Theodor Adorno's Theory of Music and its Social Implications

by Moya K. Mason

Art is mind, and mind does not at all need to feel itself obligated to
the community, to society, it may not, in my view, for the sake of its
freedom, its nobility.

CB: "Mind" here is "individual mind". There couldn't be a clearer
statement of the Individualist conception.


 An art that goes in unto the folk, which makes her own the needs of
the crowd, of the little man, of small minds, arrives at wretchedness,
and to make it her duty is the worst small -- mindedness, and the
murder of mind and spirit. And it is my conviction that mind, in its
most audacious, unrestrained advance and researches, can, however
unsuited to the masses, be certain in some indirect way to serve man
in the long run.
Excerpt from Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus

During the 1930s Adorno considered Arnold Schoenberg the most
progressive person in modern music.(13) He was a musical genius who
received only a few months of training from Alexander von Zemlinsky.
His early songs provoked hostile criticisms and he found solace in his
painting, revealing strong expressionist tendencies. He taught at the
prestigious Sterns Conservatory in Berlin, and later, conducted in
important cities across Europe before entering military service in
World War I. During the early 1920s he lived and taught in Vienna,
leaving the city to teach a master class at the Prussian Academy of
Arts in Berlin. When he was fired by the Nazis in 1933, Schoenberg
went to Paris and converted back to his childhood religion of Judaism.
Soon after, he relocated to the United States, where he lived out the
rest of his life.(14)

Schoenberg composed for chorus, orchestra, chamber ensemble, stage,
voice, and keyboard. Alongside his musical interests and passion for
painting was a proficiency for writing, with many articles, books, and
essays, to his credit. One of his many maxims, which seems
autobiographical was: "genius learns only from itself, talent chiefly
from others."

CB: Another genius, Newton had it better. He knew he stood on the
shoulders of giants.


(15) Schoenberg's music developed through four major transformations.
The first was typified by a postromanticism and was influenced by
Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner, as was Alban Berg's early music. His
second period was considerably more abstract and reflected an
innovative spirit. His atonal-expressionism began with Das Buch der
hangenden Garten in 1908, and employed an increased absence of
tonality and a tendency towards dissonance over the typical
consonance. He eliminated symmetry and disregarded formal sequences in
his music, destroying the traditional bonds of coherence and unity in
compositions. These manifestations were considered quite revolutionary
and were abhorred by the general population of the day.(16)

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