Jan Christiaens

Analysis after Adorno. Towards an Epistemology for the Analysis of Recent Art Music

In his text ‘On the Problem of Musical Analysis’ (1969), Theodor W. Adorno states that analysis is primarily about the complex dialectical relationship of formal schemata and deviations at play in a musical work. In the same text, Adorno realizes, though, that this view of analysis most directly bears on “that traditional music in which such all-encompassing general schematic relationships exist at all”. However, in a significant portion of recent art music this dialectical relationship of generality and singularity seems to be distorted by the complexity and idiosyncrasy of the music. For in this music, one pole of the dialectical interplay – i.e. the existence of formal schemata, general types or compositional archetypes – has shrinked so much, that the dialectic itself is at risk of becoming meaningless, and analysis of becoming sheer composition in reverse. In this paper, I will try to go beyond Adorno and show how analysis of recent music might cope with the dialectical dead end which is predicated upon it. For that purpose, I will elaborate upon two recent suggestions. Firstly, building on Julian Johnson’s idea of “une analyse informelle” ('Vers une analyse informelle’, in : A. Nowak (ed.), Musikalische Analyse und Kritische Theorie, 2007), I will show how the very analysis of complex, idiosyncratic music, with its emphasis on particularity, offers a new and stimulating model for analysis that is no less dialectical than traditional analysis, and that is even better able to account for the process-character of composition. Secondly, I will assess the suggestion of some composers and music theorists that an all-encompassing theory of atonality could relieve the distress of analysis of recent music, in that it supplies it with an epistemological foundation, in the same way as the theory of tonality did for the analysis of tonal music.