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In Search Of Wagner By Theodor W. Adorno

1227 words - 5 pages

As the leitmotif recurs, it creates a dramatic thread throughout the work that accumulates further meaning as it appears in new contexts and in combination with other motifs. So, as the audience becomes familiar with these musical ideas and their implications, it enables Wagner to subliminally link past or future ideas and emotional states to the drama occurring in the present. Wagner himself described the motives as ‘emotional guideposts through the whole labyrinthine edifice of the drama’ (in his work Opera and Drama) and this quotation demonstrates that Wagner acknowledged the complexity of the musical dramas he created and the effect for the listener. In In Search of Wagner, Adorno wrote ...view middle of the document...

From a purely theoretical advantage, this can lead Adorno to make inaccurate and sweeping interpretations of the music he analyses.

Adorno opens “his search” for Wagner with an analysis of Wagner as a social character. Wagner, who came from the "Bohemian milieu of dilettantish artists," begs for sympathy and for money (Adorno, Search, 15). There he developed a virtuosity that enabled him "to achieve bourgeois goals at the cost of his bourgeois integrity" (Adorno,Search, 16). The text suggests that Wagner was deceptive and lacked character, two weaknesses that Adorno claims manifest themselves in his work also:
The power of the existing order over the protester is so great that he is no longer capable of separating himself from it or even of putting up any genuine resistance: and in the same way there is an absence of tension in Wagner's harmony as it descends from the leading note and sinks from the dominant into the tonic. Adorno, Search, 16)

Adorno therefore sees Wagner's musical gestures as manifestations of the symbolic capitalist power Wagner held as a composer over his audience. Adorno explains, rather violently, that the overriding gesture of Wagner's music is beating and striking blows, and "through such a system of gestures Wagner's social impulses are translated into technique" (Adorno,Search, 30). Furthermore, this violent metaphor of beating is used as a means to reduce Wagner’s music to simple and regressive forms. Adorno goes on to explain that Wagner's music therefore has the tendency to disguise the relationship between the composer and the listener by incorporating the listener into his work as an element of "effect": "As an advocate of effect, the conductor is the advocate of the public in the work. However, as the striker of blows, the composer-conductor gives the claims of the public a terroristic emphasis" (Adorno, Search, 31).

Wagner's music dramas, in Adorno’s view, lead the way for the listener's adaptation to the order of bourgeois rationality, i.e., the culture industry, films etc. This industry values art which privileges sight over hearing and so hearing becomes almost like a “dream like” or dozing state, a criticism which Adorno makes explicitly about Wagner’s use of leitmotifs. Therefore Wagner, in Adorno’s view, becomes not just the site of a confrontation between art and fascist ideology but also between the high art of modernity and the products of the culture industry of late capitalism. The fracture between high and low art in twentieth century criticism is exemplified strongly in Adorno’s work.

In addition the leitmotif further enhances the commodification of art. Wagner's compulsive and repetitive musical gestures, in Adorno's opinion, evade the necessity of creating musical time, thus...

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