Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music
Theodor W. Adorno
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Beethoven is a classic study of the composer’s music, written by one of the most important thinkers of our time. Throughout his life, Adorno wrote extensive notes, essay fragments and aides–mémoires on the subject of Beethoven’s music. This book brings together all of Beethoven’s music in relation to the society in which he lived.
Adorno identifies three periods in Beethoven’s work, arguing that the thematic unity of the first and second periods begins to break down in the third. Adorno follows this progressive disintegration of organic unity in the classical music of Beethoven and his contemporaries, linking it with the rationality and monopolistic nature of modern society.
Beethoven will be welcomed by students and researchers in a wide range of disciplines—philosophy, sociology, music and history—and by anyone interested in the life of the composer.
“Great works of art, Adorno knew, always resist the attempt to subsume them under theoretical categories. In the case of a supreme artist like Beethoven, a lifetime of futile efforts by Adorno to complete a major philosophical study bore ironic witness to this insight. The struggle to write his impossible book left behind, however, a wealth of tantalizing fragments, which have the added value of revealing Adorno’s own process of intellectual production. Masterfully reconstructed and annotated by Rolf Tiedemann, they are now available in Edmund Jephcott’s elegant translation. In their very ‘failure’ they demonstrate the abiding power of Adorno’s claim that the dialectic of art and philosophy must remain unreconciled and negative.” —Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley
“These fragments shed valuable light not only on Adorno’s thinking on Beethoven, but also equally importantly on the sources of Adorno’s philosophy of music. Rolf Tiedemann’s sensitive editing has produced a remarkably coherent volume out of the most disparate material, while Edmund Jephcott’s translation rises magnificently to a difficult task.” —Max Paddison, University of Durham
reference to the first movement of op. 27, no. 2, it must be shown how Beethoven, in Hegelian fashion, bears within himself the whole of Romanticism – not merely its ‘mood’ but its cosmos of forms – in order both to cancel it and to preserve it at a higher level. For example, the Romantic element of crepuscular shading (the shift from Df to D); the preservation of ‘atmosphere’; the hybrid form between instrumental music and Lied; the absence of contrasts (in the sustained triplets) as a reduction
this is done, the central question of the legitimacy or otherwise of ‘mediation’ in symphonic logic will arise. Only this approach gives some promise of success in interpreting form in Beethoven. The development of the Ninth Symphony is especially curious, being heavy with allegorical depth. For the working-out and intensification of the closing motif does not lead directly, as in similarly constructed works, to the climax and the beginning of the recapitulation, but ebbs away into a second
Sonata from op. 31), which are intended to present something magnificent but remain simply empty. Even in the Larghetto of the Second Symphony there are such moments. Haydn’s expression ‘the Grand Mogul’.166 – Some magnificent pieces by Beethoven, above all the overtures, sound from a distance like a mere ‘boom boom’.  On the bombastic element:167 Plaudite, amici, comoedia est finita.168  Hitler and the Ninth Symphony: Be encircled, all ye millions.169  There are passages in
passages all have something of the ogre about them.  The moment of distress in late Beethoven, for example, in the second movement of op. 130 after the trio. – Also, the gruff humour as a means of transcending form, of ‘smashing things up’. The ogre.  The stereotypes in late Beethoven are in the vein of ‘My grandfather used to say’.  Of relevance to certain themes of late Beethoven is his (canonic) dictum of 1825: ‘Doktor sperrt das Tor dem Tod. Note hilft auch aus der Not’
drives that element beyond itself so that it may become something, awaiting the whole which the individual element becomes while being abolished by it. The medium which made this contrivance possible was tonality, the general principle whose typical manifestations in Beethoven coincide with the particular elements, the themes. With the irrevocable demise of tonality this possibility has gone; nor, once its principle has become transparent, it is to be desired, t…] I spoke earlier of the