, or, in painting, the century-old practice of arranging everything from the top down, i.e. what was called “composition” until, as Valéry noted, impressionism suddenly did away with it.6
Robert Hullot-Kentor’s 1997 translation of Aesthetic Theory reads:
Modern art, with its vulnerability, blemishes, and fallibility, is the critique of traditional works, which in so many ways are stronger and more successful: It is the critique of success. It is predicated on the recognition of the inadequacy of what appears to be adequate; this is true not only with regard to its affirmative essence but also in that in its own terms it is not what it wants to be. Instances are the jigsaw-puzzle aspects of musical classicism—the mechanical moments in Bach’s technique, the top-down construction in the paintings of the masters—which reigned for centuries under the name composition before, as Valéry noted, suddenly becoming a matter of indifference with the rise of impressionism.7
I begin with the passage in German because the translating of terms is the challenge at hand in a dialectical labor focused on the transmission of historical understanding through a tradition. This passage, which places new art in a critical relation to what in the “tradition survives under the idea of success,” is part of the section in the posthumous publication of Aesthetic Theory titled “Stimmigkeit und Sinn.”8 The sense (Sinn) captures in a musical composition its internal aesthetic meaning, a meaning that makes sense (with the harmonizing term Stimmigkeit) when the musical elements cohere or hang together (from Zusammenhang) with an ordering or sequencing (Folge) that Schoenberg had already articulated as a musical logic.9 It is imperative for Adorno that the musical logic is not identified or reduced to the logic of thought or to the implicature that moves from premises to a conclusion, even if it shadows the character of this logic’s necessity (the aesthetic sense or feeling of how the music should unfold).
Before Adorno and Schoenberg, Eduard Hanslick insisted on the same shadowing: that the sense (Sinn) and the logic or ordering (Folge) must be specifically musical so that the resultant language is one we can speak and understand without our being able to translate it (to something outside itself or to another language that it is not).10 The element of nontranslatability is key. It sustains, in Adorno’s terms, the closed or tightened form of a composition. But this form cannot then strangle what must breathe beyond its necessity, the feeling of contingency in the movement (Bewegung): the spontaneity or virtuosity. Resisting articulation to a discursive logic that can be thought, the movement carries the something aesthetic and mimetic in the composition, a subjective intention qua intuition, or a potential that being expressive stops the composition from becoming fully objectified or objectivated so as to become hardened, alienated, or cut off from experience. For without experience, what purpose the construction of form in the first place?
Adorno’s “Stimmigkeit und Sinn” defended a formalism against allegedly false formalisms or, better, false assumptions about form. Expressing astonishment at how little (Erstaunlich, wie wenig . . . ) aesthetic theory had reflected on the form, he meant to exaggerate the error of traditional theorists (often near contemporaries) who somehow had taken it for granted as defining art, ignoring thereby how it had always been and increasingly become the critical issue for aesthetic theory (cf. GS, 7:211). Again, what was traditional in the theory contra what was critical was unpacked by assuming a false attitude to the tradition: false because one assumed the matter of form resolved when it should be rendered the most pressing problem for the ways of critique. After his defense of formalism, Adorno addressed the hardening and tightening in musical works but also in the plastic artworks of painting and sculpture given an ideology of affirmation, leading finally to a critique of a classicism gone awry. The section ended with a striking dialectical line of rescue: “The brittleness [Brüchigkeit] of the classical paradigm gives the lie to its paradigmatical status and thereby to the classical ideal itself” (GS, 7:244).
This line reached back to the paradigmatic breach between classicism and romanticism that had cut Bach off from Beethoven. Something untranslatable in Bach’s compositions, as in classical painting, was what had protected both from a false transmission of a false formalism that had led to the art being wrongly or too well understood. For Adorno, what counted as success in the classical traditions either of music or of painting was questioned given the success of a later modern art where the success was (or should have been) construed differently. For the translation, Lenhardt stressed what had counted as success in the past art of the tradition, whereas Hullot-Kentor wrote of traditional works to make the work-concept also the issue when it came to investigating what the new put into question regarding a false social reception that had fixed its products as triumphant warhorses or classics of the past.
By appealing to the musical logic that could not be translated or dominated by an external logic of thought, Adorno sustained his general critique of any formalism that would see a composition as an application of an already worked-out system of rules or method (including Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic method). To so think of composition was to ally the concept of art to a science or Wissenschaft ruled by a positivistic tendency, a cognitive psychology of listening, or a paradigm, say, of the classical style that, having forgotten its inspiration, had come to demand a blind obedience or compliance to its findings or rules. When, then, Adorno brought Bach into direct contact with great painting, it was by reference to what for centuries had been compositionally von oben her arrangiert arranged (Lenhardt) or constructed top-down (Hullot-Kentor), where the top-down pressure was a force of domination that had led the tradition awry.
Adorno condemned whatever he saw imposed top-down as reductionist, as forcing an identity of all that should have remained doubled up dialectically in opposition: the nonidentical to the identical, the nonconceptual to the conceptual, particular to universal, inner to outer, aesthetic to empirical, intuitive to articulated, artistic to social. And then the complex reversals of these relations, because even if the domination tended to come from one side, it could happen the other way around as well. The only acceptable formalism was one, then, that kept the struggling and antagonistic labor and tension between contrary forces or drives in play against a false facade that allowed one side to claim a total victory over the other.
Defending a critical formalism put form into a dialectical struggle with the artwork’s content and material, a struggle that persisted given the affirmative drive toward resolution. The affirmative tendency was essential, a marker of a great work of art, that the working out had worked. Yet, still, the work had to allow for a loosening, an undoing, a productive, internal contradiction. The term undone more broadly captured how critique unraveled knots or tapestries of established or self-evident thoughts. Attached to the Erlösung, the unraveling of knots (entknoten) offered theological, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical thoughts of liberation from servitude. What was to be liberated in the artwork was all that was lost when its affirmation, at an ideological extreme of triumphalism and domination, corroborated a tightly knotted form exhausted alone by a false claim of its authenticity, an existence in and of itself, complete and perfected in a self-enclosing whole. Adorno had nothing against a unified or well-formed content, only the tendency in formalism to sustain a claim that a composition’s meaning came with an aura of self-evidence, that it could be treated as a mere example, say, of classical style contra its being exemplary and hence resistant to any pregiven assumption of its sense and comprehension. Artworks are made always for renewed interpretation whatever their inheritance. Thinking back to a false idealism of the absolute, he sought to rescue an evidence contra a false self-evidence. He described a concrete thisness or repressed nature in the artwork to be differentiated from what the affirmative drive tries to fix as a unity in a static picture of its coherence. How, he asked, can one think against the closed-down forms to find in the works alternating possibilities for their meaning or sense (Sinn)?
He began this questioning in the first line of Aesthetic Theory when he placed the self-evidence of the contemporary art world into urgent question to challenge all comforts of expectation associated with the very idea of evidence and with the present construction of the allegedly knowing self. He repeated the thought in Philosophy of New Music: “Die Möglichkeit von Musik—The possibility of music itself has become uncertain” (GS, 12:108). He threw down a gauntlet to anyone who assumed that the present carries the satisfactions of self-evidence, where knowing selves are as much the problem as how objects or things are being produced, reproduced, disseminated, and received. He thereafter put the spurious evidence and suspect self on display, concentrating on what had most authorized a tradition that was doing anything but justice to art or, contra art’s hardened concept, to the particularities of the different arts. He addressed the dogmas and slogans; the unthought rules and content in the use of terms such as of work, form, greatness, and genius, which, most abused, had become hollowed, diminished, or emptied out of meaning. To retrieve a truth in the tradition was to grasp what he construed, after Marx, as a missed opportunity. He put this construal into the very first line of his Negative Dialectic to ask whether the missed opportunity for philosophy around 1800 would the second time around be missed again, in the 1960s. It was crucial that he addressed assertions of self-evidence and authenticity to retrieve something that might have been realized but got lost in and behind an actuality increasingly shaped by jargon and clichés. (The reference to the jargon gave him his title for his project, Jargon der Eigentlichkeit .)
To pursue the missed opportunity is to ask here what Adorno found in Bach as an opportunity not to be missed the second time around, as missed the first time around by the tradition marked by the myth of Beethoven. What did Adorno mean by seeing in the new something that might retrieve the opportunity from a present whose actuality was seemingly so tended toward missing the opportunity again? What it could not mean was assuming from the outset either that the opportunity would not be missed again or that it already had been. His argument in this sense ended and had to end with a question mark—a perhaps.
Returning to the passage from “Stimmigkeit und Sinn,” he referred to puzzle-Aspekte. Often on his mind was what was enigmatic or concealed in darkness behind the facade of an affirmative ideology of domination and power. By his use of the English term puzzle, he further echoed a thought earlier expressed in his 1947 English review of Ernest Newman’s approach to the case, via Nietzsche’s case, of “Wagner, Nietzsche, and Hitler.” Newman, Adorno wrote, pursued truth not as a detached scholar but as a gambler or detective whose stakes were highly invested in his own life’s work (GS, 19:404). Adorno saw himself similarly, as evidenced in subsequent descriptions of how truth should be sought with a contradictory certainty and doubt sewed into the tapestry of a reality or essence confused between its truth and its falsifying appearances. To produce from the evidence a puzzle was how Newman had forced readers out of their “convictions and convenience” (GS, 19:404). Suspicious of empirical facts slammed down as irrefutable evidence on the table, Adorno encouraged the puzzles that revealed contradictions as better destabilizing the tight hold of convictions. When, then, he made a puzzle out of Bach’s music, the last thing he wanted was to substitute old convictions for new ones. He meant to keep the puzzle aspects alive as a gamble, without assuming easy or convenient rationalized resolutions. This meant being alert to what in the tradition remained new as different from what counted and secured at present the music’s success under the overly affirmative rubric of great works. He even made the word counting count in his many condemnations of the cultural consumer’s conduct toward and categorization of works according to an opus number—a horrible expression, he added, when the numbers came to count in the marketplace for more than the count-worthy works (GS, 14:195).
To speak of puzzle aspects was to pick up also on the experimental character of Denkbilder (thought-images), where repatternings of perspective had the potential to break the hold of a modern bourgeois ideology committed to sustaining one overwhelming picture or narrative into which all was made to fit. Far from putting all the pieces mechanically together, puzzles were made to be unmade and remade, broken up and re-formed. Here, what Adorno thought Schoenberg did with his paradigmata, he thought others did, in Bach’s time, when making baroque emblemata cut through the crystallization of the hardening paradigm of classicism.11 When Lenhardt attached the word certain to the puzzle features in classical music, he missed in Adorno’s etwa the sense of a puzzle being made not from lego but from aspects that prevented the particulars fitting a style abstracted as the classical style without raising a question as to the very abstraction.
Adorno drew on both musical classicism and classical music to convey his central diagnosis: that the classical style as it emerged at the end of Bach’s life (beginning, as everyone said, with Bach’s offspring) did increasing damage to the reception of Bach’s music. And all the more so as the classical style was imported by the romantics into a work-concept that came increasingly to regulate the tradition eventually named in toto as classical music. Adorno described the damage as a forgetfulness into which the truth about Bach’s music fell not because the music was not performed or published or because it had no influence on later composers, but because its pervasive performance, publication, and influence accorded with a style and conceptual scheme that did it no justice. I return below to the forgetting of Bach. Here the point is that rescuing the musical work against the romantic work-concept was finally to find music’s truth in classical form. That the classical emerged as a paradigm within romanticism was what closed or hardened the work-concept against the strivings toward freedom in the romantic fragment. Yet romanticism, in the present schema, shot itself in the foot when it made Bach’s classicism a matter only of the past.
Adorno offered a second way to think about the issue: because Bach’s compositions could retroactively be brought under the overly affirmative and romantic rubric of classical works, the tendency to affirmation was already at work in the compositions. But then the error was to suppose that there was nothing more in the compositions to contradict this tendency, something incongruent with what increasingly became a generic concept of, and clichéd jargon about, successful works of classical music. Adorno considered Bach’s true greatness as yet more falsified by an emerging bourgeois practice, working in allegiance with a false romanticism, prone to leveling out greatness to an all and everywhere the same of social production.
The greatness of music or painting lay not with the great hand of absolute power but despite it, meaning, next and most pertinently, that the art could have been great even if produced in some sort of servility to the external dictate of church, court, or social occasion. It is this claim that led Adorno to what I am constructing as the most trenchant paradox or contradiction: that under servility, Bach’s music stood for a freedom as possibility, promise, or anticipation that it lost when, brought under the bourgeois principle, all classical music was claimed now free and works now autonomous. In false consciousness, servility to the bourgeois dogma of freedom was worse, because more totalizing, than a prior social servility on its promising way to emancipation.
As for the totalized schema, Adorno argued that the claim to music’s autonomy was belied the moment it assumed the all-subsuming ideological (German) standpoint, again, of the das von oben her Arrangierte, when it demanded a one-sided compliance or blind obedience to an abstract principle at the cost to what in the local, concrete, and particular could and might resist the heavy hand. Or, with the concrete liquidated, the command of composition supported only an ideological standpoint, one that presupposed its truth, the truth about all things, from the outset. Adorno supplemented the ideology critique with thick descriptions of how social activities came to be managed and compartmentalized according to instrumentalized and rationalized ends of an ever-advancing bourgeois, capitalist, and totalitarian situation that subsumed the whole.
He further described the triumph, conquering, or mastery from the term bezwingen, which, while raising artworks to their greatness and completion of a coherent form and appearance, was also such as to neutralize their power (Gewalt) (GS, 7:240). He declared the affirmation of mastery a cliché (Das Cliché sagt . . . ) to suggest that genuine mastery lies not in the total coercion or domination by form of material but in the movement between domination and resistance, the resistance of the material to being absorbed by a work tending toward a totalizing or absolute condition of aesthetic unity without difference. He argued of great artworks that because the affirmative tendency toward mastery cannot be done away with, the tendency must neither be entirely neutralized (neutralisiert) nor entirely neutralize what it tries to dominate. It must instead be regarded (and this is the counternarrative) as retaining the unresolved or contrapuntal labor and play of its opposing or negating forces. In works of great art, unity is untempered by difference, as harmony by polyphony, as consonance by dissonance, in a coherent but tense balance, allowing us to say that too much disharmony without harmony, or difference without unity, is just as one-sided as the reverse. To sustain the tension between the forces, he looked back not only to Bach but always also to the earlier impulses to reconciliation that early thinkers had found in classical sculpture and Renaissance painting, which later artists then either could not produce or outright refused to endorse.
Adorno never desisted from insisting that each thing dialectically contains or carries what it rejects, the true in the false, the negated in the positive, so that he could show that the claim of an artwork to autonomy always implies a counterassumption of heteronomy. Or that the artwork moves dialectically between its aesthetic comportment and social conditioning. “Form,” he wrote, “is constituted only through dissimilarity, only in that it is different from the nonidentical; in form’s own meaning, the dualism persists that form effaces” (AT, 220). Mostly naming the counterforces as carrying the truthfulness given the preponderance of the affirmative forces to claim their victory, he quipped back: hasn’t the appeal to harmony, in different periods, not automatically been more compelling than the reverse? Here there was a tendency in his own account to make it seem as though art is always on the side of truth or the side of what is refused a voice, when in truth it cannot be art per se, but only the sense of possibility that allows a few artworks (if any at all) to resist or slip through domination’s web. A web, a net, a mesh: artworks (at best) were made with holes or gaps to let something through despite the hard walls that Adorno reerected in his extreme descriptions in the lateness of an age of total domination.
With the cliché of affirmation in hand, Adorno followed Walter Benjamin in thinking about artworks in terms of a guilt, their guilt (ihre Schuld) that was also their Unschuld (GS, 7:240). He often used Unschuld to confront discourses of guilt and innocence, character and fate, reflection and naïveté, or of the suffering when the cunning in world history seemed to drive toward a current state of near-total catastrophe. Assessing the fate of the master-slave dialectic, he saw the untruth of the whole in the totalizing affirmation of its truth, just as in the total whole that the artwork had become, form’s domination of content made the unity and reconciliation seem natural. All the Procrustean tools forced the content to a perfect fit. Yet another naturalness worked against any false claim to nature. The facade of content’s unguilt or the pretense of its powerlessness was met with a reminder that without content no form, and hence, like a master to a slave, there was an indebtedness (Verschuldung). The debt paid to nature rescued the work from a debt it claimed to pay but in falsehood denied.
When Adorno referred to Bachs Verfahrungsweise, he employed an archaic phrasing to contrast the modern use of the term composition, as brought under the rubric of a work. Bach’s music evidenced his ways of composing. The same phrase used by Friedrich Hölderlin in his Über die Verfahrungsweise des poetischen Geistes reinforced the legacy and transmission of spirit (Geist) in an activity or in the historical ways of art’s production. Geist was often Adorno’s issue, as when, in writing “der Einschlag des Mechanischen,” he aimed to avoid reducing Bach’s musical technique or mechanism to a social technology despite, he added, the deep relation between them. Translated by Hullot-Kentor and Lenhardt, respectively, as the mechanical moments and as the purely mechanical moment, the double connotation of der Einschlag risks being missed. For there was one impact of form, construction, and technique, and another when the first impact had itself the impact or effect of the sensuous, intuitive, aesthetic.
Einschlag carried connotations of the woof in an animal’s bark. Adorno used the noun usually with a modifier: the virtuosic impact, the suave, exotic, catatonic, nationalistic, but also the tonal or compositional. In Aesthetic Theory, he wrote about art’s relation to its conceptuality: “Der Einschlag von Begriffen ist nicht identisch mit der Begrifflichkeit von Kunst; sie ist Begriff so wenig wie Anschauung, und eben dadurch protestiert sie wider die Trennung” (GS, 7:148–49). Translating the first phrase as the intermixture of the concepts (AT, 96), Hullot-Kentor misses a little of the poetic woof that, with one impact has another impact in springing the artwork to the conceptuality it cannot do without. The intuitive aspect of the Anschauung can neither be exhausted by nor separated from the conceptual. Under the threat of either and both, it protests. Its protest maintains its springs as oiled into action in a musical technique (following Benjamin’s literary technique) that exists in tension with the social forms of the technological. Still, it cannot fall prey to its own dogma, which Adorno claimed next by describing how modern art puts holes (from durchlöchert) in the dogma of intuitability (GS, 7:148). Lenhardt’s translation into the purely mechanical moment is insufficient with its suggestion of purity. It loses the element of protest that is possible given only the ongoing mediation between technique and technology, spirit and mechanism.
Early on in Aesthetic Theory Adorno illustrated the entire ideological issue as a problem of concepts and schema. He explained the error in asking whether film is an art. To pose this question from upon high leads nowhere, he wrote, because if the concept of art has come to include film so as to give sense to the question, then posing the question is to regress to when the concept of art did not yet include it (GS, 7:12). If, comparably, one asks whether Bach composed works, the question leads nowhere if conditions are already presupposed or a priori imported into the work-concept to either include or exclude Bach. But if, then, we still insist on asking the question, we need to understand that trying to fit old concepts to new phenomena, or old phenomena to new concepts, risks making the fit of our theory and concepts not fit the history, a history that within actuality might offer alternate possibilities. Here Adorno’s point echoed a deep methodological issue for philosophical theory: how we keep the fitting and unfitting of particulars to concepts in play to avoid the dangers of presupposition when, in and for theory, one cannot avoid presupposing something.
Adorno’s reasoning called on Benjamin’s opening quotation for his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” The quotation was itself Paul Valéry’s opening statement for his 1928 essay “La conquête de l’ubiquité.” Valéry wrote of the types and uses of the fine arts as developed in times very different from the present, that changes of present techniques and technology are altering the physical (mechanical) component of the arts, and so much so that “perhaps [peut-être] things will go so far as marvelously to modify our very notion of art.”12
When Adorno read Benjamin’s essay on the potential of film to modify art’s concept, if not to do away with it, he resisted the thought of film alone making a claim on the new. He sought the new not only in the most recent types of ubiquitous art given new technologies but also, and more, in the form and technique that was, more than technology, associated with the ever more marginalized, avant-garde productions of high modernism. He offered a riposte to Benjamin in his 1938 essay on “regression” (GS, 14:14–50), regarding the error in a fetishistic way of listening to classical music that had lost its connection to its tradition by becoming indifferent to what differentiated modes of composition given new technologies of transmission that had rendered them all and everywhere the same. The reductive equality of works to wares was but the flip side of a dogmatic, academic, ideological abstraction that subsumed the all under a single concept. He described the systematization and classification not only of listeners but of a social domain of music, where the social typology was imposed from above or from the outset. Listeners come falsely knowing what they will get, and they falsely get it. All that remains as unreconciled in the particulars falls into a forgetfulness behind the false facade of a generic packaging in a culture given over to total administration. But then an ideological contradiction arises, as he explained also in his Bach essay, when the administration promotes itself through a spurious and cultish maneuvering, or through a bourgeois parade of theological affirmation, selling its greatest works or hits of a great composer like Bach as though they existed in an autonomous, purified, divined realm freed of all social or administrative force. The pure autonomous standpoint so construed was as untrue to Bach’s compositions as their social packaging as classical works.
Adorno drew directly from Valéry also in his “Stimmigkeit und Sinn” to write of impressionism suddenly (plötzlich) becoming gleichgültig to what had been top-down imposed on great painting, as on Bach’s music, again, under the name Komposition qua a hardening work. Hullot-Kentor suggested the term indifference to capture the suddenly changed relation to the past, whereas Lenhardt wrote that something, perhaps the name, is done away with. I also read gleichgültig as an indifference, but with the doubled-up connotation of a suddenness in the break from the past that is also not sudden given Adorno’s sense of its being necessitated by a history conscious of what master painting and composition have come to mean in a leveled-out culture. The more advanced the cultural administration, the more an audience becomes indifferent to the differences among products. Becoming indifferent to the overwhelming indifference into which master painting has fallen then becomes a gesture or attempt toward the radical and new, a new way to compose or paint with no guarantee. Still, in this forward-directed gesture, there is always the reflection back to a truth that itself has become unfamiliar in the tradition given what in the tradition has come with too deep a feeling of familiarity or self-evidence to be most misunderstood.
A different discussion would pursue Adorno’s interest in modern painting and impressionism. Here, however, it is more pertinent to note the perhaps (peut-être) that Valéry kept even as he had no doubt (sans doute) that there were new techniques emerging from conditions of production: “Perhaps things will go so far . . . ” Adorno likewise carried the perhaps in his thesis of possibility to make sure that no guarantees were offered, this way stopping the dialectical movement of thought resulting in a dead positive. He named his dialectic negative to halt the one-sided victory of positive affirmation and positing, but, prioritizing the dialectic, the victory could no more result in a dead negative. The perhaps and possibility were suspended between the two dead extremes. This way the uncertainty remained whether an art claimed new would put the old on trial in the right way. He feared a wrong way, a speedy capitulation of the new to impotent slogans of protest and radicality.
In his draft introduction to Aesthetic Theory, Adorno wrote: “The question of the possibility of art has made itself so relevant as to mock its putatively more radical formulation: whether and how art is even possible at all. The question has instead become that of the concrete possibility of art today.” Moving from Kantian conditions of possibility to the current historical situation, he continued: “The uneasiness with art is not only that of a stagnating social consciousness vis-à-vis the modern. At every point this uneasiness [must extend] to what is essential to art, to its most advanced products [avancierte Produkte]. Art, for its part, seeks refuge in its own negation, hoping to survive through its death” (GS, 7:503–4; AT, 338; translation modified). The hope maintained the uncertainty, the necessary but dialectical doubt.
From his earliest writings to his last, Adorno worked through the catastrophic condition to which he attached the shocking term Auschwitz. Declaring that writing a poem after Auschwitz was barbaric, he had in mind the last steps of a dialectic of Enlightenment that, far from issuing freedom, had made Auschwitz possible, and partly given a society and culture turned over to extremes of cultish devotion (GS, 10.1:30). If the extreme condition rendered protest well-nigh impossible, how could anything true emerge as actual or realized (wirklich) or count as relevant (aktuell) today? For an answer, he looked not at what seemed most relevant in the actuality but for what in truly avancierte Produkte had fallen into seeming irrelevance. But note that when the Produkte are translated as works (as by Hullot-Kentor), one misses the question of how true the advance can be if the products, made into works, end up abetting not the cessation but the continuation of the barbarism.
The single passage from Aesthetic Theory has brought us a long way, although not all the way to showing how Adorno makes Bach’s case paradigmatic of every case he ever made for possibility against the currents of actuality. Yet, as his case became ever more explicit, or achieved a certain sort of clarity, its pressure points began to show.
Afterword on Rescue
A telling passage from Adorno’s afterword to his Introduction to a Sociology of Music asked how, if at all, musical spontaneity was socially possible? Adorno answered that music “contains social productive forces whose real forms society has not yet [noch nicht] absorbed” (GS, 14:425; Introduction, 222). That the productive forces were not yet absorbed rendered the music incongruent with the actuality of stultified social forms. The present mode of making objects followed economic forces of production and reception, or developing states of technology and divisions of labor. But there was always also something more.
The not yet absorbed became the what is left behind in the products, the remainder or repository of a truth. The remainder hid in concealment as it fell into a forgetfulness to become, then, the not-yet absorbed by the present reality of social forms. The not-yet became the no-longer when what was or once could have been manifested became now latent. What was latent survived in the phenomena as mimetic or archaic trace waiting for its retrieval. The retention and promise of this trace (the spontaneity, virtuosity, or musicality) could not, however, be presupposed; it had to be read off the work as a contingency and particularity that had both impacted and emerged in the compositional forming. Given an almost entirely forbidding actuality, the trace carried a truthfulness that in modern times was threatened by absolute oblivion. It carried the perhaps that granted that there might be no rescue at all, although, if this, then logically the reverse. Still, the modal logic was necessarily less compelling than the hope toward which one could only gesture with a question mark. Or so Adorno gestured toward this in almost every last line of every essay or book he ever wrote, as when in his Philosophy of New Music he placed the possibility qua truth in the no-longer/not-yet read message in a bottle (Flaschenpost) (GS, 12:126).
He described the no longer expressed and the not yet expressed as coming to understanding only in a deciphering or decoding. Deciphering was necessary because language was no less susceptible to abuse than anything else. How could one even engage critique with words that were also the very things in need of rescuing from injustice? Truth, he answered, must be approached enigmatically and indirectly the more concealed it is by the current landscape of articulation or explicitness. Through indirection, one found oneself in a sea of changing forms, over which flew Hegel’s owl of Minerva remade into Benjamin’s angel of history, perched on the horizon of the present looking back to a receding form of life gone awry while forward to what might rise again as different from the reality of the present social situation. In this scenario, the difference of the new was never to be identified with the land of the now, even if only by thinking through the present situation could one grasp a sense of the new and the true. In this schema, one got no more than a glimpse of possibility, but at least, by embracing the glimpse, one did not trip over into a false utopian picturing of the future.
Invocation and Exaggeration
Adorno’s many invocations of Bach served a particular, though not an original, modeling of history. He cut up the history to rethink the dominant models in both an academic and a more popular literature. In a typical passage (from the same Nachwort), he noted Bach’s way of composing as a mode of manufacturing, a splitting and synthesizing at one with the motivic patterning of tones. But then Adorno added that this mode only first became legitimate with Beethoven, as explained (meaning also bolstered) by the bourgeois principle. To place Bach before Beethoven left something more in Bach, something not yet absorbed or explained by the explanatory formula that only first became fitting for Beethoven. He claimed thereafter that the not yet left the unexplained in the dark, as circumscribing a problem in need of a deciphering. The not yet of the problem awaited a possible solution based on a possibility that came, as it came to consciousness for him, only later. Listening and looking at what was being produced around him, he described all that the not yet had come to mean in Bach’s wake.
With every invocation, he insisted that rescuing Bach was not to return to Bach according to a history of actualized social production and reception, even of Bach’s own times, but to turn the return into a forward repetition according to what was possible as the not yet actual. To return to a past actuality was as undesirable as it was impossible given how the actuality of what came before contributed to the actuality that came later. In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno wrote: “If today nothing is harmonious, this is because harmony was false from the beginning” (AT, 215). But if something was false, then something was also true. If, moreover, looking back came to mean not repeating what came later, then mere repetition could not in truth be the name of anyone’s game. Describing a mode of reproduction claiming to do justice to Bach, Adorno now split his description between a false progress that was a regress and a genuine progress. He described the former as a return to an alleged original intentionality serving the later ideology and the latter as a wresting free of what had survived the bourgeois ideology in secret.
With strategic exaggeration, he repeatedly described the forgetting of Bach as though no single truthful note of Bach had been played since Bach’s death. In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno wrote of the basso continuo and older techniques of polyphony, and the reprise in Bach being “pushed aside without trace for decades after his death” (GS, 7:311). In unfinished notes for his book Beethoven, he declared that Bach’s being “completely forgotten by 1800 [was] one of the most momentous facts in musical history. Had it not been so, everything, including die ‘Klassik’ would have taken a different course.”13 And from the ninth of his History and Freedom lectures on “the critique of universal history,”14 he offered a critical musical model to sustain less a philosophy of music-history than his overall picture of something new emerging as a negation of something old, only then to be surpassed with hesitation and difficulty by a second new that annexed the achievements of the old left behind the first time around. After this, he proclaimed the demolition of Bach probably one of the gravest facts in the history of Western music. To claim Bach completely forgotten was of course a lie without the modification that allowed something truthful to remain as trace. Only with the modification was something retrievable for thought from the enormous grave.
In Philosophy of New Music, he polarized his history writing to place at one extreme of regress Igor Stravinsky and at an extreme of progress Schoenberg. Only by describing a divide so common in his times could he grasp a truthfulness concealed in the falsity. To bring the divide to an extreme, he wrote in his essay “On Tradition” that “one can only understand Schoenberg if one understands Bach; [and] one can only understand Bach if one understands Schoenberg.” This claim, however, was only the second half of a sentence with a far less provocative first half: “The difference between the past and the present however always also deep is not absolute” (GS, 14:140). Many scholars quoting only the second half have overlooked what the two halves offer together: namely, the bridge that allowed Schoenberg’s “advanced products” to recircumscribe the possibility in Bach’s compositions. In the bridging, the advanced form converged with the critique that was offered to think through compositional ways of the past.15
Adorno wrote a master narrative of musical history with assertions of beginnings and endings, ruptures and paradigm changes, to rescue a true sense of mastery. Although he named Schoenberg as he named Bach, each as standing for something unmatched by anyone else, he always also had in mind the Second Viennese School, including Anton Webern and his own teacher Alban Berg, as having first understood what it meant to retrieve what fell into a forgetfulness in the First Viennese School “leading up to Beethoven.” He described Bach’s compositions as not having been broadly received or given all their due, when the first Viennese classicists substituted what could have been a productive critique with only an intensification of the bourgeois tendency toward a genteel and variety-seeking style. He repeated this diagnosis countless times to support his critique of the tendency toward aging, when the newness of a new style sounded aged or grayed by familiarity at its very inception according to a rationalizing tendency that made immediate sense of a music that should strike listeners as never before heard.16
He warned next against the misconception that one could understand traditional works from the get-go as one could not modern works. Claiming the former comprehensible because familiar from the outset was to do the past as little justice as automatically declaring works of the present incomprehensible due to their unfamiliarity. He recalled what many wrote about as the early condemnation of Bach’s music as too difficult, to address the forgetfulness in a culture increasingly surviving on false satisfactions of familiarity. But how, then, could one even think through the historicizing and classicizing tendencies in a tradition that so played into the hands of a culture industry of commodified works? Once again, the tactic was to assess the unfittingness of Bach’s compositions to this industry through the lens of the most “difficult” or “unfitting” music of the Second Viennese composers, or indeed of any composers of the avant-garde whose music or words most exposed the broader tendency to misuse Bach to a current advantage. One of the composers whom Adorno named favorably was Pierre Boulez. But why now this name as though invoked suddenly out of the blue?17
If we ask first why Adorno never looked back to, say, George Frideric Handel, Georg Philipp Telemann, or Claudio Monteverdi with the same urgency with which he looked back to Bach, then we already know that he regarded the Bach moment as on the cusp of a German tradition about to give itself up to the bourgeois hardening of the work-concept. But with this, he also condemned the ideology and cult surrounding Bach as going back to when, as he (too quickly) wrote, Felix Mendelssohn could reinvent the Saint Matthew Passion in a Faustian pact between academic discourse and the already “inexorable growth of the commodity-character of music” (Prisms, 142). In general, for the Bach-Beethoven divide, Adorno was informed by, say, August Halm’s influential monographs, his Harmonielehre of 1900 and Von zwei Kulturen der Musik of 1913. But for the Bach cult dominating the emerging authentic or historical performance movement, he drew from the likes of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Boulez. In his own 1951 essay titled for Bach’s moment, Boulez addressed the false historicizing that was turning the Werktreue aspiration of Bach performance into a mockery of devotion. Responding, however, to what he regarded as overly exaggerated standpoints, Boulez warned against promoting the Bach-Schoenberg line, however attractive or reassuring it is. With a smile, he suggested that the Bach-Webern line would be better. But then he added that, for any line pursued, one needed to investigate also the antiparallels in the elective affinities between the old and the new.18
Adorno was happy to oblige: “What remains insufficient in Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music is harmony,” he had already written in Philosophy of New Music, only then to add that this was “the opposite of the problem in Bach, where the harmonic schema sets limits to the independence of the voices, limits that are transcended only in the speculation of The Art of the Fugue.”19 He offered more such observations without ever relinquishing the Bach-Schoenberg line, not even when he discovered key things in Webern and Berg. Whether he wanted to repeat motifs from Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus or because Schoenberg was the master of the school, he seems most to have wanted to halt the thought that a Bach-Stravinsky, a Bach–Richard Strauss, or a Bach-Hindemith line might be genuinely alternate lines along the critical path. Looking back to the First Viennese School, he declared the “whole of classicism, including Beethoven,” as standing in a regressive and retrogressive relation to Bach except those in the Second Viennese School who stand for a progressive standpoint.20 Still, if nearly every composer was looking back to Bach, then everything turned on what differences Adorno could extrapolate from how each was doing his looking.
For Adorno to be more dialectical than doctrinaire (and doctrinaire he often sounded and sometimes was) meant that naming Bach and Schoenberg could not be to treat either as placeholders marking a pure beginning or ending of any historical tradition. One always risked a personality cult or fetishism when naming individuals as though singularly representative of an age. (Boulez made the same point.) This meant further that, for all composers named, their compositions had to be interpreted without assuming the exaggerated schema that made it look as though their compositions could ever turn out to be either progressive or regressive in toto. Or yet more dialectically, not everything progressive turned out to serve truth. Diagnosing tendencies revealed more than blanket judgments.
Adorno showed that much of the rationale for naming names at the beginning and end of a tradition was to show the in-between: that is, the Beethoven tradition after Bach and before Schoenberg. As an aside, he recalled Schoenberg’s ironic complaint against a music theory that so prioritizing the beginning and end of a composition never got to the music in between. And so, too, for Adorno’s critique of a theory, when naming the beginning and end of a way of thinking was not meant to be a forgetfulness of what had happened in between, or when, as in the dialectic of enlightenment, reason repeatedly betrayed itself with its tendency to erase, through tyranny and rationalized administration, what it promised as freedom, autonomy, or happiness. Exposing this erasure, one similarly exposed the extent to which greatness was repetitively socially appropriated and administered to do injustice to what was great. Greatness did not come packaged neatly in progressive works especially because the works most progressive were those that put authoritative claims of workhood and progress most into question. And the outcome of this critical model: that Beethoven had to be rescued perhaps even more urgently than the composer who came before and the one who came after.
Devotion and Submission
Addressing in the 1980s the blasphemy of talking politics in a year devoted to celebrating Bach, Susan McClary knew that finding a social content relating to class, religion, gender, or race would offend those who were treating the works attributed to Bach as though produced by a pure, divine hand. “Neither priest nor consumer truly wants,” she wrote, “to break the spell to reveal the social grounding of that magic,” a magic that led some to proclaim Bach “the fifth evangelist.” One might think that in the 1980s few were still so devoted, but to the contrary, she found the ideological divination in place. (Do we still today, and even more?) For all her endorsement of Adorno’s case, McClary was not fully persuaded by his “autopsy of Western Culture.” She found it tending toward a narrowness of the German/European Bach-Schoenberg line, too resigned to a condition of catastrophe leaving contemporary artists too “little room to maneuver,” and insufficiently dialectical every time he degraded the social reception “for the sake of music’s autonomous truth-content.” I appreciate McClary’s reservations while yet imagining Adorno responding with a hat more dialectical than doctrinaire: that he had reasons for promoting the Bach-Schoenberg line; that he was not degrading but finding the social situation degraded, and not least by those promoting music’s pure autonomy; and, finally, that finding the social situation degraded, he intended dialectically to overturn any temptation toward resignation through the critical task of rescue.
In his Bach essay, Adorno described several tensions in Bach’s compositions, say, between a style going back to the Middle Ages and looking forward to the Modern Age, or between the sacred and secular, or between constructions of absolute power and the emerging consumerism. The opposing tensions sharpened the difference but also the mediation between the external and internal determinations. When the external prevented the composition from reaching an internal coherence, something was awry, described now as the failure of the internal construction to void the external. To achieve the sense of an aesthetic unity, a work had to seem to be freed entirely from external determination without this meaning that it was so freed. To treat it as so freed was falsely to objectify or ontologize the products, to turn them into works with an order of being beyond all social or historical becoming. His point, again, was to defend internal coherence and immanent form against an ideological promotion, so that the objects composed were not treated as immutable or natural on false grounds.
Far from destroying the objects, Adorno wanted to rescue them against a false devotion by devoted subjects who, wanting to leap out of the social domain into a pure standpoint, created objects in their own image. However, and now we see the full force of the ideological contradiction: as allegedly emancipated subjects, these subjects addressed the objects not with the freedom of imagination afforded by aesthetic experience but with too willing a submission, in a posture of kneeling to Bach in a theologically vaulted cosmos. In accordance with his critical typology of musical listeners, Adorno found in the devotees a regressive attitude of resentment and retreat away from the current organization of musical life that they explicitly abhored for its commodity character, back to when music was not as it is today. But what they gazed on as different, they then fixed as past works deserving of a fidelity (Treue) that prohibited any engagement of their present minds or subjective states of consciousness. In a twisted mirror, their promotion of abstract and untouchable works became the flip side of a concrete commodification that likewise ignored all touch of the subjective mind or hand. “The attempt,” Adorno wrote, “to do justice to Bach’s objective content by directing this effort towards abolishing the subject is self-defeating. Objectivity is not left over after the subject is subtracted” (GS, 10.1:149–50; Prisms, 144). But if, now, one defended Bach by showing a rebellion in his compositions to being so reified, was the relation between subject and object saved? Only, and at best, as possibility.
Advance and Amnesia
Adorno condemned both the works’ untouchability and the misperception of Bach as a musician merely in service to church or court or as “an unquestioning, unwavering master of the old, artisan-like, pre-bourgeois school.”21 How, he asked, could devotees hold on to both views at the same time? He described the steps that the servant Bach laid down for Beethoven and for the bourgeois while drawing on a wealth of previous materials from his own predecessors. Between the archaic and the anticipatory, Bach, being of his times, also mastered his times.
In another essay from Prisms, “The Sociology of Knowledge and Its Consciousness,” Adorno noted the generally low esteem for composers in the eighteenth century, Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn, to claim now in a new step that only with Beethoven did musicians attain a free social status, when “their products were no longer suitable for immediate consumption, when the composer set himself against society as his own master.”22 In his Beethoven notes, he repeated that only Beethoven “dared to compose as he wanted: that, too, is a part of his uniqueness.”23 Adorno said this against the misfortune and weakness that he saw in those composers who, under the romantic spell of the work-concept, found themselves no longer facing the tension between the permitted and the intended but, rather, only dreaming, contra Beethoven, of what alone was allowed. Noting Beethoven’s advance toward freedom, Adorno engaged not an aesthetic ranking but an argument of emancipation, of which the next twist was to declare the forgetting of Bach a historical necessity. Bach had to be left behind for the sake, good and bad, of Beethoven. Still, when the progress was covered over by the inexorable growth of the commodity character of music, leaving Bach behind came wrongly to mean reinventing his music for an imaginary museum where all music was performed according to a workhood that, far from reflecting Beethoven’s permission (freedom), became suffused only with the new Beethovenian prohibitions (obedience).
But if, now, Beethoven before Bach’s reception stood for an advance of emancipatory consciousness, then Bach before Beethoven marked a moment when all the criteria that came to give authority to the work-concept still functioned with a productive fluidity or elasticity.24 These criteria or conditions regarding the separation between composer and performer, score specification, faithful performance, commissions, copyright, and so forth were not yet such as to degrade or exclude qualities like virtuosity, spontaneity, or the impromptu, qualities that made being true to a work an act of being true to what inside the composition was also musical.25 When, then, qualities of virtuosity were dogmatically degraded in a rigidification of music’s works, they were allied to contrary forms of musical practice, the threateningly one-sided virtuoso or popular music traditions, leaving the work-concept dictating its own one-sided academic fidelity or exactness of compliance that no one of a nonpedantic mind ever really wanted. Both sides, high and low, having become one-sided, suffered.
To bring the point to its most dialectical, Adorno claimed that whereas Bach could compose without fighting to save the criteria, Beethoven had to fight for them against their absorption into a stultifying work-concept. But this then meant, as I read the subtle maneuver, that if Beethoven’s conscious works were more dialectically pressured than Bach’s prework compositions, then saving Beethoven mattered quite as much as saving Bach. And if Beethoven, then all compositions where the necessity gave off the sense of this being just as it is meant to be while opening the mind to contingency, to an imaginative scope or dreamworld of new possibilities of expression: a tight binding that was always also loosened.
In a note written in Darmstadt in 1954, Adorno affirmed the Bach-Schoenberg line as offering the wealth of relationships, of unity within diversity or plurality within the singular, that became increasingly less valid after Beethoven, when the promise equally of Bach and Beethoven was betrayed.26 More interesting than the facile quips made against Jean Sibelius (cf. GS, 17:247–52), Adorno was thinking back to Hegel’s and Marx’s descriptions of a wealth of relationships compromised by false one-sided or false formalist standpoints toward the absolute in a false economizing of spirit (Geist). Against this background, he described Enlightenment betraying its promise when its traditions began through consolidation with bourgeois society to wallow in false wealth. If the bourgeois spirit manipulated property, then it did in every sphere of human activity. Far from being an exception, music’s property, with its choice between Beethoven’s emancipated works and Bach’s preemancipated compositions, was exemplary of the entire contradiction of modern emancipation: when, to repeat, the consciousness that advanced after 1800 gave way to an ideological subservience more dangerous than the prior social servility that still held the promise of emancipation intact.
Fidelity as Infidelity
Adorno proclaimed false a blind fidelity to the work-concept against the truth of an infidelity amounting to a protest or resistance. Infidelity is no easy affair. He described the reconstruction of “the traditional Bach” being such as to render interpretation no longer permitted. With the prohibition on interpretation, not only the intention as subcutaneously expressed in the score, but also all the wealth of sensuous interrelations and tensions between social and aesthetic forces, lay now dormant in the mausoleum of a museum closed off to the imagination. Would disloyalty reopen the door?
Adorno expressed early thoughts about Bach in 1934 in a brief commentary on the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier (GS, 18:179–82). Straightaway (as though recalling the first act of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), he called up in the name of fidelity (Im Namen der Treue) the collective ideal to suppress imagination in favor of a pedantic protection of a master amounting to a boredom and sameness without differentiation. He ran through many old and new prevalent attitudes to instrumentation and style, or to ways of turning the organ to a modern orchestra, or to readings of tempi and expressive markings. Nothing much new emerged from his commentary other than the cliché that pedantry, philistinism, or academicism little served the musical imagination. But then, by offering a somewhat detailed analysis of the piece, he hoped that it might inspire others to do the same, to perform it anew.
In Darmstadt he considered the use of an orchestra capable of producing instrumental colors that Bach could not even have imagined. He regarded the new soundscape as doing more justice to Bach than spuriously putting performances back into the lamp-lit actuality of Bach’s own times. But how far could one go? Aware now that work fidelity, and hence also infidelity, more easily fitted music composed after Beethoven, he asked why it seemed “legitimate to orchestrate organ works by Bach, but awful to reorchestrate symphonies by Beethoven.” And added: “The element of history has a substantial bearing on this. But I am not entirely clear about the matter myself. Extremely important.” (The present essay may be read as trying to make his matter clear.) Becoming clear normally meant for Adorno turning common and confused thoughts into ones more philosophical, but where the turn to the philosophical meant a consciousness of what in the artwork survived as enigmatic. “The more intensively one seeks to comprehend Bach,” he explained in Aesthetic Theory, “the more puzzling is the gaze [his music] returns, charged as it is with all the power that is his” (AT, 241). This thought corroborated Adorno’s more general view that what most rescued artworks was when, treated as problems, any given performance, while presented as a solution, was never the last or only solution. Here one sort of injustice followed from the claim to such a finality, effectively a closing down of the work; another from the liquidating of the distinction that kept the artwork at a distance and hence nonidentical with any given performance or interpretation. And a third when, claiming full adequacy, a reproduction repressed the contradictory or antinomic moment, the tour de force or indifference point that hid “the possibility of the impossible” (Cf. AT, 140; GS, 7:162–63).
Many times Adorno described an expressiveness in Bach’s music that, while amalgamated with the technique, was out of sync with it, and elsewhere (again) the contradiction between the sound material (what Bach would have heard) and the musicality qua an expressiveness that came out with a later orchestral palette. He remarked on the strangeness for the modern ear to actually hear a so-named authentic performance of the Saint Matthew Passion. Would not the period instruments sound pale, didactic, diminished by comparison with today’s orchestra? His today perhaps, but not perhaps our today, for haven’t our ears adjusted to a broad variety of palettes to which Adorno perhaps had no access? Still, even with access, he would have balked at the infidelity going so far as to obliterate the internal coherence of compositional form. For were it to do so, the infidelity would not yield the truth of a fidelity to a compositional form hidden in the classical idea of composition that had been so persistently betrayed.
Only Now, If Only
Surveying the tradition was for Adorno to tell a story of betrayal. Only history itself or real history, he insisted, “with all its need [sometimes translated as suffering] and all its contradiction, constitutes the truth of music.” History could be told only from “the vantage point of the most advanced production.” Starting “from what confronts us today” alone made “possible the recognition of all those concrete and contradictory moments that were present only potentially in music’s earlier phases.” The truth unfolds in time (GS, 18:163). And then from his draft Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction: “This unfolding in time is true, more than of any other, of Bach.”27
If defending Bach meant not making the music fit the measure of Bach’s times, then also not Adorno’s times. It was, instead, to discover a repository of possibility, something perhaps even sacred in a modern world secularized or overly profaned by the rationality of a now badly tempered order of things. With all the suffering coming from the bad temper, Adorno wanted to bring to expression what he saw in the most advanced production, a melancholy, sadness, and grieving heightened by the feeling of “Oh, were it only so.” The grieving, expressive of a truth, came from a world in which he could attach the term false to everything—beginning with consciousness: “That consciousness kills is a nursery tale; only false consciousness is fatal” (GS, 7:318; cf. AT, 228, 280). He described false parallels, polarities, and positivities, false illusions, projections, appearances, appeals, and rationalizations; false clarities and formalisms, identities and identifications, recognitions and reconciliations, tonalities, melodies, and harmonies. The more the false claimed victory, the greater the retreat of truth into a waiting room of possibility. In this waiting room, one sat not with a true consciousness intact—the very idea that one did was part of the problem. Rather, one sat as one might at a piano, aware of the work and world as a problem, a persistent puzzle for one’s thought, one’s hands, the touch of one’s fingers. If a critical self-consciousness was to come again, this might mean that aesthetics (as aesthetic theory) once again would reach art, if, he added, “it was ever capable of this in the first place” (GS, 7:505; AT, 340).
In Schoenberg, Adorno found a releasing of something unexpressed for two centuries. Or perhaps Schoenberg refused the traditional dualism of structure and facade that supported a false totality in works of art. Adorno regarded the dualism as beginning just after Bach’s moment, akin to what he thought falsely then occurred in a Hegelian severance of essence from appearance. But this severance became only now recognizable in the conscious attempts to overcome it in the Second Viennese School’s reworkings from Bach of counterpoint, polyphony, fugue, thorough-bass, and those infinitesimal transitions (of which Adorno made so much in writing about Berg as the “master of the smallest transition”). What made difficulties for the first Vienna composers became productive problems in Vienna the second time around.
Schoenberg worked toward not works but paradigmata of a possible music. This was written in an assessment of the proper reason to declare Schoenberg great. Schoenberg would not be remembered for having produced works of a classic (warhorse) status, but for the protest against this sort of production, as shown in his melancholic compositional tendency toward fragmentation and incompletion. Adorno recalled Valéry’s description of the greatness that lay in “something of the quality of finger exercises,” or in studies for works that never succeeded (gelingen) (GS, 10.1:179). Valéry himself was drawing on a long history of masterpieces that Adorno knew well, of compositions remaining inconnu from a profound sense of doubt, or as Boulez concluded his essay on Bach, of compositions playing with trial and error, or with chance as when, with every thought expressing “a throw of the dice,” the compositions struck out against the confidence of the harmonists. To this Adorno appended an older (romantic) thought, of the impulse in an artwork to continue beyond and to be more than its contained form, so that each work, in aspiring to the openness in the concept of art, became at once a work and a fragment.
Adorno described in the modern catastrophe a dignity of form hiding in the shadows. In Schoenberg’s workings of form, he found a splintering, rupturing, or shriveling up, so that he could declare “An Splitter—to splinters, the dignity of great works pass over (übergehen)” (GS, 10.1:180). In the passing over, the dignity repressed became now the unexpressed consciousness of suffering, as in Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw: a “terror of persons in the agonies of death, under total domination” (cf. GS, 11:422–23). In the concluding Jewish song, Adorno heard a music that made possible the negation that was the protest of humanity against a myth from which came a failed emancipation of humanity and art. The decomposition or unworking of form sustained an impulse for the composition not to end, a working toward the paradigmata of a possible music.28
Adorno appealed to paradigmata several times, once in the Paralipomena of Aesthetic Theory to draw again from Valéry regarding what modern art did through negation of proportion and measure in response to great works of the past. He named these the paradigmata of the dialectic (Paradigmata von Dialektik) (GS, 7:432). In discussing the aging of the new music , he referred to paradigmata to capture a school bookishness carrying a learning, a canon for the tradition, but a canon doubled up to become a canon increasingly of the forbidden (and forgotten) behind the canon of the permitted (GS, 14:161). Further appeals to paradigmata draw us into his Freudian analyses of tabu, of Beckett’s Endgame, and, interestingly, to the anachronism and lateness in modernism that in Wagner’s shadow came apparently to be displayed as a Straussian banality and showmanship (Paradigmata der Straussischen showmanship) (GS, 16:592). As dialectical, the paradigmata captured a truth and justice in or behind the false facade and the facade itself without which an artwork could not do. In this way, his paradigmata recalled the cases first made in the name of justice in antiquity when in courts of law the Greeks argued through paradeigmata and the Romans through exempla.
In his draft introduction, Adorno declared that art “without reflection is the retrospective fantasy of a reflexive age” (GS, 7:501; AT, 445). He looked back to the theoretical standpoints that informed Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the Florentine Camerata from which (the last) came opera as a paradigma of form for its times, as later Bach brought equal temperament into his great keyboard work. A theory and science of perception and perspective likewise informed the practice of art, as in the impressionist technique, or of the temporal measure in a modern electronic music. Once more, he assessed whether the reflection or rationality in composition harmed the productive impulse or impact (Einschlag) that cannot be obliterated in the name of a completed work. A work as a working through and toward turned what was spontaneous away from being the origin (Ursprung) to being the goal (Ziel) (GS, 7:502). If aesthetic theory could not do without its generality and conceptuality, nor could it do without the aesthetic that sustained the particularity that was left over unsubsumed by the theory. The artwork was exemplary for what qualified theory as aesthetic and critical.
On We Go
To bring back and to bring something forward in Bach’s ways of composing was for Adorno to seek a new expression and understanding despite how Bach had been received and reproduced. One sought to understand the composition despite the reception, where the despite carried the force of a resistance of the compositional form to its reception. As resistant, the work carried the possibility of its being experienced contra the actuality of its current understanding. Yet, in the negative dialectic, the despite was also a because: the compositional way lived on as potential because of a reception that had failed to do it justice. It lived on as possibility so long as the actuality was false.
But what if ever the actuality became true? This had to be the wrong question, first, because one could not write the unwritten pages of the future, and second, because, outside the promised land, the truth of actuality never reached an identity with the truth and potential of possibility. This meant that Adorno had not to say what the retrievable element was in any paradigmata of a possible music, for saying what it was betrayed what was yet to be heard in performances not yet played out. Even in the totalized administration of a society that had turned the classical work ideal into a false paradigm, something remained that only seemed no longer to speak at all. With the silence, one waited.29
What now remains as possibility for both the imaginary and the museum in the imaginary museum under the condition not of its end but of its continuation? In my own inquiry into the imaginary museum, when I looked more to John Cage’s challenge to the work-concept than to Schoenberg’s, I began to bring out something that I then pursued in my Elective Affinities: the Germany-America line and sea crossing that Adorno described with as much conviction as he traced the Bach-Schoenberg line. In part, Cage’s experimentalism affirmed Boulez’s famed pronouncement from his 1968 Notes of an Apprenticeship, that the promise of Schoenberg (as master of this disciple) had died or run its course. But did this lead only to a new forgetfulness, this time of Schoenberg, for us today?
Since the 1980s, we have become wary as much of exclusive lines pursued as of claiming dates or periods as paradigmatic of change. Yet without great divides, it is far from obvious how critical or dialectical models can get off the ground.30 What, then, remains of critique given the much more pluralistic ways of writing our histories? This question is quite as urgent in our own times as that which asks whether the play between actuality and possibility can go on if we suspend Adorno’s dualisms. To be sure, the dialectic cuts through every dualism, yet the dualisms are where critical theory begins and ends.
Defending Bach never means for Adorno defending only Bach. We know that to understand Bach is to come to understand Schoenberg, and if Schoenberg, then Webern and Berg, but so too even the oppositional figures in the dialectic, Stravinsky, Strauss, even Sibelius, back to Beethoven, who, regarded as an advance over Bach, remains arguably the most dialectical of all composers in the schema. If not ranking but dialectic is the goal, then the extreme dualistic standpoints and poles of Adorno’s critical model cannot be knocked into the ground so as to prevent new interpretations of each composer he names and of their output. As for any performance, so the dialectic cannot stand still assuming a complete understanding of the history has been delivered.
I have focused on Adorno’s extremely dialectical lines that provoked thoughts taken to the extreme. Yet having remade a case on their basis, I find the pattern I have produced on his behalf in need now of a discomposing. Something feels insufficient the more Adorno’s critical model has reached in my own mind a certain clarity. Max Paddison writes to a similar point: “It must be said that Adorno’s sociological and philosophical interpretation of what he sees as the rationalizing tendency within Bach’s music does not entirely convince.”31 Paddison assumes the problem to be a familiar one, the feeling that the bridge between the musical and the social structure creates more distance than security, and that this feeling only increases when Adorno’s musical-analytic and sociological details seem not to tie into a persuasive knot. But Paddison also knows that this is Adorno’s point: not to tie knots that are easily unraveled, or to build bridges that are easy to cross, but to lay the difficult stones for a critical path that allows us today to take steps that Adorno, in his times, did not take. What is insufficient gives us the open door to go on.
In defending Bach against the devotees, Adorno offered two sentences beginning with perhaps. The first suggests that “Bach’s innermost truth” hidden by the dominating drives of the bourgeois era is “humanity’s voice, having once been released (as the promise of Enlightenment), condemned now to silence” (GS, 10.1:143). Withdrawing the perhaps, the tone and force of thought risks a turn to blank assertion. In reading Adorno, we need to keep the tentativeness in his necessarily extreme assertions in mind. The second perhaps concludes the essay: “Perhaps the handed-down [überlieferte] Bach has . . . become uninterpretable.” But then his legacy (Erbe) falls to being true to his compositions by being untrue (GS, 10.1:151). Making Bach’s case becomes, then, an act and attitude of breaking the contract, of newly re-creating the works not for Bach’s sake, or for Adorno’s sake, but for our sake of all that composition can mean today.
If we want to make a new case for and against Bach, or no case at all, then Adorno’s offerings of all the possibilities and the perhapses give us permission to think different things contra the prohibitions that we regard today as having settled too comfortably into place. When Adorno asks after the possibility of thinking differently at all, possibility is the key to rescuing thinking from contemporary currents. Of course, if one is content with contemporary currents, no rescue is needed. This thought, oddly, is the strangest of all thoughts, the one almost no thinker has. Yet Adorno starts and ends by throwing down a gauntlet to the too many who do think this way, his knowing that the will to comfort is perhaps the hardest will to break.
Thanks to Alexander Goehr and to participants from the 2019 UMass Amherst Bach Festival and Symposium; the 2019 Intercongressional Symposium, “Agency and Identity in Music”; the 2019 Camerata Pacifica panels; and the 2020 workshop “Philosophy and Art: Scattered Systematicity,” University of Warwick. Thanks also to Antonio Baldassarre, Susan Bernofsky, Daniel Herwitz, Antonia Hofstätter, Peter Gordon, Olivia Branscum, Anthony Garruzzo, and anonymous referees.
Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, 10.1:315 (hereafter cited as GS). All translations are my own or, when indicated, modified.
See Rose, Musical Authorship, for the subtle proposal that the work-concept had an early life, subsided or declined during the eighteenth century, then reemerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
See Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, chap. 1, excursus 1. “What Odysseus hears is without consequence for him; he is able only to nod his head as a sign to be set free from his bonds; but it is too late,” as epigraph for my “Dissonant Works and the Listening Public.”
My first approach to Adorno on possibility is in Elective Affinities . But see Macdonald, What Would Be Different, for the working out of possibility’s formal, abstract, latent, aesthetic, moral, and practical terms.
See Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library.” I could have used the idea of the developing variation to give sense to how layering one’s learning in an essay obliges the writer to bring the variations constantly back to the theme. See Subotnik, Developing Variations.
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, translated by Lenhardt, 229.
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, translated by Hullot-Kentor, 160 (hereafter cited as AT).
See my companion essay to this one, “Stimmigkeit und Sinn.”
See Adorno, “Über einige Arbeiten Arnold Schönbergs” (GS, 17:328): “Daß jedes Werk die Möglichkeit anderer umschreibt macht ein jegliches zu einem Lehrstück ins Unbekannte hinein.” See also Paddison, Adorno’s Aesthetics of Music, 224; Berry, “Romantic Modernism,” 90; and Klein, Kreuzer, and Müller-Doohm, Adorno-Handbuch, 76.
See Adorno, Aesthetics, 1958/59, lecture 6.
Compare here the classic essays by McClary, “Blasphemy of Talking Politics” (to which I briefly return below); and Dreyfus, “Early Music Defended.” For the political context, see Berry, “Romantic Modernism.”
I describe the fluidity of these conditions in detail in part 2 of The Imaginary Museum .
For all notes from Darmstadt mentioned, see Adorno, Zu einer Theorie der musikalischen Reproduktion.
Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, notes 1 and 5.
For more on waiting, see my Red Sea—Red Square—Red Thread.