Answer the following questions about the reading.
Reading Comprehension (40% of grade)
Short Answer (1-2 sentences per question):
What are the elements of Schoenberg's music that Boulez refers to as "flagrant incompatibilities?"
What solutions does he propose?
How does this play out in pieces like Nacht (Schoenberg) and the Symphonie Op. 21 (Webern)?
This is one of the more difficult texts you will read in this class. I have written explanations and commentary which you should read together with the text (see below).
Answer the following questions about the reading (page/paragraph numbers correspond to the relevant excerpts).
p. 443 paragraph 1:
Why is it important for Adorno that New Music not be considered beautiful (at least not in the way traditional music is)?
p. 443 paragraph 2:
Why does New Music renounce masterpieces?
Western Classical Music experienced a chaotic stylistic period in the early 20th century. What is Adorno’s take on the new 'common practice' that was promised by serialism?
p. 445 paragraph 2:
What does Adorno say about the way serialism exorcizes expression "like an evil demon?"
What is Adorno’s estimation of the capacity of art to become “scientific?”
Reading Response (60% of grade)
Long Answer (c. 300 words):
How does this relate to Adorno's claim about total organization in general (e.g., in political terms)? How do Adorno's ideas relate to ideas we looked at in the lecture on ethics and aesthetics (intrinsic value vs. instrumental value / treating people as ends in themselves / progress in culture, history, ethics)? Refer to the explanation and commentary, below, for assistance.
Explanation and Commentary:
p. 443 paragraph 1:
Adorno argues that New Music is losing its radical edge, its power of critique, because it is succumbing to the standardization of a "rigorous new system."
p. 443 paragraph 2:
Adorno refutes the idea that the compositions of the mid-20th century represent an advance over those of the early century.
p. 444 paragraph 2:
"Twelve-tone technique has its justification only in the presentation of musical contents, which cannot otherwise be organized."
e.g., developing variation of motives, non-repetition of tones, which:
(1) maximizes harmonic equality, and
(2) enhances the sense of constant motion / upheaval
In early 12-tone works you really just get 12 notes or so before the row repeats (See Webern Op 10 #4), but in serialism you get multiple instances of the row, such that the careful deferral of repeated pitches is abandoned in favor of something more banal — systemized structure.
p. 444 paragraph 3:
Using formal devices, musical gestures, etc. that originated in tonality, but with atonal pitch material leads to some inconsistencies (e.g., no modulation in transitions, polyphony is too easy/pointless, themes are not differentiated when every pitch is equal). Schoenberg wanted his music to still 'make sense musically'. Serialists disregard this concern and are happy to write music that is complicated, but not complex (Adorno says "thinkably complicated" — denkbar kompliziert). In other words, in serial pieces a lot of stuff happens (it’s complicated), but it doesn’t have the sort of complexity you get from a rich web of interconnecting, multivalent ideas that are communicated in a meaningful way.
p. 445 paragraph 1:
The serialists hold that expressive freedom amounts to mere caprice | Adorno argues that the rules of the (serial) system themselves are based on nothing more than caprice — and the pitches still interact despite the intentions of the serial composers; mere arbitrary rules can’t do away with that. The idea here is that serialism is an attempt to remove all the historical connotations from musical material and replace them with something neutral, abstract. Adorno thinks this is impossible.
p. 445 paragraph 2:
"Something in the total rationalization of music seems to appeal to young people...Young people no longer trust in their youth"
Compare to all the undergrads freaked out about getting a job (and going to college exclusively for that purpose - rather than for self-improvement, i.e., to learn to think, to learn how they can make the world a better place). As they grow out of childhood young adults often feel a need to find certainty in life and can easily mistake the standardized viewpoints made available to them in society for that certainty.
The same was true in Nazi Germany; among the general population, many of the most ardent believers in NS doctrine were adolescents and young adults.
- - - -
Adorno says there’s nothing wrong with subjective expression per se, but the serialists' dissatisfaction with it stems from the use of worn-out, clichéd expressive gestures that no longer have authentic meaning (compare Nickelback, Blink182, Mumford and Sons, &c.).
446 paragraph 1:
"Nobody really takes a chance anymore; all are looking for shelter"
Adorno says that the two main trends in postwar music are a reactionary return to styles of the past (think neo-classicism, neo-romanticism, etc.) or the false certainty of systematic music (serialism). Both are cop outs, both betray the powerlessness of individuals in the rational-technological/administered world (see Kafka).
- - - -
“The brutal measures taken by the totalitarian states…give tangible evidence of what happens less visably in non-totalitarian countries, of what transpires, indeed…within most human beings."
It’s not that there is necessarily some secret central committee that controls the social/political system and enslaves individuals (although that happens too), but that individuals enslave themselves when they buy into the standardized values provided by the system. In fact, we are the system.
Compare Alexis de Tocqueville on “Tyranny of the majority” in Democracy in America (1835) — in American Democracy tyranny will be all the more insidious because it will appear as though there is none.
Another way of looking at this:
Perhaps the most intractable problems of contemporary society (a world full of nuclear weapons, the impending ecological crisis, social/economic inequality, etc.) are the result of taking the values of the Enlightenment (e.g., rationality, freedom, etc.) to their logical and absolute conclusion.
If so, can we solve these problems without giving up values we do not want to give up?
Does rationality for its own sake lead to a situation in which technology progresses to the point where it is capable of annihilating humanity? Or to forms of government that are so thoroughly organized, so technologically efficient (and hence, rational) that they treat people as a mere means to the ends of the state (i.e., cogs in the machine), and can effectively exterminate anything (or anyone) that resists the system? Does freedom for its own sake lead to a situation in which everyone is on their own and, hence, irreparably alienated from each other? Does it lead to a situation in which an unfettered and totally free (and rational?) market leads to the destruction of the earth? Remember, the primary mission of most modern corporations is to continually increase shareholder value, not to create a better world (whatever that means).
Traditionally, reason was understood to have both instrumental value (we can use it to other ends, such as self-preservation) and intrinsic value (it is good for its own sake). The problem with intrinsic value is that it is pretty hard to derive from "cold, hard facts." We can demonstrate instrumental value pretty easily from facts about the world (e.g., rationality is very effective at transforming our environment and making our lives easier/more comfortable/longer). So if self-preservation is what we're after, rationality has a clear value. But how do you demonstrate from empirical facts that reason (or anything for that matter) is good for its own sake? If we can't answer this question one way or the other perhaps we just shouldn't ask it. And so we might go on acting as though reason has only instrumental value.
This is the concept of instrumentalization — that is, knowledge, rationality, innovation, efficiency used as instruments to dominate nature (and human beings, understood as part of nature) in the interest of self-preservation instead of being treated as means to a more holistic, long-term end (such as the contemplation of what makes life good/meaningful, which might be considered an end in itself).
Because instrumental reason is so effective at manipulating the world and the people in it, it gives rise to a belief in the intrinsic value of instrumentality. A good example of this is money. Money has no intrinsic value. Its value is only relative to what it can be exchanged for. However, in the rationalized corporate model mentioned above the central (and for many corporations only) purpose is to maximize wealth. The same could be said for technological innovation, government bureacracy, the arms race, or MBA programs that teach students only how to be more effective managers, not what an intrinsically good thing to manage might be. If only instrumental value can be demonstrated from facts about the world, it is easy to slip into beliefs and social practices that assume it as an end in itself. This is an example of what Adorno means when he argues that in modern society rationality becomes irrational.
Now consider your own experience creating rows, matrices, musical data sets, etc. (and how much it feels like filling out tax forms) — administration for its own sake. And consider the situation in most US universities, in which more and more administrators are being hired at higher and higher salaries, while teaching positions are gradually being converted into part-time positions that pay less and less. In short, US higher education is turning to a corporate model (and remember the primary mission of corporations). These are just some of the effects of what Adorno calls 'administered culture', which is a product of instrumental reason taken to extremes.
446 paragraph 2:
On one hand, the World Wars / Holocaust / destruction of Europe (Adorno calls this the catastrophe) had shown that the whole of high culture (including art, science, philosophy, etc.) which had been a source of hope, of beauty, of ethical inspiration before the war was, as Bertolt Brecht famously wrote, “built on a heap of dogshit.” How could the culture that had led to such a catastrophe come back as though nothing had happened?
On the other hand, art and culture were a means of resisting the dominant homogenizing forces of political and cultural authoritarianism that still existed in the world (and, indeed, still exist in the world). And perhaps this new sort of art as social critique could be a way to begin rebuilding society (especially in Germany, which had been more or less completely destroyed).
A disturbing scene from the movie Schindler's List illustrates these ideas. Many different readings are possible as to the meaning and function of music in this scene, but one element stands out: the paradoxical congruity and incongruity of high culture and barbarity, of reason and monstrous irrationality.
Schindler's List (1993): Bach or Mozart?
(EXTRA CREDIT - add up to 10% on the grade for this assignment)
This is a recent (and pretty entertaining) documentary by Jonathan Meades that aired on BBC 4. The most relevant parts of it begin after 19:27, so you can start it there or at the beginning if you want.
Answer this question:
Several claims are made in this documentary about modern(ist) architecture. Discuss 2-3 of the claims that seem to have aesthetic or historical corollaries in the music we are looking at (in particular, serialism, but you can look ahead to Cage, Music of changes, etc.).
You do not need to go very deeply into this, but point out the obvious similarities. Anything that is not obvious will require explanation.
Boulez, Structures Ia
Cage, Music of Changes