Review of Theodor Weisengrund Adorno’s Introduction to the Sociology of Music, Journal of Applied Communications Research, Vol. 2:5 (Nov. 1977), pp. 83-88.

by Gordon Welty
Wright State University
Dayton, OH 45435 USA

[//83] The volume before us is a translation of the second edition of Adorno's Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie, which was delivered as a set of twelve lectures during the early sixties at Frankfurt University./1/ A leading figure in the Old Frankfurt School, Adorno (1903-1969) was a student of Alban Berg and a musician and composer in his own right. His involvement in modem cultural life was far reaching; his doctoral dissertation was on Husserl's philosophy; he was the director of the Princeton Radio Research Project in the late thirties and co-author of the monumental Authoritarian Personality. His work must be taken as central to modern communications research.

The book has twelve chapters corresponding to the lectures. They are intended to raise "fruitful questions" which will serve to direct the sociology of music, and to facilitate the integration of theorizing and empirical studies (p. xi). In order, the chapters address Types of listeners, Popular Music, the twenty-some Functions of Music in bourgeois society, Classes and Strata as music creators and listeners, the Bourgeois Opera, Chamber Music, the famous essay on the Conductor and his Orchestra, Musical Life, Public and Expert Opinion of music, the National questions, the role of the Avant-garde, and finally, Mediation. Added in the 1968 edition is a postscript titled "Sociology of Music" as well as a few inserted amplifications and clarifications within the lectures themselves.

Adorno is sharply critical of the present day sociology of music; it is "unsatisfactory", consisting as it does of "unproductive scientific activities," "unproven statements" and "mere analogy" (p. 194). The social scientists cannot comprehend that Beethoven reflects the rising bourgeois optimism, or that Manuel de Falla reflects his own clerical fascism; their discipline consists instead of "facts" about the date and place of birth and death, and what transpired between. Similarly, the political sciences have gathered the "facts" about Napoleon and Salazar. That constitutes the "model" of the sociology of music. "Audience appeal" remains the object of inquiry for the science. Both the person and the collective are reduced to abstract ciphers. Hence its actual role is administrative, providing data for the corporate headquarters of the mass media on the one side, and obscurantist on the other, impeding the structural and class analysis of the situation of music in bourgeois society (ibid).[83/84]

Adorno holds that Art is the appearance of Truth. Hence it is not simply for sale; even in a thoroughly bourgeois society, genuine art resists the exchange principle (a social reflex of the moment of Being for Another) in its innermost being (which is the artistic reflex of the moment of Being in Itself). This dialectic of function and integrity echos the Horatian Ars Poetica: genuine art is both delighting and exemplifying. As we shall see, this dialectic has not been comprehended by the translator.

There can be little question that Ashton fails to provide us with a faithful rendering of what Adorno wrote. Some parts of the translation are just clumsy; others are dubious English or are straightforwardly incorrect translations, and yet others are misunderstandings of Adorno's thought.

On the second page, for example, Ashton translates "belasteten thesen" as "gravid" (which means "pregnant" rather than "weighty thesis.") On the next page we find "Merkmale" translated as "earmarks" rather than "criteria." The livestock markets have hardly become that dominant in this society.

On page 40, "widerstandslos" is rendered as "resistlessly," which is hardly English, rather than "unresisting" or "uninhibited." Again, one would more likely say, in English, that one lacks the "space" (Platz) for a piano in one's apartment, rather than one hasn't the "room" in the apartment (p. 102).

On page 70, "Fungibilitat" is given as "fungibility" which means, before we trample one another in the stampede to the "Big Webster's," the same as "interchangeability of parts," i.e. the exchange category (Tauschkategorie). As we will see later, this "shadow" of Sein fur Anderes is both particularly and generally problematic in this translation. Perhaps, however, Mr. Ashton's praxis is to expand our vocabulary, since we also find "analogon," "aporia," "cenacle," "habitus," "humus," et al. Of course, each means in English, exactly what it says... Need we point out that they mean, respectively, "analog," "paradox," "religious retreat," "physique" and "potting soil" as well?

Turning to the incorrect translations, on page 10, "Kitsch," which means "artistic rubbish" or "products of bad taste," may or may not be, as Ashton renders it,"corn." Adorno, by the way, was well aware of what the colloquialism "corn" meant, and used it on page 37. Likewise, Ashton appears to have been aware that "kitsch" meant kitsch, and leaves it as such (e.g. pages 23 and 197).

It is questionable what if anything "peoples community" will elicit in the reader's mind. It is unlikely it will occasion what Adorno intends by "Volksgemeinschaft," which was the reactionary Nazi ideal of a culturally and ethnically homogeneous peasant village or commune. Yet Ashton gives us that phrase, or the equally opaque "national community," on pages 12, 118, et al. Adorno's horrible irony is thus lost: what can he possibly have meant when he states "where taste (gesch- [84\85] mack) has obliterated the last trace of the green wagon (des grunen wagens), music will no longer stir" (p. 109)? The obliteration of the Gypsies in the camps, in the interests of the Volksgemeinshaft, was the obliteration of German civilization. This was Adorno's age's own, and only, poetry, the brutality of the end of the "cattle dealers," in its honest reflection.

In the "Translator's Note" to the Negative Dialectics (1973), Ashton informs us that for the reader of Adorno "to follow the line of thought from detail to detail, you need to know Hegel perfectly and Marx and Engels viscerally." We cannot dispute this characterization; indeed we might add the Hellenes to this list, since it is evident in the Dialektik die Aufklarung (1947), as well as the Negative Dialectics and elsewhere that Adorno had far more than passing acquaintance with Plato and Aristotle. Based on this translation of the Musiksoziologie, we can however dispute Ashton's own knowledge of these predecessors.Take Hegel. On page 173, Adorno contrasts the Anglo-Saxon commodity fetishism which takes any Being (Sein) as Being for another (fiir Anderes), with the German religious fetishism which takes any (man-made) work of art as Being in Itself (An sich). We know from Hegel's Encyclopedia (1890) § 91, that these two are moments of Quality in the Doctrine of Being. The other (das Andere) can be any determinate Being whatever. Thus we find a commodity being for another commodity or we find a trader being for another trader. This is the principle of exchange (Tauschprinzip), what the Chinese refer to as "san-zi-yi-bao." But in none of these cases is the Sein for "something else" (fiir Etwas) as Ashton has it. On the one side, that objectifies Sein. On the other side, Hegel's Encyclopedia §124 has Etwas as a category of the Doctrine of Essence, hence beyond Adorno's contrast here. Likewise, it is not "For Others" as Mr. Ashton renders "fiir Anderes" on page 14. On the one side, that personifies Sein. On the other side, Hegel's Encyclopedia §§ 430-1 has "Selbstbewusstsein fiir ein anderes Selbstbewusstsein" as a category of Phanomenologie, again not pertinent to Adorno's contrast. Given the legacy of Hegel's Logic in Marx's thought, we might expect that the translator would have trouble coping with Adorno's allusions to Marx as well. Unfortunately our expectations are not disappointed when we turn to Marx.

In his chapter on "Classes and Strata," Adorno proposes that most composers belonged by birth to the stratum of the "so-called 'third persons’... ('dritten Personen’) at least until the end of the 19th Century (pp. 57-8). He later qualifies this characterization for modern composers (cf. p. 185). Marx differentiated two great classes in bourgeois society, that of the proprietors of labor power alone on one (the subjective) side and that of the proprietors of the material means of production on the other (objective) side. But these two classes do not mutually exhaust the members of bourgeois society. Between these two "persons" are the [85/86] "third persons" (dritten Personen), the petite bourgeoisie discussed, e.g. in Marx and Engels' Werke, Bd. 24, S. 132. Paid as they are by the bourgeois from the surplus value of proletarian labor, these "servants" as Adorno put it lead a marginal existence with no place in the regular capitalist labor process. Rather they wait the crumbs from the table of the Master ("Herren," not as Mr. Ashton has it, the "seignor"). This has an evident bearing on our thesis that Mr. Ashton doesn't have an adequate knowledge of Marx to do justice to Adorno's meaning. Because Ashton notes on page 58 that "dritten Personen" is a "neologism referring to those who in seventeenth or eighteenth century German usage were addressed in the third person singular," i.e. he takes it to mean a grammatical case.

In quite another context, Marx notes that the "third person" plays a social role which may articulate with Ashton's gloss. In his Werke, Bd. 23, S. 126-7, Marx points out that sale and purchase are polar and opposite transactions from the standpoint of "one person" engaged in commodity circulation. Moreover, sale and purchase constitute a unitary act which reciprocally interrelates "two persons" taken as engaged in the circulation of commodities. Here, the persons rather than goods stand in polarity and opposition to one another.

In any case, the buyer "consumes" his good hence the commodity drops out of the circuit. The seller then "buys," whereupon the "money sticks to the hands of some third person." Here the openness of the production of alienated goods is emphasized. The third person in this context is the "social other" of the set {I, Thou, and Other} which constitutes for Marx the "three dramatis personae" whose interaction mobilizes the circulation of commodities. But this simple negativity of the "third person singular," i.e., he, she, or it that is not linguistically recognized as Dasein, "present," is not Adorno's meaning in the Musiksoziologie at all. It is not those "spoken of" rather than those "speaking" and those "spoken to," since he is specifically addressing the social order dominated by capitalist production, not just the circulation and language of commodities. It is instead the conditions of exploitation under which one can "speak," can express oneself at all, in the language of commodities or of one's own life blood. To overlook the asymmetry of those conditions (and that expression and exhaustion) is simple commodity fetishism.

Later, indeed, Adorno points out that the "third person" is not opposite the bourgeoisie (as is the proletariat). Rather the "class character" of the musician (not a merely linguistic phenomenon) is one of "dependency" (pp. 126-7), which suggests, to Adorno, why so much music is so cheerful.

With a "Pace" to Perry Anderson, we turn with some trepidation to the Hellenes. Clearly Hegel and only somewhat less obviously Marx echo themes of the classical philosophers.

Take Aristotle. Whites (leukoi) are the civilized (musikoi), i.e. followers of the Muses, and the coloreds (chromatoi) are the barbarians or slaves (amusikoi), in his profound reflection of (and concurrence with) the Hellenic ruling class ethos. Of course, neither Hegel nor Marx concurred with such ruling class racism. It is little wonder, though, that Adorno uses precisely the positive term "musisch" when he characterizes those suffering bourgeois ressentiment (pp. 10-11), and the negative "amusisch" when he characterizes those excluded from bourgeois culture by lack of education and inferior economic stiuation (pp. 17-18), i.e. those proletarians suffering from the ressentiers. (We return to the concept of "ressentiment" below). It is a fantastic "philology" that supposes, with Ashton, [86/87] that "the very concept [of "musisch"] is peculiarly German" (p. 11). It is peculiarly Greek, and Adorno knew this well. The reassessment of the moment of negativity alone is German dialectics.

Mr. Ashton's fantastic philology recurs through the translation.

Rather than these gratuitous if not blatantly misleading "philological" observations, a comment or two on matters of substance, e.g. on Adorno's allusion to the "Als-ob-charakter" of late romanticist music (p. 108), might have been useful.

The conjunction of postulates of an abstract empiricism and a radical instrumentalism was a reflection at the level of theory of the bourgeois response to the class struggle on the one side. The deepening class struggle, the increasingly unitary action of that maturing collectivity, the proletariat, exploded after Sedan in the French civil war of 1871. Meanwhile the neoclassical economic theories of Jevons, Walras and Menger emerged. Indeed, this can be taken as a signal of the reversal of all domains of culture. The turn from mimesis to hermetism in literature was championed in Le Roman experimental of Zola, and by Henry James, in the Eighties (although anticipated by Flaubert somewhat earlier). These schools of abstract empiricism and individualism flourished in the domains of culture; they constitute the negation, at the level of theory, of the unitary action of that emerging collective.

The conjunction was the response of the bourgeois apologists at the level of theory to the development of the forces of production and the attendant centralization in the capitalism of the late 19th Century on the other side. The increasing concentration and centralization of capital had its own objectivization.

The centralization of capital was reflected in the enhanced image of the manager of the business enterprise. Further, that image constituted an archetype for other "managers" including the orchestra conductor. The pretext of "managing" masked the unproductivity of much managerial labor. The pretext of "conducting" masked the musical irrelevance of much of the conductor's activities. As Adorno puts it, the conductor "becomes an actor who plays a musician, and precisely that conflicts with a proper performance" (p. 108).

The neokantian and instrumentalist philosophies of Hermann Cohen, Wilhelm Windelband, and Ham Vaihinger reflected this continued and basic transformation of the bourgeois social order. Especially the latter's "Philosophie der Als Ob" emphasized the instrumentality of thought forever isolated from Nature in the domain of Geist.

The distancing of the rentier from production rendered his knowledge into presumptions Als Ob, the neoclassical economic doctrines which proceed "as if" so-and-so was the case. The distancing of the corporate manager from productive labor rendered his knowledge into presumptions Als Ob, the time and motion studies of the "classical school of organizational theory" which proceeds "as if" the worker was a "trained gorilla" (Taylor) or the bureaucrat was a machine (Weber). The distancing of the conductor from musicians likewise had its reflection in an abstract objectivization, late romanticist music with its spurious concreteness and its own presumptions Als Ob.

It is just these strata, isolated as they are from productive activity, isolated from the real world by their constructions "as if," who experience the anxiety about their own status, and the hostility toward the strata beneath them. [87/88]

Finally, then, let us return to the concept of "ressentiment." Ashton has translated this as "resentment" throughout (e.g. pp. 10, 114, 151, 159, etc.). The concept of Ressentiment has a long history deriving from Nietzsche and Max Scheler, through Svend Ranulf, and finally the Old Frankfurt School. Ressentiment is a Character Trait. Such a trait constitutes a stable and enduring (but not necessarily innate) predisposition to behave in specified ways (cf. Hegel, Encyclopedia, § 395). Importantly, it is a ground of the imputation or avowal of one's self-concept. Thus Ressentiment is a predisposition to behave in the particularly asocial, cynical, ethnocentric, superstitious, etc. fashion that Adorno and his colleagues characterized in some detail in the Authoritarian Personality (1950), esp. Chapter VII and pp. 759-762. It is the set of predispositions that Celine has quite precisely reflected in the Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) and later writings.

By contrast, "Resentment" is an Attitude. An attitude constitutes one's evaluative orientation towards some object or aspect of the world. It is transient and is the basis of (at most) the imputation of one’s moods. Indeed, Adorno characterizes the least authoritarian quasi-type in terms of "surface resentment" (cf. Authoritarian Personality, pp. 399; pp. 753-756). In this case, the attitude of resentment is hostile evaluation and orientation towards someone else who is perceived as the agent of an injury or injustice to the evaluator. Ressentiers may have "surface resentment" in general, i.e. may be "resentful" as Adorno show for the true authoritarian character. But The Converse Is Not The Case. Hence not only at the level of intension but of extension as well, the two terms are not synonyms, as Ashton supposes.

The critique of Adorno's sociology of music remains undone./2/ Untouched is his own relationship to the neokantian Weber (cf. esp. pp. 194-8), or the vulgar materialist Freud (e.g. pp. 13 and 50)./3/ At a more substantial level, unresolved is the problem of the socialization of cultural forces both on the side of the creator or performer and on the side of the audience. The socialization of the appreciative side is recognized but only schematically so by Adorno. Nothing like a dialectic of the spheres of cultural objectivization and material production develops here. While Adorno mentions in passing the possibility of socialization of expression (p. 106), this acknowledgement is nowhere assimilated into his sociology. The Chinese Yangko operas and dramatic dances, however, portend a new, more fully socialized art form which must be accommodated in any critique.


1. Theodor Weisengrund Adorno. Introduction to the Sociology of Music. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Seabury, 1976. xii + 233 pages. $12.95. Unless otherwise indicated, all page citations in this review-essay are to this volume.

2. Some initial critique is available in D. B. Kuspit "Critical Notes on Adorno's Sociology of Music', Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 33:3 (1975) and W. V. Blomster "Sociology of Music" Telos, No. 28 (1976), p. 81 ff.

3. The affinities of these doctrines with those promoted by Yang Hsien-chen have yet to be clarified.