If the function of music in Bloch’s philosophy is that of parable and metaphor, detour and short-cut, the case against dissociating such excursions from their philosophical base is not inconsiderable. But the 1974 anthology, Zur Philosophie der Musik, was excused from answering it by the personal significance it manifestly had and by the historical one that the Busoni volume enhanced. Moreover it was on every side supported by the Complete Edition and its attendant commentaries.
The new anthology, Essays on the Philosophy of Music,must, for the time being, stand alone. Its latticed structure should, however, offer many points of entry to whatever sections of the Complete Edition may be made available to English readers during the coming years. Like the 1974 anthology, it begins with the ‘Philosophy of Music’ from Geist der Utopie, and ends with a corresponding excerpt from Das Prinzip Hoffnung; between, there is a shorter selection from Bloch’s inter-war writings on musical topics. The essays on The Threepenny Opera, on Stravinsky and on Wagner which immediately and with challenging effect followed the ‘Philosophy of Music’ in the 1974 anthology have not been included, but on historical grounds certainly merit consideration here.
All three essays reflect, from different angles, Bloch’s friendship with the conductor Otto Klemperer. Although their personal acquaintance did not begin until they were introduced to each other by Furtwängler in Berlin in the early 1920s, Klemperer had read and been enthralled by the manuscript of Geist der Utopie as early as 1916 (thanks to his friend and Bloch’s former teacher Georg Simmel). At that stage the manuscript probably still lacked its apostrophes to Marx. By 1924 and the first publication of the essay ‘On the Mathematical and the Dialectical Character of Music’, Bloch had evolved his idiosyncratic version of Marxism, and Klemperer was joyfully fulfilling the first of his major conducting engagements in the Soviet Union. The revolutionary production of Fidelio with which Klemperer opened ‘his’ Kroll Opera in September 1927 was influenced by his theatre-going in Moscow; and it was surely he who was responsible for commissioning from Bloch the introductory essay in the programme book. Later that season Bloch likewise introduced Klemperer’s production of Don Giovanni.
At the Baden-Baden festival of German Chamber Music in May 1927 Klemperer (who was accompanied by his future Dramaturg at the Kroll, Hans Curjel) had been enraptured by Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny, a Songspiel or scenic cantata to texts by Brecht. Bloch was not present at that occasion, but Weill attended the première of Fidelio together with his wife Lotte Lenya, and their friendship with Bloch was consolidated during the following year, after the epoch-making première of The Threepenny Opera at the Theater am Schiff-bauerdamm in August. October saw the Kroll première of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, directed by Brecht’s close friend Jacob Geis, designed by Piscator’s discovery Traugott Müller, and conducted by Klemperer. Bloch’s notes on The Soldier’s Tale and on Oedipus Rex (rescued from the previous season’s Stravinsky programme) were the basis of his important later essay, ‘Zeitecho Stravinskij’.
Klemperer’s admiration for The Threepenny Opera led to the commissioning of the suite, Kleine Dreigroschenoper, which he first conducted in January 1929 at one of the Kroll Opera concerts; Bloch’s similar enthusiasm led to his marvellous essay on the ‘Pirate-Jenny’ Song, which he dedicated to Weill and Lenya and published in January 1929. That same month, Klemperer conducted Jürgen Fehling’s radically new production of The Flying Dutchman. No small element in the uproar created by that production in nationalist and proto-Nazi circles was Bloch’s introductory and style-defining essay ‘Rettung Wagners durch Karl May’(Rescue of Wagner through Karl May), which was included in the 1974 anthology under the later title ‘Rettung Wagners durch surrealistische Kolportage’ (Rescueof Wagner through Surrealistic Penny Dreadfuls). Bayreuth, it seemed, was about to be stormed by Peachum and his beggars.
From The Threepenny Opera to The Flying Dutchman would for most musical travellers of the day have been an inordinately long and dangerous journey; for Bloch it was surely no more demanding than the one that had taken him, on numberless youthful occasions, from his family home in the industrial port of Ludwigshafen to the old Palatinate capital of Mannheim on the opposite side of the Rhine. The fairgrounds and circuses and amusement arcades of plebeian Ludwigshafen offered the young Bloch delights far removed from the patrician theatres and libraries of Schiller’s Mannheim. In music as in the other arts his ‘questionable’ taste was a vital part of his own questioning of ‘taste’ and the hierarchies it stood for: but it was equally a part of his quest for the Utopian spirit in whatever guise it might appear. There was no condescension about his tributes to those forms of popular art and Kitsch that reflected a universal truth. The chapter in Das Prinzip Hoffnung concerning fairs and circuses, fairytales and penny dreadfuls, is entitled ‘Bessere Luftschlösser’ (Better Castles m the Air).
Bloch’s passion for aerial and low life excursions was one of his many bonds with Walter Benjamin, the outstanding critical mind among his younger German contemporaries and, like Klemperer, an early admirer of Geist der Utopie. It was surely thanks to Bloch and his essay on Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann – written for the 1930 Kroll Opera production by Brecht’s friend and colleague Ernst Legal – that Benjamin, whose genius was either unresponsive to music or else (in some sense that he never defined) intimidated by it, ventured his only essay on a musical subject – the Offenbach section of his great Karl Kraus study, first published in the programme book for the 1931 Kroll production of La Pèrichole in the Kraus version.
The closure of the Kroll at the end of the 1930-1 season was rightly seen to be representative of a reactionary trend evident at all levels of German culture and society. For Bloch and Benjamin, as for Brecht, there was no hope of reversing the trend unless Marxist theory was put into action, which meant collective and party action. The possible consequences of that for intellectuals who were unwilling or unready to repudiate their heritage of ‘bourgeois’ individualism and morality had already been examined in Brecht’s first indisputable masterpiece for the theatre, Die Massnahme (The Measures Taken), a Lehrstück set to music by Hanns Eisler and first performed in Berlin in the autumn of 1930 under the baton of Karl Rankl (Klemperer’s chorus-master at the Kroll). Functionally ambiguous as it is, Die Massnahme examines Leninist theory and practice in terms that cut straight across the two currents in Marxism characterised by Bloch as ‘cold stream’ and ‘warm stream’. The fact that the ‘measures taken’ are in principle consistent with the new morality of revolution propounded by Lukacs in the post-1918 era has a direct and curious bearing on the debates with Lukacs in which Bloch, Brecht, and Eisler were engaged during the 1930s. But Die Massnahme itself does not figure in Bloch’s writings, and is not even mentioned in his 1938 essay on Brecht, ‘Ein Leninist der Schaubühne’, or its important predecessor, ‘Romane der Wunderlichkeit und montiertes Theatre’, which proceeds from Kafka through Proust and Joyce to the ‘Leninist’ Brecht.
Die Massnahme happened to introduce (and today throws an inquisitorial light upon) an era in which most of the ‘measures taken’ were strictly reactionary. The closure of the Kroll was representative in that a plausible case could be made for it in terms understandable to all. Its effect on the flow of Bloch’s musical writings was immediate: the only musical essay Bloch was to publish during the two years that remained to him in Germany dealt with an opera that Klemperer had taken a close personal interest in – Weill’s Die Bürgschaft.
Bloch’s first major undertaking in exile was Erbschaft dieser Zeit (Heritage of this Time), a collection, or as he preferred to call it, a montage, of those essays and occasional pieces from the Weimar years that needed to be rearranged in the light of the catastrophe of 1933 and used as indications of the building materials required for the tasks of fortification and reconstruction. (In the original 1935 edition music was represented only by the essays on Stravinsky and on The Threepenny Opera, but the enlarged 1959 edition adds the inflammatory ‘Rescue of Wagner through Karl May’). The book established the complex of watchtowers and dug-outs from which Bloch, Brecht, Benjamin and a few others were to conduct their campaign against so-called Socialist Realism in the aftermath of the Comintern-backed ‘International Writers’ Conference for the Defence of Culture’, held in Paris in June 1935.
As a result of one of the Congress’s resolutions, Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Willi Bredel of the KPD, were appointed editors of Das Wort, a new German language periodical to be published in Moscow. For various reasons, some of them purely practical, the editorial trio was unable to fulfil its proper functions, and by 1937 Das Wort was in effect directed by Lukacs and his Moscow circle. In the September issue, Klaus Mann and Alfred Kurella led an attack on the ‘heritage’ of Expressionism with particular reference to the case of the poet Gottfried Benn, by far the most distinguished figure among the small group of erstwhile Expressionists who had attempted to come to terms with Nazism. Kurella, who in 1931 had published in Moscow an extensive critique of Die Massnahme, was one of Lukacs’s closest associates. He took as his starting-point Lukacs’s own polemic against Expressionism, published three years before in another of Moscow’s German-language periodicals. The break with Bloch, and indirectly with Brecht and Benjamin, was now in the open.
Bloch was at this time working in Prague as a regular contributor to Die Neue Weltbühne. His first published reaction to the debate was an article in the 4 November issue entitled, simply, ‘Der Expressionismus’. It made only passing reference to Lukacs (and to Kurella under his pen-name Ziegler), but ended with a lengthy quotation from Geist der Utopie, every line of which Lukacs himself must once have known almost by heart.
A month later Bloch continued the debate in partnership with the composer Hanns Eisler, whom he had first encountered in Berlin in 1930, but had lost touch with for the past four years. (Eisler spent the last three months of 1937 in Prague and then headed for New York, where Bloch was soon to join him.) The two imaginary dialogues they published in Die Neue Weltbühne in December 1937 and January 1938 testified to their now consolidated friendship and to their sense of common cause against the Lukacs circle. The first, entitled ‘Avant-Garde and Popular Front’, was between an Optimist and a Sceptic. The latter begins as a Lukacsian anti-Modernist, but ends by agreeing with the Optimist that the anti-Fascist masses and the ‘new’ (meaning politicised) avant-garde are interdependent and must proceed together. Though music was hardly touched upon in this part of the dialogue, Bloch had found a dramatic way of returning to the subject after more than five years’ silence.
In the second dialogue, ‘Die Kunst zu Erben’, the participants are the Art-lover and the Art-producer. Though it is still a joint work and not, as some commentators have assumed, a quasi-naturalistic dialogue between Bloch as Kunstfreund and Eisler as Produzent, the points of view tend to be more characteristic of the individual participants than in the previous dialogue, and in some passages become wholly so. The direct leap from Offenbach to Wagner which the Art-lover accomplishes in order to affirm Wagner’s status as the ‘greatest musical phenomenon since Beethoven’ was, for such a readership at such a time, a death-defying audacity, and quite unthinkable without the authority that Bloch alone could lend to it. Only a few sentences later Bloch does, in effect, take full responsibility for it by including the name of Eisler in a list – and a most remarkable one – of key figures in Modernism: Picasso, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Eisler, Bartok, Dos Passos and Brecht (in that order).
The omission of some names unquestionably important to Bloch – notably Joyce’s, since Mann’s was scarcely admissible in this context – is less significant than the astonishing inclusion of both Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Stravinsky’s barely concealed flirtations with Fascism in the 1930s and Schoenberg’s more forthright expressions of an old and true conservatism made their presence in the list highly provocative, and not least with regard to the Optimist’s case for the natural alliance between Modernism and progressive politics. Equally heretical, and equally typical of Bloch – but also of Klemperer – was the juxtaposition of Schoenberg and Stravinsky regardless of the fact that their work since the revolutionary years had divided the musical avant-garde into two apparently irreconcilable camps. The possibility of a Hegelian construction on the antithetical basis of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, with Eisler and Bartok as the two halves of a proposed synthesis, is latent in the structure of the list, and seems consistent with the reference to the ‘dialectically transitional’ realities of the day which opens the final, and very Blochian, paragraph of the dialogue.
As outlines of a Modernist and ‘warm-stream’ aesthetic in opposition to Lukacs’s Neoclassicism, the Bloch-Eisler dialogues bridged the gap between Bloch’s first and indirect response to Kurella’s attack and its famous successor, ‘Discussionen über Expressionismus’, which was published in Das Wort itself in June 1938. By that time several distinguished figures (among them, Herwarth Walden and Bela Balasz) had already published replies in Das Wort. But Bloch’s essay dwarfed them all. Kurella was swiftly dispatched: noting the sinister congruence between his views on Expressionism and those promoted by the recent Nazi exhibitions of ‘degenerate’ art, Bloch turned to the much more formidable figure of Lukacs, attacked his argument at its weakest points, and ended by condemning ‘abstract methods of thought which seem to skim over recent decades of cultural history, ignoring everything which is not purely proletarian’.
Fittingly enough, the essay on Expressionism was Bloch’s envoi to Europe. That same summer Bloch and his wife were reunited with the Eislers at the Connecticut home of a mutual friend, and there celebrated the first birthday of their son. The hard times that followed for Bloch as for so many of the emigrants were part of the background of Das Prinzip Hoffnung, but surely a lesser part than the times themselves. It is the date rather than the place or the immediate circumstances in which that great work was written that pertains to its historic character. At whatever stages in his American stay Bloch drafted the various parts of the main musical chapter, their continuity with the 1918 ‘Philosophy of Music’ is self-evident, not least in the ‘Hollow Space’ (Der Hohlraum, a concept first considered in the book’s discourse on architecture) where the heroic Schoenberg of Geist der Utopie is at last reunited with his subsequent achievement.
On his return to Germany Bloch had little occasion or time to carry forward the musical aspects of his philosophy. The draft of Das Prinzip Hoffnung had been finished before he left Cambridge, and everything implicit in his dialogues with Eisler ten years earlier that related to musical politics in Ulbricht’s Germany naturally devolved upon Eisler himself when he settled in Berlin in 1950. Johann Faustus, the libretto Eisler wrote in close discussion with Brecht in 1951 for an intended opera, was, among other things, a continuation of the dialogues with Bloch by other and very different means (including some derived from Bloch’s ‘own’ Thomas Münzer). It was provocative in exactly the same sense, and sure enough its publication by Aufbau Verlag in 1952 made it a cause célèbre. Old emnities from the Expressionism debate were rekindled, party functionaries rallied once again behind the banner of Socialist Realism, and for two years Eisler was virtually persona non grata in the GDR. Nevertheless he returned in 1954 from his temporary refuge in Vienna to deliver at the East Berlin Academy of Arts a spirited defence of Schoenberg, whose very name was still anathema there. Within a year or so he was back in favour. But Brecht, who had decisively come to his defence, had only one more year to live; and Bloch, as we have seen, had little longer than that to wait before the arrest of Harich and his colleagues marked the beginning of his removal from official life in the GDR, and his stepwise migration to the West.
Exactly at this third crossroads of his life, and in the most highly charged atmosphere, Bloch encountered, and by sheer strength of character overcame the apprehensions of, a one-time friend and colleague from whom both he and Eisler had become estranged. With such unique precision did the meeting knit together the human and the philosophical threads in Bloch’s life that it would merit some mention here, even if its complex background were not essential to an understanding of his importance for music today.
In 1958 Bloch attended the International Hegel Society’s congress in Frankfurt. The principal speaker was Theodor Adorno, whom Bloch had probably not seen, and had certainly not talked with, since they had parted company in the USA. Adorno had already arranged that he would not sit with Bloch at the opening banquet for prominent guests. When at last he took the platform to deliver his address, Bloch seated himself discreetly at the back of the hall. During the subsequent discussion, however, he worked his way forward, to Adorno’s evident consternation; and then, from an appropriate vantage-point, he rose to his feet and delivered an impromptu speech of great brilliance, lasting some fifteen minutes. Of any quarrel with Adorno and his ideas not a word was said, though many had been expected. At the end of the session, Adorno nevertheless tried to make his get-away. But Bloch intercepted him, and with all the humour he alone could have mustered in such a situation, greeted him with the words Na, Teddy, wie geht’s denn?
Adorno had first met Bloch in Berlin in 1928. Bloch, his senior by some eighteen years, was at that time lodging at the West End pied-a-terre of Walter Benjamin, a friend since their meeting in Switzerland in 1918, at the time of Geist der Utopie. Temperamentally and intellectually, Benjamin was the link between Bloch and Adorno, and although closer in age to Bloch, he was wholly accessible to the precocious Adorno, with whom he was to enjoy ten years of strenuous collaboration. Like Benjamin, though without the benefit of personal contact, Adorno had discovered Bloch through Geist der Utopie. Gripped by his first reading of it at the age of 18 he saw it as a magical and cryptic counterpart to Lukacs’s Theory of the Novel, and doubtless found in it further inducement for embarking on his studies in philosophy, music, sociology and psychology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt.
After emerging from the University at the age of 21 with a degree in philosophy, Adorno studied composition with Alban Berg in Vienna. On his return to Frankfurt in 1926 he resumed his philosophical studies, submitting as his inaugural dissertation for the university a development of neo-Kantian and Freudian ideas, but withdrawing it on his teacher’s advice, and starting a dissertation on Kierkegaard. During this first year in Frankfurt he established informal relations with Horkheimer’s Institute of Social Research – where so much of his future lay – and continued his secondary career as a writer on music.
In the intellectual world of Weimar Germany, Frankfurt was Berlin’s sister city; and by 1928 Adorno had already made Berlin his second home. Musically, the presence of Schoenberg was a compelling, if also awe-inspiring attraction, balanced, on the one hand, by Adorno’s friendships with several members of Schoenberg’s master-class at the Academy of Arts, and, on the other, by the tentative, inquisitive, and, for him, dangerous understanding he reached that same year with his slightly older contemporary Kurt Weill (whom Bloch had already met through Klemperer). On the personal and intellectual levels, the decisive influences at this stage were, of course, Bloch’s and Benjamin’s. But that triangular relationship was soon modified by the intersecting influence of Brecht, and before long it was radically disturbed by the implications of Die Massnahme: for the interpretation of Marx that Adorno was now developing in conjunction with his Kierkegaard studies did not lead him as close to the KPD and the Soviet Union as Brecht, Benjamin and Bloch allowed themselves to go.
Adorno’s inaugural dissertation, ‘Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des Aesthetischen’, was sponsored by Paul Tillich and won him his professorship at Frankfurt in 1931. Although he was removed from his post soon after the Nazi seizure of power, he continued to publish articles and reviews – not all of them above reproach – in German periodicals. Towards the end of 1935 he decided to seek a temporary refuge abroad. Apart from some private visits to Germany, he spent most of the next two years as a research scholar at Merton College, Oxford, re-examining his first philosophical interest, the phenomenology of Husserl. Horkheimer had meanwhile moved his Institute to New York, but left outposts in London and in Paris, where Benjamin remained after Bloch’s move to Prague.
By now thoroughly mistrustful of Benjamin’s agreement with Brecht in political matters, Adorno nevertheless shared his reluctance to follow Horkheimer to the New World. That he did so at long last, in February 1938, was due to force majeure. Benjamin, finally disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin pact, decided in 1940 to follow him, but had reached the Spanish port from which he was to sail for New York when a false report that he had been betrayed to the Gestapo caused him to take his own life. A sense of personal involvement in that tragedy undoubtedly contributed to Adorno’s more than merely loyal advocacy of Benjamin’s work in later years, and was also, perhaps, one of the factors behind his estrangement from Bloch.
In 1941 Adorno accompanied Horkheimer and his Institute to Los Angeles and there wrote the Schoenberg study whose manuscript he showed to Thomas Mann, with such momentous consequences for Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Brecht was already in Santa Monica, and Eisler was to follow early in 1942 to work with Brecht on the Fritz Lang film Hangmen also die. Intermittently during the course of that year and the following one, Adorno and Eisler collaborated on the book Composing for the Film, commissioned by the Oxford University Press (which, thanks to Paul Tillich, was also interested in Das Prinzip Hoffnung). The book was finished in 1944 but not published until the autumn of 1947, by which time Adorno had arranged for his name to be removed from the title page. In accordance with the HUAC summonses issued the previous spring, Brecht and Eisler were at that very time testifying before the Parnell Thomas Committee in Washington.
In 1948 Adorno added to his still unpublished analysis of the dialectics of Schoenbergian ‘progress’ a complementary analysis of Stravinskian ‘reaction’. A year later and shortly before his return to Germany with Horkheimer and his Institute, he combined the two essays, and prefaced them with a weighty introduction whose opening words characteristically, and with cogent symbolism, were taken from the then unknown or forgotten Benjamin. The result of this seven-year process was a book entitled, prophetically, Philosophie der Neuen Musik. Its publication in Tübingen in 1949 profoundly influenced the development of New Music for the next two decades, and marked the beginning of Adorno’s ascendancy in the musical and intellectual life of the Federal Republic.
The force of mind and personality that unites Adorno’s critiques of Schoenberg and Stravinsky overrides the disparities of tone and method, but does not exclude an acute responsiveness to the climate of politically-disengaged radical thought in the co-ordinated America of the 1940s, and therefore, by implication, to the related ideological conditions of Marshall Plan Europe. While the dialectical channels of his Stravinsky critique are plainly signposted according to his Hegelian system, the Marxist extensions that were fully operative ten years earlier are blocked off and overlaid by meticulously Freudian ones, constructed with a keen eye for every significant parallel. Thus the phenomenon of Stravinskian Neoclassicism is no longer seen as reactionary in the political sense he and Bloch attributed to it in the 1930s, but as regressive in a strictly psychoanalytic sense which may or may not have political connotations.
It is not necessary to know the story of Adorno’s relations with Bloch in the USA to be struck by the sheer opacity of the three-line footnote that refers, towards the end of Philosophie der Neuen Musik, to ‘Ernst Bloch’s distinction between the dialectical and mathematical essence in music’. Neither in 1949 nor when the book was reprinted six years later did Adorno trouble to inform his readers that he was referring to an essay Bloch had published in a long-forgotten journal in 1924. Since there is no other reference to Bloch, this footnote might be dismissed as another of Adorno’s displays of esoteric learning were it not for a previous denial of the very essence of Geist der Utopie, without overt reference to it or its author. ‘The mere idea of humanity, or of a better world,’ writes Adorno (in 1948) apropos of Fidelio, ‘no longer has any sway over mankind.’
It was not from Schopenhauer, and still less from Spengler, that Adorno inherited the existential despairs of his post-war philosophy, but from the Hegelian Kierkegaard. To compare his Schoenberg critique with René Leibowitz’s Schoenberg et son Ecole is to see why the actuality of Leibowitz in 1946 was about to be superseded by the prophetic Adorno of 1941. In dedicating the ‘Prolegomènes’ of his study to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Leibowitz had involuntarily drawn attention to the absence from his own admirably conscientious work of that foresight which ensured that Adorno’s relatively slender contribution would influence musical developments in the coming decades-while Schoenberg et son Ecole was relegated to history. From Adorno’s few words about Webern and the ‘horror’ that has ‘cast its spell on the subject’ an entire generation of composers was born; from the tremendous single-span paragraph on ‘The Antinomy of New Music’, that same generation built pentagonal defences for the post-war avant-garde, and wrested from heads of state the funding for underground shelters in which the chosen few could preserve the spirit and machinery of progress from the twin catastrophes of commercialism and cultural reaction.
‘You know that the subject of the “liquidation of art”,’ wrote Adorno to Benjamin in 1936, ‘has for many years underlain my aesthetic studies and that my emphatic espousal of the primacy of technology, especially in music, must be understood strictly in this sense.’ The Bloch who had declared 18 years earlier that music is ‘completely beyond the scope of everything empirically verifiable’ understandably left to Adorno the task of evolving a rationale, a philosophy and a sociology of music in the post-war, post-Schoenberg, world. Adorno’s passionate concern with the problems of craftsmanship and the demands of ‘material’ was his legacy from the Schoenberg school and hence the utopian vistas of New Music in its reconstructive phase.
But what then, and what next? ‘The mere thought of hope is a transgression against it, an act of working against it’: thus Adorno, in the tenth of the 12 ‘Meditations on Metaphysics’ which concludes one of his last major works, the Negative Dialectics of 1964. He had headed the first Meditation with the words ‘After Auschwitz’, but in truth everything he wrote in the last twenty years of his life implies or (frequently) insists upon the transvaluation of values brought about by that particular paroxysm in the history of Western civilisation. Its implications for art and above all for music were never more clearly considered than in the posthumous Aesthetic Theory which Adorno intended, most fittingly, to dedicate to Samuel Beckett: ‘Art’s Utopia, the counterfactual yet-to-come, is draped in black. It goes on being a recollection of the possible with a critical edge against the real; it is a kind of imaginary restitution of that catastrophe which is world history; it is freedom which did not come to pass under the spell of necessity and which may well not come to pass ever at all.’ Even in these inverted and retrograded forms, the themes are unmistakably Bloch’s. They were indeed the basis of a wholly amicable discussion about ‘contradictions in Utopian longing’ which Bloch and Adorno recorded for Südwestfunk in 1964. Without deserting his own position, Adorno here accomplishes the considerable feat of suggesting complete accord with Bloch, above all in the key passage where he ventures to recall Bloch’s ‘conflicts’ in Leipzig. Attributing to Ulbricht some ‘philistine twaddle’ to the effect that Bloch’s Utopia is not at all realisable, he exclaims crossly that ‘we do not want it to be at all realisable.’ The ‘we’ is perfectly placed: it enables him to consolidate in a political sense his previous agreement with Bloch that modern medicine’s vision of the ‘abolition’ of death is splendid as an incentive but repugnant as a realisable end. Pretending surprise at finding himself in ‘the unexpected role of an advocate of the positive’, Adorno remarks that the Utopian element missing from Eastern-bloc socialism has allowed it to become an instrument of oppression, and agrees with Bloch that the same element is missing in the West.
If Adorno’s bearing in the radio discussion seems at times almost too friendly to be true, his finely measured tribute to Bloch on his 80th birthday a year later is beyond suspicion. Yet the truest, the most characteristic and the most comprehensive of Adorno’s tributes to Bloch was written in America, in 1947 – that is, at exactly the time when the two men, estranged for some years, were about to go in opposite directions. To suggest that it was an unconscious tribute is only to underline, in this most self-conscious of writers, its un-filtered authenticity.
The passage is the ‘Finale’ of Minima Moralia, at once the most personal and the most Benjaminian of Adorno’s works. ‘The only philosophy’, it begins, ‘which can responsibly be practised in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption ... Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light.’ So speaks the philosopher in whom, it is claimed, there was nothing of Benjamin’s metaphysical leanings, let alone Bloch’s. Adorno does not define the source or aim of the redemptive power, but maintains that this is of no account: for the sake of the possible, thought must comprehend even its own impossibility.
At the precise centre of the ‘Finale’ – fittingly enough, at the 12th of its 24 lines in the English version – a single highly charged phrase marks the intersection between Bloch’s orbit and Adorno’s ecliptic: ‘consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror-image of its opposite.’ The consummate and unflinching negativity of Adorno’s post-war philosophy, including his philosophy of New Music, delineates with the utmost clarity the mirror images of Geist der Utopie and Das Prinzip Hoffnung.
It has been suggested that Adorno’s pessimism arises from his disappointed ambitions as a composer. The theory does not bear examination. Aside from the not inconsiderable merits of his compositions, it is clear that Adorno never saw himself simply as a composer, but rather as an all-round musician – pianist and accompanist, critic and theorist. In this sense he had no cause for disappointment, and was never without the kind of admirers he merited. If his views on the ‘difficulties’ of composition in the 20th century, and especially in its second half, were a projection of his own difficulties, the same could surely be said of every contemporary composer who demands from himself, and from others, absolute probity of intent and execution at every structural and expressive level. It is only when Adorno confronts the specific question of what is and is not artistically justifiable in the aftermath of Auschwitz that the trajectory of his own composing career seems relevant. The silence which certain outstanding talents have from time to time or permanently imposed on themselves is that from which Adorno, in his writings about New Music, was struggling to escape lest it might after all prove to be the last refuge of untarnished musical truth – the inaudible concord uniting Beckett and Barraquè, Cage and Boulez.
Premonitions of the end of Western bourgeois culture and recollections of all that Auschwitz portended for it are so deeply embedded in the texture of Adorno’s thought that the ‘finale problem’ he acutely analyses in musical contexts becomes very much his own in philosophical and aesthetic ones. It is surely the humanist in him rather than the composer who so often recoils from closing his literary works on that pitchless extreme of discontent towards which his arguments constantly tended. Indeed, Adorno the composer could well have rejected as insufficiently integrated the Blochian motifs to which Adorno the philosopher resorts in order to sustain and give force to cadential structures that might otherwise dissolve into nothingness. The close of his Versuch über Wagner is particularly not able in that the tendency of the entire book has been directly opposed to the positive though by no means uncritical view of Wagner Bloch had been offering ever since Geist der Utopie. The antithesis is strengthened by Adorno’s penultimate turn to Schoenberg and his Second String Quartet, which brings him to the self-same threshold of New Music that Bloch had reached in Geist der Utopie, but allows him to draw from George’s text conclusions that once again contradict Bloch’s. Yet the fresh start announced in the Second Quartet inspires Adorno to modulate from his post-Nietzschean perception of Wagner’s negative significance into the purely Blochian idealism of a final affirmation of music’s ‘age-old protest’ and its ‘promise of a life without fear’.
Had this been the end of a chapter rather than of a book, Adorno might well have continued by remarking, as he did elsewhere, that art’s promise of felicity is a ‘promise that is constantly being broken’. The disillusionment Adorno pursues and cherishes so ardently belongs within the dark circle at the foot of Bloch’s lighthouse, and is as far removed from any modish cynicism as it is close to those apprehensions about which Kracauer – a lifelong friend of both men – speculated with such feeling. If at times Adorno reads like a repressed figment of Bloch’s imagination it is because of an inseparable bond between them that became visible only in the years 1929-32, when Adorno’s Marxian enlightenment was complemented by Bloch’s discovery, through Adorno, of new musical significances.
It is of course in music that the strictly complementary nature of the two men is most apparent. Adorno’s description of his own philosophy as ‘atonal’ was in no sense an affectation. It does, however, emphasise the fact, often overlooked, that he was fundamentally, in his innermost nature, a musician, in contrast to Bloch, who spoke of ‘composing’ Geist der Utopie but was from first to last a philosopher: one for whom music was a system of geodesic lines traversing the many-contoured surface of his thought and pointing towards that transcendent future in which Adorno was to lose faith in the 1940s.
To read Adorno ‘after Auschwitz’ is to understand much about him: but to read him ‘after Hiroshima’ is to wonder why the musician who in 1936 affirmed his ‘emphatic espousal of the primacy of technology’ was so uncommunicative, a decade later, about an enormity equally symptomatic of our ‘administered world’ but much closer to the fissile core of Western musical experience – to the experience, that is, of present, past and future time. That failure is perhaps one of the reasons why in recent years the author of Geist der Utopie and Das Prinzip Hoffnung has been discovered and welcomed by European composers nurtured on Adorno.
Wherever Adorno is known and understood, there can be no danger of Bloch’s being misused as a rallying-point for further expeditions by younger composers into those areas of Romanticism rediscovered by New Music in the years following Adorno’s death. Bloch belonged to the last generation that experienced Romanticism as a contemporary, if decadent, phenomenon, and characteristically it was the Strauss of Elektra who inspired some of his last ruminations about music. But to suggest on that account that his philosophy of music needs updating by Adorno’s would misrepresent both systems, for their connectedness is not one of historical succession. Readers content to accept the new anthology at face value, irrespective of its philosophical contexts and undeterred by its manifest lack of methodological (let alone Marxist) discipline, may find that the most persuasive arguments for proceeding from Bloch to Adorno are contained in the music of diverse composers who, since the death of Bloch, have proceeded in the opposite direction. Whether conscious or (more often) instinctive, their progress has clearly been animated by a sense of the far-reaching truth inherent in the reconciliation Bloch and Adorno themselves achieved on the human level – a sense, that is, of the bilateral and radial symmetries that makes each system essential to the other. In, for instance, Alexander Goehr’s opera Beyond the Sun, which ends where hope ‘becomes a Death’s head’ yet ‘begins again’; or in Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s Mass, whose panchromatic Sanctus represents for its composer a ‘Utopia’ that has to be obliterated by the forces blindly opposed to it at the start of the Agnus Dei in order that it may then be redefined as a remote possibility; or (perhaps most clearly because free of verbal interference) in the entire texture of a vast orchestral work by Helmut Lachenmann appropriately entitled Harmonika – in all of these the upwards spiral of Bloch’s thought seems to link with the downwards spiral of Adorno’s and re-form, once again, as a double helix around the axis of a still conceivable future.