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Atonality and the Unconscious: A Comparison Made by Adorno’s and Its Consequences

article summary

Josef Fulka

In the present article, the author concentrates on a particular use that Adorno, in his Philosophy of New Music, makes of psychoanalytical terminology. The author attempts to show that in his chapter on Stravinsky, Adorno uses this terminology in an instrumental way, as a means of “pathologizing” Stravinsky’s music, while in the chapter on Schoenberg, the same terminology is explored in view of its potential for shedding new light on the composer’s artistic freedom, as conceived by Adorno especially in relation to Schoenberg’s atonal period. It seems that Adorno regards psychoanalysis as a general theory of mental expression, making possible a new understanding of Schoenberg’s atonal reform and of a dialectical relationship between form and expression in Schoenberg’s atonal music. Given this viewpoint, the author pays particular attention to Adorno’s interpretation of Schoenberg’s Erwartung. In the final part of the text, the author attempts to demonstrate that this interpretation of Erwartung played a fundamental role in Adorno’s polemic with post-war serialism, as presented especially in his essay Vers une musique informelle.

Key words: atonality; psychoanalysis; unconscious; serialism

Translated by Ivan Vomáčka