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Programming Mahler: Meaning, Re-description, and the Post-Adornian Counterlife

  • Jeremy Barham (a1)
Abstract

In this article Adorno's approach to Mahler is subjected to linguistic-conceptual critique, in order to highlight its ambiguous philosophical and methodological syncretizing of discourses of epistemological commensurability and hermeneutic incommensurability. As a response to this and to Adorno's privileging of authorial production as determinant of meaning, this study invokes Richard Rorty's pragmatist philosophy and aspects of translation theory in order better to understand the world of post-Adornian Mahlerian meaning generated by use of the music in diverse screen works over the last half century. Examples of the ‘re-description’ of Mahler's music resulting from such usage are discussed in relation to the tradition spawned by Visconti's Death in Venice and in various contexts of appropriation, fragmentation and juxtaposition through which radical re-configurations of putative meaning take place.

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Email: j.barham@surrey.ac.uk
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1 Roth Philip, The Counterlife [1986] (London: Vintage, 2005): 310.

2 See ‘Is Mahler's Music Autobiographical? A Re-appraisal’, Revue Mahler Review 1 (Feb. 1987): 47–63; ‘Meaning in Gustav Mahler's Music: A Historical and Analytical Study Focussing on the Ninth Symphony’ (PhD diss., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1989); ‘The Farewell Story of Mahler's Ninth Symphony’, 19 th-Century Music 20 (1996–7), 144–66; ‘The Absolute Limitations of Programme Music: the Case of Liszt's Die Ideale’, Music & Letters 80 (1999): 207–40; ‘Music and Narrative Revisited: Degrees of Narrativity in Beethoven and Mahler’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 126 (2001): 193–249; ‘ “Ways of Telling” in Mahler's Music: The Third Symphony as Narrative Text’ in Perspectives on Gustav Mahler, ed., Jeremy Barham (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005): 295–323; ‘Music and Aesthetics: the Programme Issue’ in The Cambridge Companion to Mahler, ed., Jeremy Barham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 35–48.

3 Adorno Theodor W., Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992): 4, cited in Micznik, ‘Music and Aesthetics’, 48. Mahler aber ist darum gegen das theoretische Wort besonders spröde, weil er der Alternative von Technologie und Vorstellungsgehalt überhaupt nicht gehorcht. … Ihn verstünde, wer die musikalischen Strukturelemente zum Sprechen brächte, die aufblitzenden Intentionen des Ausdrucks aber technisch lokalisierte. Mahler ist in Perspektive nur dadurch zu rücken, daß man noch näher an ihn heran, daß man in ihn hineingeht und dem Inkommensurabeln sich stellt, das der Stilkategorien programmatischer und absoluter Musik ebenso spottet … . Anstatt Ideen zu illustrieren, ist sie [seine Symphonik] konkret zur Idee bestimmt. Indem ein jeglicher ihrer Augenblicke, ohne Ausweichen ins Ungefähre zu dulden, seine kompositorischen Funktion genügt, wird er mehr also sein bloßes Dasein; eine Schrift, welche die eigene Deutung vorschreibt. Mahler: Eine musikalische Physiognomik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1960): 9–10.

4 ‘Music and Aesthetics’, 47.

5 Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, 4. Die Kurven solcher Nötigung sind betrachtend nachzuzeichnen, anstatt daß über die Musik von einen ihr äußerlichen, vermeintlich fixen Standpunkt aus räsoniert würde wie dem neusachlichen Pharisäismus, der unverdrossen mit Clichés wie dem vom titatenhaften Spätromantiker herumwürfelt. Mahler: Eine musikalische Physiognomik, 10.

6 Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, 3. Bei ihm behauptet im Reinmusikalischen hartnäckig sich ein Rest, der doch weder auf Vorgänge noch auf Stimmungen zu interpretieren ware. Mahler: Eine musikalische Physiognomik, 10.

7 Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, 4. Seine Symphonik hilft dazu durch die zwingende Spiritualität ihrer sinnlich-musikalischen Konfigurationen. Mahler: Eine musikalische Physiognomik, 10.

8 See Rorty Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980): 315356.

9 One of the meanings of ‘Aufblitzen’, a literal one, is the same as one of the meanings of ‘Aufblicken’, which is used in metallurgy to describe the glowing or brightening of a metal.

10 Ecce Homo, trans. Kaufmann Walter, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 1968): 756757. Kaufmann's translation could itself be re-worked with respect to the phrase ‘a thought flashes up, with necessity of form, without hesitation’, and the translation of ‘Unbedingtsein’ as ‘unconditionality’ instead of ‘absoluteness’. Man hört, man sucht nicht; man nimmt,—man fragt nicht, wer da gibt; wie ein Blitz leuchtete ein Gedanke auf, mit Notwendigkeit in der Form, ohne Zögern,—ich habe nie eine Wahl gehabt. … Alles geschieht im höchsten Grade unfreiwillig, aber wie in einem Sturm von Freiheitsgefühl, von Unbedingtsein, von Macht, von Göttlichkeit.

11 See Paddison Max, Adorno's Aesthetics of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993): 10, and Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture. Essays on Critical Theory and Music (London: Kahn & Averill, 1996): 68, for discussion of Adorno's critique of Heidegger.

12 Jean Paul's definition of wit as a form of deep critical understanding distinct from acumen, likewise involved the discovery of similarities between ‘incommensurable magnitudes’, and shares terminology and process with Adorno: ‘a natural instinct enforces this similarity, and it is therefore more obvious and always instantaneous. The witty relationship is contemplated; acumen, on the contrary, which discovers and distinguishes new relationships between the established relationships of commensurable and similar magnitudes, obliges us to carry through a long series of ideas the light which in wit flashes by itself from the cloud’, ‘§43. Wit, Acumen and Profundity’, in Vorlesungen über Aesthetik (1804, rev. 1813 & 1825), cited in Kathleen Wheeler, ed., German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism: The Romantic Ironists and Goethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984): 187; all but the first set of italics are mine.

13 Schopenhauer Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E.F.J. Payne, 2 vols (New York: Dover Publications, 1966): I: 257.

14 Schopenhauer , The World as Will and Representation: I: 257.

15 Hanslick Eduard, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik in der Tonkunst, ed. Dietmar Strauss, 2 vols. (Mainz: Schott, 1990): I: 75, Eng. trans. from Mark Evan Bonds, ‘Idealism and the Aesthetics of Instrumental Music at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 50 (1997): 387420; quotation, 415.

Fragt es sich nun, was mit diesem Tonmaterial ausgedrückt werden soll, so lautet die Antwort: Musicalische Ideen. Eine vollständig zur Erscheinung gebrachte musikalische Idee aber ist bereits selbstständiges Schöne, ist Selbstzweck und keineswegs erst wieder Mittel oder Material zur Darstellung von Gefühlen und Gedanken; wenn sie gleich in hohem Grad jene symbolische, die großen Weltgesetze wiederspiegelnde Bedeutsamkeit besitzen kann, welche wir in jedem Kunstschönen vorfinden. Tönend bewegte Formen sind einzig und allein Inhalt und Gegenstand der Musik.

16 Hanslick, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen, I: 171, Eng. trans. from Bonds, ‘Idealism’, 414–15. Dieser geistige Gehalt verbindet nun auch im Gemüth des Hörers das Schöne der Tonkunst mit allen andern großen und schönen Ideen. Ihm wirkt die Musik nicht blos und absolut durch ihre eigenste Schönheit, sondern zugleich als tönendes Abbild der großen Bewegungen im Weltall. Durch tiefe und geheime Naturbeziehungen steigert sich die Bedeutung der Töne hoch über sie selbst hinaus und läßt uns in dem Werke menschlichen Talents immer zugleich das Unendliche fühlen. Da die Elemente der Musik: Schall, Ton, Rhythmus, Stärke, Schwäche im ganzen Universum sich finden, so findet der Mensch wieder in der Musik das ganze Universum.

17 Bonds, ‘Idealism’, 417.

18 Bonds, ‘Idealism’, 416.

19 See Paddison, Adorno's Aesthetics of Music.

20 George Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (London: Merlin Press, 1971): 53, quoted in Paddison, Adorno's Aesthetics of Music, 32.

21 The author is currently involved in a large-scale linguistic, philosophical, aesthetic and cultural reassessment of Adorno's Mahler text, the fruits of which will be presented elsewhere.

22 Paddison , Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture, 61.

23 ‘Theses on the Sociology of Art’, trans. Brian Trench, Birmingham Working Papers in Cultural Studies 2 (1972): 121, quoted in Paddison, Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture, 62.

24 I adopt this term from the title of the novel by Philip Roth, an extract from which heads this article. In the novel, a writer fictionalizes accounts of his family members’ lives and in effect re-describes for them an alternative existence, in some cases more damaging, in others more enriching, than ‘real’ life. However, because of the manner of the novel's presentation, it is not always entirely clear which aspects of the narrated stories are to be taken as representative of historical ‘reality’ and which are to be taken as fabrications. Indeed the unproblematic acceptance of alternative ‘realities’ on the reader's part seems to be an essential ingredient of the novel's aesthetic.

25 Barham Jeremy, ‘Plundering Cultural Archives and Transcending Diegetics: Mahler's Music as “Overscore” ’, Music and the Moving Image 3/1 (Spring 2010): 22–47, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/musimoviimag.3.1.0022. Recent additions to the list are Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010), which uses the Piano Quartet movement in A minor, and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011) which uses the first movement of the First Symphony.

26 Kramer Lawrence, Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995): 7.

27 Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge, 7.

28 On the Pragmatics of Communication (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1998): 359, 377.

29 ‘An Incomplete Project: Modernism, Formalism and the “Music Itself” ’, Music Analysis 23 (2004): 311–29; quotation, 320.

30 Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991): 83.

31 Herzog Patricia, ‘The Practical Wisdom of Beethoven's “Diabelli” Variations’, The Musical Quarterly, 79 (1995), 3554; quotation, 44.

32 Rorty , Contingency, Irony, Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989): 26.

33 Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 101.

34 ‘Truth and Freedom: A Reply to Thomas McCarthy’, Critical Inquiry 16 (1990), 633–43; quotation, 641.

35 Snell R.J., Through a Glass Darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on Knowing without a God's-Eye View (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2006): 63.

36 Rorty , ‘From Logic to Language to Play: a Plenary Address to the InterAmerican Congress’, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 59 (1986), 747753; quotation, 750.

37 Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 110.

38 From the title of a chapter in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 93–110.

39 Ruiter Frans, ‘Richard Rorty’ in Postmodernism: The Key Figures, ed. Hans Bertens and Jospeh Natoli (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002): 279286; quotation, 282.

40 Rorty , Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 94. While the term ‘colligation’ has specific applications in the field of linguistics, describing connections between lexical and grammatical items of language, and in logic, describing the subsumption of isolated facts under a single hypothesis or explanation, Rorty here seems to be using it in the general sense of an act of lumping together objects (to ‘colligate’ literally means to ‘bind together’) such that each is experienced or ‘read’ in the context of the other.

41 ‘From Logic to Language’, 751.

42 See Schleiermacher , ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’, in Translating Literature: The German Tradition From Luther to Rosenzweig, ed. André Lefevere (Assen and Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1977): 6789.

43 House Juliane, ‘Text and Context in Translation’, Journal of Pragmatics 38 (2006), 338358; esp. 347.

44 ‘Text and Context in Translation’, 347, 356.

45 ‘Text and Context in Translation’, 348.

46 ‘Text and Context in Translation’, 348.

47 See Blaukopf Herta, ed., Gustav Mahler Briefe, second edition (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1996): 158, and Lebrecht Norman, ed., Mahler Remembered (London: Faber & Faber, 1987): 295, for such accounts relating to Mahler's experience of Berlin and New York.

48 Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1959): 1628, cited and trans. in Bloch, Atheism in Christianity (London: Verso, 2009): xix.

49 Maximen und Reflexionen (1826), cited in Lefevere, Translating Literature, 39.

50 Norbert Sparrow, ‘I let the Audience Feel and Think: An Interview with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’, Cinéaste 8/2 (1977), 20. For fuller discussion of Fassbinder's use of this music see Barham Jeremy, ‘ “A Time of Gifts”: Mahler's Eighth, Fassbinder's Cinema, and Musical Politics’ in Mahler's Eighth Symphony: Studien zur Wertungsforschung, ed. Peter Revers (Vienna and London: Universal Edition, forthcoming, 2011).

51 Among the slowest performances of the Adagietto (at c.15 minutes) is Hermann Scherchen's with the Orchestre National de l'ORTF (available on Harmonia Mundi), recorded in 1965 and thus pre-dating Visconti's film.

52 Bernstein also conducted Mahler's Second Symphony in the ‘John F. Kennedy Memorial concert’ televised two days after the assassination in 1963.

53 See Alma Mahler-Werfel. Diaries 1898–1902, trans. and ed. Antony Beaumont (London: Faber & Faber, 1998): 464.

54 A rare exception is Franklin Peter's ‘A Soldier's Sweetheart's Mother's Tale? Mahler's Gendered Musical Discourse’ in Mahler and His World, ed. Karen Painter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002): 111125. The most extensive psychoanalytically orientated study of Mahler, Feder Stuart's Gustav Mahler: A Life in Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), tends to set Mahler as chaste, deeply spiritual sufferer against Alma as frivolous and destructive pleasure-seeker.

55 See Henry-Louis de La Grange, Gustav Mahler, vol. 4, A New Life Cut Short (1907–1911) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 884.

56 See Kaplan Gilbert, ‘Adagietto: “From Mahler with Love” ’, in Perspectives on Gustav Mahler, 379–400. Alma gives candid accounts of her early sexual activity with Mahler in her diaries; see Diaries 18981902, 466–67.

57 Barham, ‘Plundering Cultural Archives’.

58 In Umberto Eco, Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler and Christine Brooke-Rose, Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992): 89108; quotations, 105.

59 In interview, Rorty has said: ‘I've always found it a useless term. I wouldn't know how to define it or even how to use it … As far as the philosophical ideas go, the ideas that are called postmodern seem to me to have been perfectly well formulated by about 1910, the time of the death of William James, so postmodernsim doesn't seem a very appropriate term’. ‘Of Beauty and Consolation’ (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6148968394915050958), accessed January 2011.

60 Eco, Rorty, Culler and Brooke-Rose, Interpretation and Overinterpretation, 105.

61 Eco, Rorty, Culler and Brooke-Rose, Interpretation and Overinterpretation, 107.

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