T2 - Essays on Music and Culture

Adorno left unfinished an opera based on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer called Der Schatz des Indianer-Joe: Singspiel nach Mark Twain, edited with an afterword by Rolf Tiedemann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979), a facsimile of the fragments, based on his own libretto written over a ten-month period beginning in November 1932. Adorno's only completed music for the piece was "Two Songs for Voice and Orchestra," published in the two-volume edition of Adorno's music (which contains twelve works in all, most of which are multi-part collections of short pieces—lieder, especially, but also choral works, pieces for string quartet, and a few pieces for orchestra, including arrangements): Adorno, Kompositionen, ed. Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn (Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 1980), vol. 2, pp. 63-72. Benjamin, notably critical of the libretto, exchanged several letters with Adorno on the matter. See CC, pp. 23-28; the letters date from late January to mid March 1934. In a letter to Benjamin, 13 March 1934, CC, p. 31, Adorno commented on his lack of success in getting his music published.

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In his late essay "Free Time" (1969), much of it addressing the issue of "hobbies," Adorno turns his gaze to the body, specifically the body on the beach, and the cultural politics of people preparing themselves to be looked at. He connects such bodies to the advertising for the cosmetics and leisure industries, and to the inculcation of a form of self-desire and drive. The example is tanning. "An exemplary instance is the behavior of those who let themselves roast brown in the sun merely for the sake of a tan, even though dozing in the blazing sun is by no means enjoyable, even possibly physically unpleasant, and certainly makes people intellectually inactive. With the brown hue of the skin, which of course in other respects can be quite pretty, the fetish character of commodities seizes people themselves; they become fetishes to themselves. . . . The state of dozing in the sun represents the culmination of a decisive element of free time under the present conditions: boredom."190 Boredom, he clarifies, is a social phenomenon; it is "objective desperation"—an objective condition of Western subjectivity.191

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Though famously difficult, a great deal of Adorno's writing is in short form;193 many examples, pointedly aphoristic, are not more than a few pages long. The 153 aphorisms constituting for example, vary in length from a single brief paragraph to as many as six pages (most are one or two pages); and much the same is true for the last section ("Notes and Drafts") of Adorno's free-standing essays seldom exceed thirty pages and are often shorter. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the two late monographs, Adorno's longest, and The former is organized, conventionally, into three large parts, two of which are further subdivided into chapter-like sections. The nearly four hundred pages of more extreme, appear entirely without chapter division.194

J M Bernstein, �Introduction,� in The Culture Industry: Selected essays on mass Apparitions: New Perspectives on Adorno and Twentieth-Century Music,�.
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Adorno did not find Vienna to his liking. Moreover, the Schoenberg "circle," which he hoped to join, turned out to be not much of one. Schoenberg himself was remote personally and inaccessible physically, having moved outside the city to Mödling following his second marriage; and in 1926 Schoenberg moved to Berlin. Not least, Schoenberg and Adorno did not hit it off, despite Adorno's admiration for the composer's music. Adorno returned to Frankfurt in the summer of 1925, though he traveled back to Vienna on and off until 1927, maintaining his contacts and publishing music criticism, notably in the music journals and for the latter he acquired an editorial position with Berg's help in 1929 which he retained until 1932.10 Both journals championed new music. Adorno's career in music journalism in fact predated his Vienna experience—and vastly exceeded his publication in philosophy, the first philosophical essay appearing only in 1933. Between 1921, while still a teenager, and 1931 he published dozens of opera and concert reviews, reviews of published new music, as well as essays on aesthetics, and heavily favoring new music.11 Thus in 1922, at nineteen, he praised in print Schoenberg's (1912) in the During the late 1920s and early 1930s he and Ernst Krenek carried on in-print debates about free tonality and serialism, and problems of musical form and genre; he also collaborated with violinist Rudolf Kolisch on developing a theory of musical performance.12

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Take Garland on Partch. While the author reminds us how much Partch’s Pythagorean just intonation and minimalist surfaces makes Western listeners uncomfortable, he misses the interrelations between popular and primitive musical values. Garland fails to examine the way radical composers and other musicians might link up. In San Diego, I have witnessed performances of Partch’s music—the elegant handmade instruments, the players speaking and dancing—and the effect suggests a collective that sticks close to the non-virtuosic physical reality of collective sound. That idea is shared with thousands of garage bands who try and synthesize a live sound then hope to record it. No difference really.

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Trying to define the complex term of culture with varying elements of distinguishable characteristics is a difficult task. Perhaps, a description of a culture would be easier to explain. For instance, an Iranian woman has just appeared in your office for services and it is immediately evident that her culture is very different than yours. First, her dark colored clothing covers her entire body from head to toe, including a black veil over her face. Secondly, as she speaks, a cultural difference is detected in both, her language and gestures. Her accent and the non-visible facial expressions create a barrier for comprehending the communication. Later, as the service for the woman progresses, her beliefs, values, and norms of her culture are dispelled. For example, in order for the woman to show her face to another male in public, she must first request permission from her husband to unveil. During further discussion, it becomes even more apparent, that this Iranian woman is subservient and possesses a lower level of status than that of Iranian males. All of these characteristics are indicative of this woman’s culture.