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Modernity: Music: Adorno: Music and Modernity

Adorno Conference

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903-1969)

Theodor Adorno was one of the most influential German literary theorists and philosophers of the 20th century. He studied music, philosophy and sociology at the University of Frankfurt, earning his doctorate in 1924. Thereafter he began studying music composition with Alban Berg (student of Arnold Schoenberg) in Vienna. In 1930 he began working at the Institute for Social Research under the direction of Max Horkheimer at the University of Frankfurt. During this period he became friends with Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin whose works he later helped edited for publication. In 1934 he was forced to emigrate to England for both his political beliefs and Jewish heritage.

In 1938 he was able to resume his position at the relocated Institute for Social Research in New York and was codirector of the Research Project on Social Discrimination at the University of California, Berkeley (1941-48). He returned to the University of Frankfurt in 1949.

Thomas Mann convinced Adorno to collaborate with his novel Dr. Faustus, to help with the protaganist, Adrian Leverkühn, atonal music theory. His major publications includedDialektik der Aufklärung, with Max Horkheimer (1947; Dialectic of Enlightenment), Philosophie der neuen Musik (1949; Philosophy of Modern Music), The Authoritarian Personality (1950, with others), and Ästhetische Theorie (1970; Aesthetic Theory).

(b. Sept. 11, 1903, Frankfurt am Main--d. Aug. 6, 1969, Visp, Switz.), German philosopher who was knowledgeable in sociology, psychology, and musicology and was known for his contribution to the Frankfurt school of critical theory, which contributed to the German intellectual revival after World War II. Musical training and a degree in philosophy from the liberal Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (1924) influenced Adorno's early writings, which emphasized aesthetic development as important to historical evolution and the search for "truth." After teaching two years at the University of Frankfurt, Adorno immigrated to England in 1934 to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. He taught at Merton College, Oxford, for three years and then went to the United States (1938), where he was musical director of the Princeton Radio Research Projects (1938-41) and codirector of the Research Project on Social Discrimination at the University of California, Berkeley (1941-48). He returned to the University of Frankfurt in 1949. His later philosophical studies concentrated on the social-critical analysis of intellectual movements. Based on Freudian-Marxist theory, Adorno's analyses stressed the importance of the individual and shunned authoritarianism. His major publications included Dialektik der Aufklärung, with Max Horkheimer (1947; Dialectic of Enlightenment), Philosophie der neuen Musik (1949; Philosophy of Modern Music), The Authoritarian Personality (1950, with others), and Ästhetische Theorie (1970; "Aesthetic Theory").

Years in Southern California: 1939-1947?.


Autorenlexikon deutschsprachiger Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts. Edited by Manfred Brauneck. Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1991.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1995.

Created October 1997 by Marje Schuetze-Coburn

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