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Aspects of Adorno's Theory of Musical Form

WEDLER, SEBASTIAN (2013) Aspects of Adorno's Theory of Musical Form. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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This dissertation puts forward a musicologically-interested but philosophically-orientated reading of Adorno’s concept of musical form, building from his critique of the traditional ‘Formenlehre’ seen in the light of his idiosyncratic self-reflexive notion of musical form, and culminating in his idea of a ‘musique informelle’ and his proposed ‘material theory of musical form’ (materiale Formenlehre der Musik). Adorno criticised the traditional ‘Formenlehre’ at a fundamental level for its ahistorical and reductionist assumptions. This critical attitude, which raises a number of philosophical, music-aesthetic, and music-analytical questions, serves as the foundation upon which the argument of this dissertation is built. After a survey of the historical context in which Adorno developed his critique of the traditional ‘Formenlehre’, his historical interpretation of musical forms is first considered in relation to his adoption of Hegel’s concept of history, then developed further in terms of his discussion of J.S. Bach’s music in relation to Viennese Classicism, and then in association with his idea of a ‘musique informelle’, within which Adorno envisaged the historical dissolution of formal types altogether. It is proposed that Adorno’s concept of musical form is located between the technical sphere of music analysis on the one hand, and the philosophical and value-laden sphere of music aesthetics on the other. It is argued here that these two spheres cross over in Adorno’s thinking about form, as is exemplified in his idiosyncratic treatment of the concepts of ‘tonality’ and ‘consistency’ (‘Stimmigkeit’). That is to say, Adorno understood the analytical and music-theoretical concept of ‘tonality’ philosophically in terms of German Idealism, while the philosophical-aesthetic concept of ‘consistency’ is conceived as being technically grounded in the way in which handed-down material (which includes formal and generic types) are mediated within the formal configuration of the individual work. Given that musical form cannot be isolated from genre-specific considerations, it is also argued here that, while Adorno discussed the concept of genre at some length in Ästhetische Theorie, he does so at a level of generality that caused difficulties in his interpretation of Beethoven’s late style. By providing a critical reading of his examination of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, this dissertation attempts to develop a new perspective on Adorno’s interpretation of this work through a critique of his concept of genre. Finally Adorno’s late ‘material theory of musical form’ and his concept of musical time are considered as a new practice of music analysis, pointing beyond the traditional ‘Formenlehre’.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Aug 2013 08:38

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