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Index: Music

Adorno on Modern Music — A Coda

Tronn Overend: ‘In Adorno’s analysis, jazz is simply equated with ragtime. It is certainly correct that Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag (1899) and Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1911) were important foundations. The edifice that was then built, however, evolved rapidly.’

Return to tonality.

Tronn Overend: ‘An analysis of these contradictions, or conflicts, is a touchstone of truth. There are contradictions within artistic material – such as traditional music – and there are ‘contradictions in the world’. It is only by ‘measuring this contradiction’ that it ‘is actually perceived’, then ultimately reconciled and overcome. Adorno’s leaps at this point are not clear, but returning to the distinction between cognition and perception, arts ‘cognitive character becomes radical in that moment’. It ‘is no longer content with the role of perception.’’

Antithesis: Schoenberg.

Tronn Overend: ‘Following Vassily Kandinsky’s review of Schoenberg’s paintings (not his music), Adorno enigmatically contends Schoenberg’s music also has ‘blotches’. These proclaim, as in a Rorschach, ‘…the id against the compositional will. They destroy the surface and are as little to be removed by subsequent correction as are the traces of blood in a fairy tale.’

‘Last kind words.’

Peter Riley: ‘The song was recorded in 1930 in a makeshift studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, and issued by Paramount Records as‘ Last Kind Words Blues’ on one side of a 78 rpm shellac disc with the musician’s name given as “Geeshie Wiley”. It’s not a simple lyric. It’s not about slavery, but slavery is there in it. It’s about the victims of war, but forgets that and after verse four goes off into transferable formulae (floating verses).’

The School of Giorgione.

Walter Pater: ‘All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it.’

The Weimar Republic and critical theory.

Tronn Overend: ‘In 1925, [Adorno’s] life took an interesting turn. Having met Alban Berg in Frankfurt, he decided to become a student of musical composition, and follow him to Vienna. There, over three years, he became seduced by The Schoenberg Circle.’

Back in the building.

Ian Seed: ‘Things went downhill for Elvis with tragic momentum after 1974. I have to admit that for a few years I didn’t listen much to his music anymore. I couldn’t tie in my discovery of poets such as T.S. Eliot with my admiration for Elvis. ‘

The listening body.

Jona Xhepa: ‘The place of listening seems significant: an art gallery in the city centre on a Sunday afternoon. As if the audience is poised for assessment through listening in the mutual scrutiny between listener, musician, notated piece. We are emboldened to place the sounds in front of us for scrutiny in the same way our scrutiny is placed on paintings. Time is punctuated by members of the audience leaving, not diminishing the act of patience by doing so, within the undercurrent of continued heed.’

The funeral of Isaac Albéniz.

James Gallant: ‘Along the way Catalan flags flew at half-mast. Albéniz noted with pleasure black crepe decorating the façade of a Catholic newspaper that had once condemned flamenco influences in his music. From balconies in the narrow winding streets of the old city people rained roses and carnations on the hearse. The procession paused in front of the municipal music school for students to pile flowers atop the hearse, and a little further on a line of riflemen at a military installation raised their weapons and fired a salute.’

‘Tallys’ and the postmodern sublime.

Nigel Wheale: ‘How much did any of the rapt audience [at the Cloisters] know of the debates over the origin of ‘Spem in alium’, or its place in the development of European polyphony, of the vexed complexities of liturgical revision, or the turbulent politics of the royal court? Some of the audience were certainly choristers themselves, may even have performed the motet, in which case they would be well versed in its structure, perhaps also some of the history. I knew very little indeed, even though I have loved and taught the literary renaissance for decades, have heard Tallis’s motet many times, in live and, more often, recorded performances, generally appreciating the music as a sustaining forest of song, sometimes transfixing, sometimes no more than a matte of voices that pleasingly resolves. And I’m no wiser now as to the precise date, circumstances and allegiance of ‘Spem in alium’, and its enigmatic origins.

Who is Bruce Springsteen?

Peter Knobler: ‘Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry says, “There’s an authenticity about Bruce that’s just incontrovertible…I think it’s because he’s so true to who he is, and people know it.” But who is he? Is he the egalitarian liberal who sang the radical anti-private-property verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at President Barack Obama’s first inaugural, or is he the guy who allowed his band to be low-balled when offered contracts for a highly anticipated and financially rewarding “reunion tour”?’

Watching ‘Einstein on the Beach’ through a periscope.

Anthony Howell: Backwards clocks and crazed compasses dangle before our eyes, and I notice that everyone in the cast is wearing a watch. Time is Wilson’s essential subject. Things happen at different speeds yet ruthlessly conform to the order of brittleness. The stage is steeped in cloud, and a text on a drop curtain depicting a hydrogen bomb explosion reminds us of molecules of dust generating further terrible heat. We are judged by an elderly black man and a white child; by age and by race. As they consult with each other, a black circle covers a white disk. The cast open their paper bags. It’s okay, we’re not doomed. We’re only on our lunch break.

Story of a song.

Anthony Howell: I hugely appreciate the way Marianne Faithfull has re-invented herself, a process that began with ‘Broken English’. This album is a milestone in UK music history. Every track is a revelation; she really comes into her own as a songwriter, and even to the cover versions of songs such as Working Class Hero she imparts a sort of heroism. The voice is no longer the wistful voice of the sixties singer; instead it has a smoky depth, a husky edge that conveys raw emotion.

• Thus Rihanna does not sing in your valley nor for your village.

Popular culture was always local, and changed imperceptibly from one village or valley to the next. High culture, on the other hand, always had a certain universality to it, and thus the dissemination of high cultural products via electronic media is not a threat to the very nature of that culture. But such electronic dissemination has all but destroyed popular culture…

• Event: ‘3 Carsons out of Texas’ at the Gershwin Hotel, New York, 20 October – 20 November 2011

[Announcement from The Gershwin Hotel and Suzanne Tremblay] – “3 Carsons out of Texas” – L.M.Kit Carson, film pioneer; Rev Goat Carson, Grammy-winning lyricist; and Neke Carson, a multimedia artist – are the subjects of a special month-long event at the Gershwin Hotel in Manhattan, 20 October to 20 November 2011. The event is ‘A […]