on Adorno's "Music, Language, and Composition"

Important quotations:

1. "Music is similar to language. Expressions like musical idiom or musical accent are not metaphors. But music is not language. Its similarity to language points to its innermost nature, but also toward something vague. The person who takes music literally as language will be led astray by it" (401).

2. "...quite a few things in music come rather close to the 'primitive concepts' that are dealt with in epistemology" (401).

3. "In comparison to signifying language, music is a language of a completely different type. Therein lies music's theological aspect. What music says is a proposition at once distinct and concealed. Its idea is the form of the name of God. It is demythologized prayer, freed from the magic of making anything happen, the human attempt, futile, as always, to name the name itself, not to communicate meanings" (402).

4. "Music aims at an intention-less language, but it does not separate itself once and for all from signifying language, as if there were different realms. A dialectic reigns here; everywhere music is shot through with intentions--not, to be sure, only since the stile rappresentativo, which used the rationalization of music as a means of coming to terms with its resemblance to language. Music without any signification, the mere phenomenological cherence of the tones, would resemble an acoustical kaleidoscope. As absolute signification, on the other hand, it would cease to be music and pass, falsely, into language. Intentions are essential to it, but they appear only intermittently" (403)

5. "But to play music properly means, above all, to speak its language properly. This language demands that it be imitated, not decoded. It is only in mimetic practice--which may, of course, be sublimated into unspoken imagination in the manner of reading to oneself--that music discloses itself, never to a consideration that interprets it independent of the act of execution. If one wished to compare an act in the signifying languages with the musical act, it would more likely be the transcription of a text than its comprehension as signification" (403)

6. "Signifying language would say the absolute in a mediated way, yet the absolute escapes it in each of its intentions, which, in the end, are left behind, as finite. Music reaches the absolute immediately, but in the same instant it darkens, as when a strong light blinds the eye, which can no longer see things that are quite visible" (404).

7. "Music does not exhaust itself in intentions; by the same token, however, no music exists without expressive elements: in music even expressionlessness becomes an expression" (405).

- note: The same can be said for the visual arts. As Andy Warhol's soup cans taught us, whatever takes the place of art inevitably becomes art.

8. "Music is a means of cognition that is veiled both for itself and for the knowing subject. But it has this much, at least, in common with the discursive form of knowledge: it cannot be fully resolved in the direction of either the subject or the object, and each of them is mediated by the other. Just as those musics in which the existence of the whole most consistently absorbs and moves beyond its particular intentions seem to be the most eloquent, so music's objectivity, as the essence of its logic, is inseparable from the element within it that is similar to language, from which it derives everything of a logical nature" (405-406)

9. "Hence, it cannot stop with the abstract negation of its similarity to language. The fact that music, as language, imitates-that on the strength of its similarity to language it constantly poses a riddle, and yet, as nonsignifying language, never answers it -must, nevertheless, not mislead us into erasing that element as a mere illusion. This quality of being a riddle, of saying something that the listener understands and yet does not understand, is something it shares with all art" (410).

Written on September 13, 2007