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Philosophy of New Music Hardcover – 27 May 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (27 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816636664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816636662
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 462,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In 1947, Theodor Adorno, one of the seminal European philosophers of the postwar years, announced his return after exile in the United States to a devastated Europe by writing "Philosophy of New Music". Intensely polemical from its first publication, every aspect of this work was met with extreme reactions, from stark dismissal to outrage. Even Schoenberg reviled it. Despite the controversy, "Philosophy of New Music" became highly regarded and widely read among musicians, scholars, and social philosophers Marking a major turning point in his musicological philosophy, Adorno located a critique of musical reproduction as internal to composition itself, rather than as a matter of the reproduction of musical performance. Consisting of two distinct essays, "Schoenberg and Progress" and "Stravinsky and Reaction," this work poses the musical extremes in which Adorno perceived the struggle for the cultural future of Europe: between human emancipation and barbarism, between the composition techniques and achievements of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.

In this completely new translation - presented along with an extensive introduction by distinguished translator Robert Hullot-Kentor - "Philosophy of New Music" emerges as an indispensable key to the whole of Adorno's illustrious and influential oeuvre.

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By Ismo Kantola on 22 Feb. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
the second translation, much improved
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Adorno at his absolute finest 5 Aug. 2006
By Steward Willons - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps the only things more polemical than Adorno's critique of Schoenberg and Stravinsky are the reactions that followed. Unfortunately, many people still assume that they understand Adorno's views and arguments concerning these two composers. The reductionist tendency to simplify Adorno's view to "Schoenberg good, Stravinsky bad" shows just who has and who hasn't actually read this book. It is never so simple. Adorno is frequently critical of Schoenberg in very perceptive ways. Of course there's no mistaking who Adorno favors, but to consider this book as a good-vs-evil study is far too limiting. Not only is this a great study of the then current state of musical thought, it is also an interesting overview of twelve tone music, how it works, what it seeks to do, and why it's important.

The format of the book is especially nice. Adorno's favored paratactical prose style can be incredibly difficult when multi-page paragraphs begin to accumulate. For the most part in Philosophy of New Music, each new paragraph is marked by a heading. This keeps the ideas organized and focused. Adorno's paragraphs seem to function as a spinning out of an idea in a very fluid manner and the length of his sections are just the right length to allow the reader to comfortably follow him without getting bogged down. His theses is developed piece by piece, but clearly dividing up the ideas helps the reader see the logical progression. Having read other Adorno writings, I found this to be unusually clear and concise. I wonder how much more useful Aesthetic Theory would be if he had used this structure.

The remarkable clarity is probably due, to a large extent, to Robert Hullot-Kentor's translation. I've read many other translators with varying degrees of success (Ashton's attempt at Negative Dialectics being one of the worst), but Hullot-Kentor is by far the best. Adorno's writing is riddled with allusions and references that are frequently vague or obscure. Hullot-Kentor does a great service to readers by including additional references and background information. His detailed understanding of Adorno's complicated thought is evident in every sentence. Reading Adorno has, to me at least, never been so straightforward.

In addition to the translation, Hullot-Kentor provides an excellent foreword providing both a context and an overview of what is inside. His description of the translation process is, as always, interesting. Hullot-Kentor has found a way to provide very readable English translations while maintaining Adorno's linguistic artistry.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Appreciate it for what it is. 28 Aug. 2012
By Bob G. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This translation is the clearest that has yet been published. The writing is far easier to understand than the translation published by Continuum. The edition also provides helpful context for many of Adorno's more obscure references.

If you're new to Adorno's ideas, here are some very general thoughts. Keep in mind that Adorno writes in a highly technical, allusive language; fully understanding a book like this will require years of training in both 20th-century Continental philosophy and music theory, which probably only a handful of individuals really possess or have ever really possessed. (I'm not one of them, so maybe you should take this review with a grain of salt.) Because of the extremism of his musical views, Adorno is mostly out of fashion now in American academia, but any writer as brilliant and sensitive as this at least warrants some acquaintance.

For me, the appeal of this book is that Adorno focuses on the connection between music and culture, and about whether any given cultural pattern is humanizing or de-humanizing. This is almost unique among 20th-century writers on contemporary music. No one else approaches these subjects with the same sustained intensity.

The book is part of Adorno's long-term attempt to understand fascism in a very general sense, especially how fascism permeates Western psychology and culture. If you've read any academic critical theory, you'll be familiar with this theme, which is often handled in a formulaic and unconvincing way. Adorno is more interesting and more sincere than most of this literature -- possibly because, as a student and young professor, Adorno observed the slow approach of WWII, as the mass media, democratically-elected politicians, and cultural leaders clamored for war and fascism. Even highly respected intellectuals at the time such as Max Weber and Martin Heidegger promoted crass nationalism, racism, and war-mongering.

The gist of the basic argument of the book is something like this (keep in mind that I am attempting to put his ideas into plain language and hence heavily re-interpreting and simplifying them): Most war-mongering propaganda emphasizes group unity, optimism, and cheerful dedication to country. Popular culture emphasizes similar qualities. The music of the Second Viennese School is just the opposite; disjointed and bleak, the mature work of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern constitutes an antidote to the falseness in mass culture. Try to imagine a rally of blood-thirsty warmongers coming together to sing a bleak, atonal national anthem -- it's not easy. Musical works that are clear and witty (like Stravinsky), or pleasant or enjoyable (like most popular music) are deceptive, de-humanizing, and even collusive with fascism. Because Western civilization is so dehumanizing, the only honest music that can be written will be likewise dark, disjointed, foreboding, and grotesque.

Adorno's thought is more complicated than this. Schoenberg and Stravinsky receive both praise and criticism for different aspects of their work. Even if you disagree with Adorno's claims, and even if they seem willful, they are never formulaic.

Nevertheless, his criticisms of popular music and various composers (e.g. Hindemith) are notoriously over the top. Do a quick search on Youtube for Adorno interviews about popular music, and you'll see what I mean. If a song has a pleasant, coherent melody, Adorno equates it with the basest, cruelest instincts in man. Innocent songs receive the kind of revulsion and condemnation you might expect would be reserved for a work like Hitler's "Mein Kampf." He even extends similar judgments to Vietnam-era protest songs, of all things.

It's hard to take judgments like this completely seriously. As a result, many writers have adopted strains of Adorno's thought without really agreeing with many of his conclusions. Adorno's assertions/arguments about how this or that is dehumanizing -- popular music, Stravinsky, Hindemith, mass-manufactured items -- probably won't convince many modern readers. You are either on the same page with the author or you aren't.

My view is that, after a while, it feels less like Adorno is really asking questions about the humanity in this music and more like they are reflections of someone with a very abstract, rarefied notion of aesthetic purity. It's sincere, but only up to a point.

Anecdotally, at least, Viennese atonal music had an uneven record as an antidote to fascism. Anton Webern, the "spiritual leader" of Schoenberg's disciples, became a staunch supporter of Hitler.

Adorno, by contrast, remained impressively independent from the various mass delusions of both the right and the left. He's a bit like your crazy uncle who is prone to unhinged ranting, at the end of the day, will probably do the right thing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Has displaced earlier translation entitled Philosophy of Modern Music 4 April 2014
By Orson Welles - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The one advantage of the earlier 1994 Continuum edition of Philosophy of Modern Music was the larger font size. The current edition has the same font size as the new and improved translation. So I no reason not to order this UMinn edition.
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
It's Adorno, less than 5 stars would be Sacrilege 25 Jun. 2006
By W. Jamison - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Bought this yesterday with my father's day gift certificate. Went here to see what others had thought of it and was surprised to see no review posted yet! What gives? Are you guys sleeping on the job?

The translators preface by Robert Hullot-Kentor who also did Aesthetic Theory is vintage translator expressing the torments of trying to merge two different worlds. I enjoyed it and know just what he means. Quine is right about that. But it is harsh! RH-K is a believer in Adorno and what Adorno says in the text. Does one have to empathize with a text to translate it well just as a musician must be in the mood of the music to express that mood? I wonder. Maybe so.

Adorno gave these guys grief. I am sure it applies to our music as well. I read this not simply thinking of the "new music" but the continuing type and wonder if we can associate the trite with the sensuous and the good with the abstract? But then what makes the good so good? Reading on....
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Excellent 23 Mar. 2013
By The Magic Christian - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
New Music.....?....well, it was mid-century. What would Adorno make of the muddle that is our music world of the 21st century?
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