T.W. Adorno
Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics has been banned. Rightly so, because it shrank the content of music to the boundaries of the multiplicity of subjective experience and of the movements of the individual soul, which doesn’t correspond to what is musically intended, because it distorts while it reports, and can never be unambiguously made to correspond to the musically objective. Nevertheless in the criticism of hermeneutics as of “subjectivity” altogether people have gone too far and lost true objectivity. For music has been torn loose – as empty game – from all of its values or contents, contents which need not be considered the meaning of music but about which the from of the musically-emerging gradually groups itself, towards which the constellations of music orient themselves, as whose ciphers such constellations are readable in history. To be sure, there contents should not be isolated and detached as ideal “contents” which the “form” of real music surrounds. On the other hand they are not to be vaporized to the vague concept of a “style” which, as a historical unity, could give meaning to the musical phenomenon which is in itself without [semantic] meaning. Rather, the actual contents of music – independent of psychological modes of constitution – are always bound to its material, inner-technical constitution. That is where a genuine hermeneutics would have to seek them out, would have to learn to understand questions and answers of technical tasks and solutions as the language of what shines through in music without being consumed in it as music’s subjective expression. Still, musical technique has not become as transparent as would be required if one wanted to tear its meaning from abstract style criticism. Nevertheless it is not yet the case that there is no chance for hermeneutics today. The affects offer themselves to it as interpretable material, instead of the inferred “feelings” of the authors, which hermeneutics pursued when the works stood at their zenith, or the stranger, immanently less inferrable associations with which listeners responded to the ephemeral works. The affects are to be inferred neither from the expression of the works nor from their style. In them is hinted fragmentarily at what the Gestalt of the works clubbed together as their secret core. The energy that they once contained becomes visible as empty space in the disintegrated works, which the mass of the presently-sounding no longer fills. It is to this empty space that hermeneutic interpretation must direct itself.


The closing group of the finale of Mozart’s A major piano concerto: above an organ-point with mechanically inflected accompanying figure between tonic and dominant with a melody that really just drives within one step of a second after another with the movement of the preceding, in order suddenly, without giving way, to split up into the smallest little motive parts; that closing group, whose dense work closes off all the development and dynamic of the remainder of the movement, as if its enclosure wanted to reel in the time that before flowed freely: how like it is to the clock, as which the philosophers of the 17th century once thought their world; which at first a godly builder set in motion and now abandoned, trusting to its mechanism. It is a magic mechanism, an unknown onlooker outside shows it the time while it itself controls the time in which it is enclosed. Inside everything remains the same. The world is a dream of its sleeping builder. But when the clock of Mozart’s closing group in the coda begins for the third time, when its metallic sound begins softly to drip in the cool subdominant, then it is as if the half-forgotten work has occurred to the master, as if he has taken hold, removed his band from it: time empowers itself with the power of the clock and, reconciled, it plays for itself its epilogue before falling silent.


The affect of being moved in Schubert’s music is surrender, not resignation. People are drawn by resignation before their death, just as by defiance. If the person persists through this in its own nature, then it adapts itself in resignation to the overlapping connectedness of the natural; without guilt, but without hope. Schubert’s surrender, however, is not the decay of nature – nature’s last word, but its softest transition: “I am not wild,” its allegory of death’s comforting itself; mythical picture of an already mythical reality. Scheme of such transition is the passage into sleep. It may still be said, of Schubert what Kierkegaard wished: “blessed he who does not agonize but believes.” How one teaches a child when it should sleep to say certain words in order to fall asleep – says I believe in him and falls asleep. So in the middle section of the slow movement of the trio in E-flat: it fades away after its development in order to hold fast to a motive – the last, cadencing, and to repeat, continually weaker. Until full sleep when music loses its rights together with all human speech. A forte calls it back.


The landscape of Mendelssohn’s “on wings of song” is that of any early palm garden; in the time of composition palm gardens became popular in Europe. A landscape under a roof and in glass. Tropes in captivity as miniature, confined district of the stone city, but with true palms and most warmth, full of the exoticism of the interior, as their last rest after the downfall of the room-palm, the cactuses were left us: an exoticism which pains because it became completely unreachable, in that it came all too close. Romantic longing is a matter of too-great nearness, not of happier distance. However the nearness has magical power: daughters with brown eyes who practice the song on the pianoino are transformed by it into gazelles, which greet a beloved, whom they gladly would have become, with fragile melancholy. This why the song is so sad.


The representatives of extreme reaction, from whom more it to be learned for all cases than from those of moderate progress, because they at least take note of the shock delivered by the emerging circumstances, which the historically eager put aside. The representatives of extreme reaction do not tire of calling the new harmony “sadism” whose purpose is to torture the listener physically. This strikes home more than the talk of counterpoint, which in some practices could also produce triads. The multitoned chords were at first dissonances that arose without exception from painful affects. From such origin they retain more than prevailing doctrine would concede. For joy is today, as then, displaced from music; in truth since Beethoven, in the recitative of the Ninth, invoked its name for nothing. That is not to say that triads could not later be restored to their joyful right. This right is a mere natural right and definitively broken. Furthermore: the function of dissonant chords is dialectic; dialectically their dissonant character is negated, not historically forgotten; that may be given meaning in truth by the overthrow of the expression principle by the construction principle. Here the image of “sadism” can confirm itself in that erotic form in which people rebel with nature against nature, in which pain becomes dialectic and stands up for a lust which might have become empty to the perverted: so in the center of construction dissonance gains joy dialectically, which has long disappeared from the seductiveness of even the most delicate ninth chords. The place of this dialectic, however, is in both cases the human body; in both cases the dialectic completes itself unsymbolically in the perimeter of the feelings without being tied to “expression.” With that the inner-subjective region breaks open. The cheap consequence: if the new chords are perverse there is nothing to fear. For the character of perversion in the sexual domain stirs from the fact that there, nature has the last word: that its mythical power proceeds as ruling from the dialectic. But it is different in music, a domain of pictures. Its construction principle is able to free itself prophetically from blind nature-connections; its dialectic therefore can orient itself gradually to joy, where the natural reality of humans remains only lust. Whether the two will converge is not decided in art.


The confrontation of Beethoven with Kant actually takes place in Schiller; but more concrete than under the sign of a content-wise indeterminate ethical idealism. In the Ode to Joy Beethoven, with an accent, has composed the Kantian postulate of practical reason. In the line “Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen” the accent “muss:” God becomes for him a plain appeal of the autonomous “Ich,” which still affirms above the starry heaven, what according to the rule of custom does not seem to survive fully. But such affirmation signifies joy; joy that unconsciously chooses the Ich, instead of rising above it as star.


If one wants to recognize what essentials take place in Hindemith’s music, one would not speak of communal will and Spielfreudigkeit, linear motor energy and the renewal of preclassical polyphony, but depart from the sentence that stands above one of his best solo sonatas: “The weather is beautiful.” There is weather everywhere in his music. Not in the sense of abrupt, stormy rebellious outbursts, as Ernst Bloch heard them in the works of the Schoenberg school. But as a townsman, whose time is divided between work and freedom, knows his dependence on weather. This music looks out the window. If it is raining, it is annoyed and closes the shutters. Or it waits, even-tempered, to see what will become of the gray clouds, until it becomes clear that they will stay, and the piece ends. Or it is April and the music flutters by damply. Or the incarnate dear May comes: it is then freely quoted. Sometimes the music must go out on the street in bad weather; it gathers its courage, singing itself something on the flute. Its impossibility is basically not so positive and objective; above all not as much so as one would like. It is like a barometer. It registers outside what so controls the poor inside, divided between work and freedom, that there is nothing left for it but to register. Perhaps that is why mechanical music.


The card trio of Carmen rides on the track of opera form. The mythical powers are named, which anonymously control the opera. It takes place in the domain of blind fate: that it becomes illuminated is its moment of truth. Thus also in the card trio. The woman friends, fates in gypsy dresses, sing the same thing before and after Carmen’s aria and lay a magic ring about her that has the operetta-like appearance of luck. In between, her invocation of fate is powerless: she must die, as she recognizes. But Carmen’s gloomy outburst – the only one in which her mythical dumbness dissolves into words, remains the intermittent insertion of hope. It dies away as an echo against the austere walls of fate.


It is customary to think Wagner together with Schopenhauer; for the young Wagner the influence of Feuerbach is acknowledged. Suppose that, instead of “influence” and manifest contents one tried to investigate the Gestalten of the works: one would find relationships especially to Hegel. In both the idea of totality reigns, with Hegel that of the system that grasps all of reality concretely in itself, with Wagner that of the music dramas from which, as center, the arts are all equally constituted. With both it is extensive totality, which stretches from its subjective origin as far into reality as it can reach from the spontaneous “objective” Spirit, which absorbs all moments of plain subjectivity in itself, with Wagner to the decorative profusion of the material, which the lyrical self – the original carrier of the operatic action – pushes back into the smallest motivic cells. With both the concretion of the structures, which emerge from the highest abstract unities, is laid out in dynamics; in transition especially; what is with Hegel the logical from of mediation, is accomplished with Wagner by the harmony of modulation. Even the Hegelian flipover from quantity to quality occurs in Wagner’s intensifications: in those harmonic shifts which suddenly transpose a chord progression to completely new levels. With both the totality remains apparent as one that is subjectively produced: with Hegel in a system that purchases the identity of reason and reality at the cost of reality; with Wagner in ersatz thematic development that would never be bale to produce a closed surface through plain repetition, layering of cells; not to speak of pathos. In both the mythical origin of German idealism becomes apparent: in Hegel’s history-mythology no less than in Wagner’s myth-operas, whose mythology proves itself as genuine, just by means of its complete fictitiousness. Both are demonic because of that; both reigned in their domains without restraint and were able to defeat all resistance; both became powerless once they became really known.