Journal of Music Criticism – 2 (2018)

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In April 1954, Theodor W. Adorno gave a lecture at the Süddeutsche Rundfunkin Stuttgart, ‘Das Altern der neuen Musik’(‘The Aging of the New Music’), in which he addressed one of the most incisive criticisms of the post-war cultural scene in Europe against the aesthetic and technical position of postwebernian serialism. Adorno, who had already defended Schoenberg’s aesthetic model in Die Philosophie der neuen Musik, went a step further that time and attributed a rejection of the open criticism of society to the new works of the young generation of serial composers of the so called Darmstadt School. In his opinion such a rejection should be at the roots of the expressive language of the musical work in a particularly complex historical moment. The aspect of Adorno’s critique concerning the social function of technique and, therefore, of music and art, would immediately be revealed as one of the most controversial. The historical connotations of musical material, filled with meanings deposited by the weight of history, could only be liquidated according to him through the subjective expression of the inner denial, which in his opinion is contrary to the unifying and oppressive identity to which the inexorable technological rationalization ultimately leads. In this context, the so-called ‘new music’ faced the challenge and the obligation to assume history without denying it. Based on these considerations, the bulk of the musical criticism that Adorno publicly supported since 1954 transcended the technical and conceptual category of the compositional field to enter an area that we can ascribe to the aesthetic and social criticism: the examination of the social content of the musical material and the problem of the social function of the musical form were at the centre of his reflections. In this paper I review the sociological foundations that underpin Adorno’s path from the initial criticism of 1954 to the formulation in 1961 of a new conception of musical form under the idea of musique informelle(‘informal music’) taking also into consideration the positions and reactions to the serialism of composers such as Ligeti or Lachenmann, who in the 60s introduced perception at the centre of the discussion of form and material, giving rise to new compositional models where form escapes both to the fetish character of the material criticized by Adorno, as well as its conventional expressive residues.

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Heinrich Schenker’s bellicose polemics published in the aftermath of World War I count among those most unpalatable to his modern readers; they are, at the same time, revealing in terms of how he came to internalize the pandemonium of the war by aligning his theory of music with his increasingly radical anti-democratic disposition and German nationalism. Through a close reading of hitherto mostly unexplored writings by the theorist alongside that of a selection of newspaper articles that he read during that period, this paper examines his preoccupation with one writer that he deemed his opponent in particular, German music critic Paul Bekker. Schenker’s at the time largely unpublished and rather one-sided exchanges with the left-leaning Jewish critic help shed light not only on the ideological circumstances under which his theory developed, but also on the gradual fragmentation of his own Jewish identity during the early 1920s. Besides chronicling the pervasive infiltration of anti-Semitism into the discourse on music, this paper demonstrates how conservative and progressive stances in relation to music and criticism became conflated with conflicting visions of society during those post-war years.

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The poetic work of José Ángel Valente (1929-2000) and his personal diaries offer an exceptional response to the stimulus of classical and contemporary music present not only in the field of his essay writing, but also in the field of creation and poetic forms. The elaboration of poetry books such as Breve son(1968),Tres lecciones de tinieblas(1980), Siete cantigas de alén(1981) Mandorla(1982) or No amanece el cantor(1992) constitutes the expression of this critical-creative exercise drawn up on a peculiar way of feeling and listening to musical works, on references clearly identified in his personal diaries. Webern, Varèse, Schoenberg, Mahler, Machaut, Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Stravinsky or Boulez transit the pages of his personal memory as reminiscent voices, and all of them give a special harmonic stamp to his poetic thought shaped both by his experience as listener and by his condition as a tireless reader of musicological essays.

Journal of Music Criticism, Volume 2, Issue 2 (2018), ISSN 2532-9995.

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