"Keep this quiet"


The Stravinsky Section in Adorno's Philosophy of New Music:

Strategies of the Cold War



Ulrich J. Blomann


translated by:  J. Bradford Robinson





"It began with the immense impact of his book Philosophy of New Music"


            "When Theodor W. Adorno was still alive and writing, he had an almost inexorable impact, not only on young German academics, but on Germany's arts pages as a whole, on the way the country viewed music, on practically everything connected with modern art and culture. It's impossible to overstate the depth of this impact. [...] There were many wives of journalists and professors who could hardly bear to hear the word 'Adorno' any more. Whenever two or three people got together, they were together in his name. The question was always: What did Adorno say, what did he write, what will he say, what will he write? [...] He gave people a vocabulary, a set of analytical tools, for condemning certain kinds of music in particular as being impossible, as being fundamentally bad. It began with the immense impact of his book Philosophy of New Music, which had already appeared in the early 1950s" (Kaiser 1970).


Thus Joachim Kaiser, speaking in a 1970 radio broadcast originally planned as a panel discussion with Theodor W. Adorno, Ludwig Finscher, and Carl Dahlhaus. Owing to Adorno's unexpected death in August 1969, however, Kaiser took his place, and the broadcast was transformed into something akin to the philosopher's epitaph.

            This brief quotation not only illustrates the huge influence that Adorno exerted on the nature of post-war thought on music, as a paradigm for all the arts, it also appraises the towering position of Philosophy of New Music in this field. Adorno, according to Wiggershaus, "himself said [...] that it was binding for everything he wrote about music thereafter" (Wiggershaus 1998, 102). Considering that "roughly half of his collected writings deal with art, and above all else music" (ibid., 101),[1] we are fully justified in calling this book, written at the age of forty-three, Adorno's musico-philosophical testament.









"it seemed necessary [...] to have something to say about new music as a whole"


Adorno, pace Kaiser, did not publish this seminal publication at some point "in the early 1950s" (Kaiser 1970), but in August 1949.[2] It was thus laid in the cradle of the newborn Federal Republic of Germany, which, though established on 23 May by its Basic Law, was still suffering its birth pangs and awaiting its legislative branch.[3] Only at first glance is this slip on Kaiser's part a trivial historical peccadillo: no less significant is the point at which Adorno began the full-scale revision of his Schoenberg study. Though it "was written in 1940-41" (Adorno 1991, 9, Eng. trans. p. 4), and thus already finished, it was only seven years later, and not without "other addenda," that it reached bookstores in the German-speaking countries. In four of the five remaining months of that year it sold 507 copies (Adorno 1948).

            Why did Adorno, after the war, feel it "necessary to add to the section on Schoenberg another on Stravinsky" (Adorno 1991, 10, Eng. trans. p. 4)? Adorno himself, as a general justification, claimed that he wanted "really to have something to say about new music as a whole" (ibid.), in particular with respect to what he considered the meaningful constellation of Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky:


            "Stravinsky's diametrically opposed procedure demands interpretation not only because of its public prestige and its compositional niveau [...], but rather, and above all, to bar the easy way out, that [...] there would be something to hope for from the restoration of the past, from the self-conscious abrogation of music's own ratio" (ibid.).


With these words, Adorno proclaimed his aesthetic credo already in the overture, but not without immediately conceding, in a strangely pious tone, a certain anachronism to his undertaking: "It must appear cynical after what has happened in Europe, and what continues to threaten, to lavish time and mental energy on the deciphering of esoteric questions on the technique of modern composition" (Adorno 1991, 10f., Eng. trans. p. 4f.) Whether Adorno was trying to lure the reader onto a false intellectual path with a red herring is, among other things, the subject of this essay. There is no small amount of evidence for maintaining that, from the vantage point of a philosopher of music in the politically toxic climate of the conflict-ridden spring of 1948 (note his "and what continues to threaten"), it was by no means cynical but thoroughly pragmatic to use an aesthetic credo in order to proclaim a political stance.


            "You'll be interested to hear that the institute has received an official invitation to return to Frankfurt University. [...] That the newspapers are full of the name of Eisler will be no secret to you. It will spell problems for me the moment a book I wrote with Hanns E. two years ago finally goes to print. But it won't appear for another couple of months, and then we shall see. Keep this quiet" (Adorno 2003, 382)


Thus an excerpt from a letter of 20 November 1946 that Adorno sent from Los Angeles to his mother, now living in New York. Let us put this conspiratorial note in its historical context.


We shall begin by taking a few steps back. On 22 April 1945, shortly before the war in Europe came to an end, the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. A bond of trust had arisen between him and Josef Stalin during the war. He showed increased understanding for Stalin's security interests in Eastern Europe, not least because of Stalin's agreement to send troops in support of the American forces in the Pacific once the war in Europe was over, and, with the cessation of all hostilities, to support Roosevelt's initiative for a reincarnation of the League of Nations as the United Nations (UN). Using the UN as a basis, Roosevelt "believed in the possibility of Russo-American cooperation in a 'left-leaning' Europe" (Haffner 2002, 160), whereas he roundly rejected Winston Churchill's belligerent colonialism and anti-communism as a recipe for future wars. Two months after Roosevelt's death, and roughly three weeks before the Potsdam Conference, fifty states signed the United Nations Charter at the UN Conference on International Organization in San Francisco.

            However, with the Potsdam Conference (17 July to 2 August 1945), the tide began to turn. The head of the American delegation, Roosevelt's former vice-president Harry S. Truman, had arrived there with "the bomb in his pocket"[4] and had exchanged signs of mutual rapport with Churchill. More than that, during the conference (24 July 1945) he arranged, in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the atomic bomb, having been successfully tested on 16 July, would be deployed against Japan when the conference was over.






                                                                                                                             Winston S. Churchill in Fulton (MO), 5 March 1946







"An iron curtain has descended across the Continent"   (please click the link)


While the conference was still under way, Churchill lost his mandate to his Labour adversary Clement Attlee in the elections to the House of Commons. Truman invited him to deepen their growing friendship with a visit to the United States. By the end of 1945, the former British prime minister had already embarked on a journey to America that would last several months. On 5 March 1946, he and his host were awarded honorary doctorates at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. During the ceremonies, he delivered, as previously arranged with Truman and other leading American politicians, his "Sinews of Peace" speech, in which, among other things, he fanned the flames of anti-communist sentiment with his metaphor of the Iron Curtain. Stalin viewed the speech as "a dangerous act, the object of which is to foment discord between the allied states and to hinder their cooperation [...]. It is undeniable that Churchill's attitude is an attitude in favor of war, a call for war against the USSR" (Stalin 1946, 2). Even in the United States the speech was thought exceptionally harsh, and several people criticized the president for inviting Churchill at all (Elsey 1998).





                  New York Journal American, 20 November 1948




            Half a year later, on 13 October 1946, and thus in the near proximity of Adorno's conspiratorial note of 20 November, Louis F. Budenz, a former editor of the Daily Worker[5] who had converted from Communism to Catholicism in 1943, doused oil on the anti-communist flames in a radio broadcast, during which he claimed that Gerhart Eisler, Hanns Eisler’s brother, was Moscow's spymaster in the United States, an agent of the Comintern (dissolved in 1943) who was scheming against the American government under the alias of Hans Berger. A short while later these denunciations were joined by a "knowledgeable" informant (see above): Elfriede Eisler (a.k.a. Ruth Fischer), the elder sister of the two Eisler brothers, who had been expelled from the German Communist Party in 1926 and now likewise lived in the United States. In retrospect, the 13th of October clearly formed a turning point in American domestic politics, which from now on amounted to little more than a campaign against Communism, journalistically agitated in no small degree by the Hearst press (see above). The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC),[6] founded in 1934 to confront National Socialist infiltration in American society, reconvened shortly before its scheduled postwar disbandment. The change of hate figure gave the Committee an enormous and decisive boost.






                                                                                                                                                                             Harry S. Truman




            On 12 March 1947, five months after these "disclosures" and almost exactly a year after Churchill's speech in Fulton, Truman gave an address before a joint session of Congress (please click the link)  that was broadcast on all radio stations nationwide. In it, he spoke of a "turning-point in American foreign policy" (Truman 1955, 114) for the purpose of containing the alleged peril of Communism. This was the Truman Doctrine, and it was also connected with a demand to "choose between alternative ways of life," these being capitalism and socialism (ibid.). A little more than a week later, with his executive order of 21 March 1947, he had some three million civil servants subjected to ideological examination with the so-called Truman Loyalty Oath[7] under general suspicion of Communist leanings.[8] By this time, the "Cold War was officially declared" in America's foreign policy (Isaacs/Ascherson 1998) and the anti-communist witch hunt reached its initial climax in the country's domestic policy.


This same policy was also directed toward intellectuals and artists, especially those involved in the purportedly left-liberal film industry. In the initial HUAC sessions, held as "evidentiary hearings" in late October 1947, the so-called Hollywood Ten had refused to testify, appealing to their rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In early 1948, in the like-named Hollywood Ten Trials,[9] they were sentenced to prison terms of six to twelve months, plus fines ranging from $500 to $1000, for contempt of Congress.






                                                                        Hollywood Ten (please click the link)





            As mentioned above, the members of the German-language community in exile, especially Hanns Eisler as well as Bertolt Brecht, also drew the attention of the investigators and were rudely confronted with their Communist pasts in hearings. Hanns Eisler's first hearing took place in Los Angeles on 11 May 1947, the second in Washington, DC, from 24 to 26 of the following September (Schebera 1978, 94-103). In preparation for the hearing, committee member Richard Nixon wrote in the Los Angeles Examiner (26 April 1947) that "the case of Hanns Eisler is perhaps the most important ever to have come before the committee" (Schebera 1978, 95f.). On 30 October Brecht, like Eisler, did not refuse to testify, but the next day he ended his American exile by taking the plane to Zurich. Eisler remained in the country for the time being, facing an uncertain future.







                                                                                                     Hanns Eisler at the HUAC-Hearing  (please click the link)







"I had no reason to become a martyr to a cause that was not and is still not my own. In view of the scandal, I withdrew my co-authorship. My return to Europe already decided, I was afraid of anything that might have stood in its way."


These events were discussed at length throughout the full spectrum of the media. As we saw in Adorno's above-mentioned letter to his mother, they were also noted with great concern by the leading figures of the exiled Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung, or IfS), Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, who constitute the main focus of this essay. In the 1920s, this research institute had enjoyed a reputation as an élite Marxist training center; many sociologists were not only "aware of its Marxist past" (Gumnior/Ringguth 1973, 60), they had "publicly criticized the IfS and its connection between Marxism and psychoanalysis" (see Wiggershaus 1991, 285f., and Homann 1999, 62). Luckily, the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung had appeared only in German and was inaccessible in the United States for "collecting evidence" in a meaningful way. But the German edition of Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment, issued in a small mimeographed press run in 1944, betrayed the perspective of its socio-cultural critique in its choice of terminology. To avoid misunderstandings in politically volatile times, it was thus necessary to make "significant" revisions to the enlarged first printed edition (again in German), which was scheduled for publication in fall 1947[10] (van Reijen-Bransen 1997, 456):


            "The authors consistently replaced technical terms encumbered with special meanings in their discussion of state capitalism – such as 'monopoly,' 'capital,' and 'profit' – with less loaded terms. 'Monopoly' became 'business apparatus' [...]. 'Monopolists' were transformed into 'general directors.' 'Capital' was now 'business,' and its 'power' became the 'power of the economically strongest,' while 'capitalism' disappeared altogether" (ibid.).











            "The avoidance of Marxist terminology and theory did not arise from tactical considerations; it also expressed a profound disillusionment with the hopes placed in Soviet Communism. Just as Germany was constantly discussed in émigré circles, so was the Soviet Union and Stalinism. In their eyes, Soviet Russia lost all the features of an alternative to Fascist and bourgeois societies that the Frankfurt School had still invested in it during the 1920s. But this did not turn its members into reprehensible turncoats. Rather, it only strengthened their belief that the entire world and human history were basically courting a disaster that merited exploration, but with no hope of being able to alter it. All that remained was 'critique.'" (Homann 1999, 72).










For Adorno, the pressing problems of loyalty were only partially solved with the de-marxification of Dialectic of Enlightenment. In late 1947, the book he had co-written with Hanns Eisler and completed as early as 1944, Composing for the Films (Eisler 1947), was poised for publication. Though this book, unlike his joint project with Horkheimer, could hardly raise suspicions of being a critique of capitalism, Adorno apparently saw an urgent need to avoid an open display of spiritual kinship with a man identified, by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling, as "the Karl Marx of Communism in the music field" (Schebera 1978, 169), particularly as the geographical proximity between Eisler and the man the FBI called SUBJECT: THEODORE ADORNO had presumably (from Adorno's standpoint) been officially noted, as indeed it had, among others by the FBI in FILE NUMBER: 100-106126-24. This proved his "guilt by association" (Wiggershaus 1991, 433) and met the prerequisites for "a typical principle of witch hunts" (ibid.). The second paragraph of the largely blacked-out page from the FBI report, issued on 22 March 1947, the day after the proclamation of the aforementioned Truman Loyalty Oath, reads as follows:


            "Concerning ADORNO, the only other additional information other than that previously given in this report was a form letter from INS Los Angeles dated July 7, 1943 making inquiry as to THEODORE WIESENGRUNDT (THEODOR ADORNO), social science worker, born September 11, 1903 at Frankfurt Main, Germany; arrived in the United States February 23, 1938, presently employed Institute of Social Research, Columbia University, 429 West 117th Street, New York City. [...] advised that on March 22, 1947 a 1936 Plymouth bearing 1936 California license plates, registered to Dr. THEODOR ADORNO, 316 S. Central Street, Brentwood Heights, California, was noted at the residence of HANNS EISLER located on the Pacific Coast Highway, Los Angeles. "





                                                              FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION  - File No. 100-30307, Page 5






                                                                FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION - File No. 100-30307, Page 1






Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein foundet the National Committee for Justice for Hanns Eisler; solidarity concerts for the persecuted composer were organized by Igor Stravinsky and Ernst Toch on the West Coast, and by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and others on the East Coast, Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein submitted a petition to Attorney General Tom C. Clark against Eisler's pending deportation.






                                                    Daily Worker, 12 February 1948




While all this was happening, Adorno, before the beginning of the "Hot Autumn" of 1947, revoked his authorship of the film music book he had co-written with his "friend" Eisler (Schebera 2010, 42ff.). Years after Eisler's death he explained his decision as follows:



            "At that time Gerhart, the composer's brother, was being viciously attacked in the United States for his political activities, and Hanns Eisler was drawn into the affair. I had nothing to do with those activities and knew nothing about them. Eisler and I had no illusions about the differences in our political opinions. Not wishing to endanger our friendship, which dated back to 1925, we avoided political discussions. I had no reason to become a martyr to a cause that was not and is still not my own. In view of the scandal, I withdrew my co-authorship. My return to Europe already settled, I was afraid of anything that might have stood in its way. Hanns Eisler showed complete understanding for this" (Adorno 1969, 213).






     Dr. Jürgen Schebera Archives, Berlin





 A propos Minima Moralia




Before presenting a tabular chronological summary of the stimulus-response chain outlined above, I would like to confront Adorno's behavior with an aphorism from the opening section of his three-part Minima Moralia. This section was completed in 1944, the entire book in 1947:


            "Cat out of the bag. – Even solidarity, the most honorable mode of conduct of socialism, is sick. [...] Solidarity was manifested by groups of people who together put their lives at stake, counting their own concerns as less important in face of a tangible possibility, so that, without being possessed by an abstract idea, but also without individual hope, they were ready to sacrifice themselves for each other. The prerequisites for this waiving of self‑preservation were knowledge and freedom of decision: if they are lacking, blind personal interest immediately reasserts itself. In the course of time, however, solidarity has turned into confidence that the Party has a thousand eyes, into enrolment in workers’ battalions – now long since promoted into uniform – as the stronger side, into swimming with the tide of history. Any temporary security gained in this way is paid for by permanent fear, by toadying, manoeuvering, and ventriloquism" (Adorno 1962, 58, Eng. trans. p. 51).





Chronology of Events in 1946-47




Throughout the year Adorno advises Thomas Mann in the writing of Doktor Faustus.


5 March                  Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

5 October               Louis Budenz publishes his alleged exposé of Gerhart Eisler.

19 October             Adorno and Horkheimer are invited by the Hessian Ministry of Culture to bring the IfS back to Germany.

18-23 November    "The Comintern's American Agent" (I-VI) is published in the New York Journal-American.

20 November         Adorno writes to his mother (A-M): "That the newspapers are full of the name of

                              Eisler will be no secret to you. Keep this quiet."







29 January           Thomas Mann finishes Doktor Faustus.

12 March              The Truman Doctrine is proclaimed.

21 March              The Truman Loyalty oath is decreed.

1 May                    A-M: "Yesterday evening attended ice revue with the Horkheimers. Very nice."

11 May                  Hanns Eisler's first (non-public) hearing before the HUAC in Los Angeles.

21 May                  A-M: "... as for the latter [the book on film music] I will probably give up my

                             co-authorship for very obvious reasons."

13 June:               A-M: "As far as the film book is concerned, Oxford Press showed complete

                             understanding. I appear prominently in the preface, but not as official co-author."

6 July                    A-M: "At the Eislers yesterday. I feel sorry for him, though the way he capitalizes on his misfortune, as it were, is not

                             exactly to my taste."

24-26 August        Hanns Eisler's second (public) hearing before the HUAC in Washington, DC.

26 August             A-M: "The book on film music has appeared, without my name on the title page,

                             but with full 'credit' in the preface, which I worded myself. Looks quite respectable."

25 September       Andrei Zhdanov delivers a speech celebrating the founding of the Cominform, in

                             which he confirms Truman's two-camp theory.

October                The National Committee for Justice for Hanns Eisler is formed under the auspices

                             of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

October                Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus is published in Europe.

October                Public investigation of Communist infiltration in the Hollywood film industry begins.

28 October           A-M: "There's no danger of war whatsoever. It's all a war of nerves."

30 October           Hour-long public hearing of Bertolt Brecht. The next day he leaves the United

                             States by plane for Zurich.

30 November        A-M: "We’ve been seeing Lou Eisler on Saturdays for a while. Hanns is in New York."

30 November        Charlie Chaplin sends telegrams to Picasso, Matisse, and Cocteau, asking them to

                             intervene at the US embassy in Paris and to support a French visa for Hanns Eisler.

14 December        Stravinsky and Toch, among others, organize a solidarity concert for Hanns Eisler in

                             Los Angeles.

15 December        Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein co-sign a petition submitted to Attorney General

                             Clark against Hanns Eisler's deportation.

22 December        A-M: "Yesterday at the Eislers, who are in better spirits despite the constant threat of


Christmas 47        Adorno finishes Minima Moralia.









                                                                                                                                                               Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno




"fear, fear: fear" [11]


In sum, there can be no doubt that Adorno, who, as Ernst Bloch recalled, was "still completely pro-Communist" in 1932,[12] and his mentor Horkheimer, eight years his senior, were afraid that the visions of a radiant future raised by the invitation to return to Frankfurt University – an invitation sent to the IfS in October 1946, a period not exactly abounding in professional triumphs[13] – might be sabotaged by unpleasant anti-communist broadsides, the more so as Horkheimer had long been busy writing memoranda for the State Department (see Albrecht 1999, 119ff.) in an attempt to convey the authority of the IfS staff in handling the problems of German re-education and to reaffirm the Institute's commitment to those ends.

            Horkheimer was currently struggling to finance his first postwar trip to Europe, for which he would embark on the Queen Mary on 23 April 1948: "He had received a grant for a visiting professorship at Frankfurt University from the Rockefeller Foundation, the very institution which, by his own lights, invested a fraction of the profits of America's oldest and largest capitalist venture for the purpose of corrupting the mind and human culture. Officially he traveled as an American citizen intent on contributing to the democratic education of the German people [...]" (Wiggershaus 1991, 442).


"Adorno arrays the two main sections of the book against each other like two opposing armies."


While Horkheimer was exploring the prospects of the IfS in Europe, he kindled Adorno's hopes for a professional future in Germany in late May 1949 with the words, "I feel that it [the journey] will prepare the future groundwork" (Adorno-Horkheimer 1995, 224). Meanwhile, Adorno was busy on a project which, as far as is known today, he first mentioned on 24 February 1948, again in a letter to his mother: "I've probably already told you that I'm writing an entirely new section on Stravinsky for my Philosophy of New Music. Now, along with other addenda, it will become a book" (Adorno 2003, 446). On 3 May he wrote to Horkheimer in Europe, somewhat cryptically: "Here's something pleasant: My publisher Mohr (Siebeck) in Tübingen has accepted my Philosophy of New Music without having seen the manuscript. [...] Perhaps you could mention the impending publication of the little book during negotiations on German positions for us [...]" (Adorno/Horkheimer 2005, 222).


Here is Werner Klüppelholz summing up his impression of the publication, which evidently represented "German positions," whatever they may have been:


            "Adorno arrays the two main sections of the book against each other like two opposing armies: 'Schoenberg and Progress' vs. 'Stravinsky and the Restoration.' He thrashes the living daylights out of Stravinsky" (Klüppelholz 2009).14]


The image of two opposing armies hits the metaphorical nail on the head. After all, in the opinion of the writer of this essay, Adorno may have thrashed Stravinsky in his book, but his actual target was Socialist Realism and the political system that advocated it. In other words, his musico-philosophical credo, no less than Truman's Loyalty Oath, is a camouflaged pledge of allegiance to the values of the country of his exile, and thus a clear vote against the Eastern hemisphere, which, shortly before Adorno's first unofficial mention of the Stravinsky section, had adopted an aesthetic stance against all Western "formalist" trends in music.

            To bolster the thesis that Adorno's prospective book was a reflex reaction against the current demeanor of what he called, just after finishing Philosophy of New Music, the "cultural bailiffs of the East in the wake of their Nazi counterparts" (Adorno 1997b, 51), and thus a propagandistic maneuver in the cultural Cold War, let us first outline the events leading up to 24 February 1948, the day on which, as we recall, he first mentioned the Stravinsky section unofficially in a letter to his mother.


Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, and Truman's "choice between alternative ways of life," had transformed the anti-Hitler coalition of the "great three" into the two-camp theory. In response, the Comintern (Communist International), dissolved by Stalin in May 1943 as a gesture of cooperation with the West, was revived as the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau). At the founding convention, held from 28 to 30 September 1947, the chief ideologue of the Communist Party of the USSR, Andrei Zhdanov, responded with a mirror-inverted riposte.[15] Historians regard these speeches as major milestones en route to the Cold War. Hardly four months later Zhdanov again attracted attention with an action strongly reminiscent of the events surrounding Shostakovitch's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936: after attending a closed performance of Vano Muradeli's opera The Great Friendship with Stalin in the Bolshoi Theater on 5 January 1948, he summoned a conference with cultural functionaries and the theater's directors. As a result, from 10 to 12 January 1948 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR held a meeting with some seventy creative musicians during which Zhdanov, both in his welcoming address and in his closing speech (Zhdanov 1951), fiercely ordered the leading lights among Soviet composers – particularly Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Khachaturian – to toe the anti-formalist line. Zhdanov's warnings formed the core of the arguments in the Central Committee Resolution of 10 February 1948 (ZK Beschlüsse 1952, 25-32), which was published on 11 February and was already being reported in depth in the United States media the very next day. One of these reports ran in the Communist Party's official organ, the Daily Worker.16]




Daily Worker, 12 February 1948



There now ensued detailed rehashes of the sensational scandal and epic debates in letters to the editor, as well as recommended reading on the Marxist theory of art and a full reproduction of the "Soviet Music Resolution." Commentaries of a similar drift appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and Musical America, mostly on their title pages (see "Chronology of Events in 1948-49" below), allowing us to conclude that the Shostakovich Affair, and the publication of the Central Committee Resolutions, reverberated noisily in the American media.



Daily Worker, 18 February 1948




Daily Worker, 12 March 1948




Viewed in the light of these events, it becomes clear that Adorno, with his "deciphering of esoteric questions on the technique of modern composition" (Adorno 1991, 10f.), was taking a covert stand not only against Soviet artistic doctrine, but against the régime itself.




Chronology of Events in 1948-49




5 January                    Stalin attends a performance of Vano Muradeli's opera The Great Friendship.

6 January                    Zhdanov consults with the theater directors and leading functionaries in the arts.


10-12 January            Central Committee conference with leading creative musicians and speeches by Zhdanov.


6 February                       Eisler's "voluntary" deportation is enacted after another hearing before the immigration authorities.

10 February                The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR forms its resolutions on music.

11 February               The Central Committee Resolutions are published in Moscow.

12 February               "Soviet Musicians Taken to Task" is published in the Daily Worker (DW).


12 February               "PRODUCE BETTER MUSIC, RUSSIAN ARTISTS TOLD" is published in the Los

                                       Angeles Times (LAT).

12 February               "Russians Chide Shostakovich For Music 'Against the People'" is published in

                                       the New York Herald Tribune.


12 February               "Soviet Denounces Its 'Big 3' In Music, Orders a New Line" is published on the

                                      title page of the New York Times (NYT).


13 February                "Hanns Eisler Free to Quit U.S." (DW).

13 February                "Hanns Eisler Ordered Deported; To Go Voluntarily, Says Lawyer" (NYT).

15 February                "Caudewell's 'Illusion and Reality' The Marxist Classic on the Arts" (DW).

17-26 February           Zhdanov delivers the opening speech at the "talk" with Moscow musicians.

18 February                "The Furore Over L'Affaire Shostakovich" (DW).

19 February                "Prokofiev Admits Criticism Was Valid" (DW).



22 February               A-M: First mention of the Stravinsky section in Philosophy of New Music.


22 February                "Shostakovich Welcomes Party 'Fatherly Concern'" (NYT).

22 February                "Russian Composers Confess Writing Antidemocratic Music" (LAT).

24 February                "More on the Soviet Music Criticism" (DW).

28 February                A farewell concert for Hanns Eisler is held in New York's Town Hall.

12 March                    "Authentic Text of Soviet Music Resolution" (DW).

15 March                    "Leading Soviet Composers Rebuked by Communist Central Committee" is published as an editorial in

                                   Musical America (MA).

24 March                    "Khatchaturian's Reply to Soviet Music Criticism" (DW).

24 March                    "Soviet Music Compared To the Dentist's Drill" (NYT).

26 March                    Hanns and Lou Eisler leave the United States.


Spring                               The de-marxified Dialektik der Aufklärung ist publishes by Querido in Amsterdam


29 March                    "COMPOSERS SWEPT OUT IN LATEST RED PURGE" (LAT).

12-19 April                 The Hollywood Ten Trial against John Howard Lawson is held in Washington, DC.

19-25 April                 All-Union Congress of the Soviet Composers' Union. The era of Tikhon Khrennikov begins. Zhdanov is unable to attend   

                                  owing to illness.

23 April                      Max Horkheimer embarks on his first trip to Europe, which lasts until late July.

26 April                      "Shostakovich Apologizes For Ideological Mistakes" (NYT).

3-5 May                     The Hollywood Ten Trial against Dalton Trumbo is held in Washington, DC.



20-29 May                 Hanns Eisler attends the Second International Congress of Composers and Music Critics in Prague.


24 June                    The Berlin Blockade begins.




1 July                         Date assigned to the preface of Philosophy of New Music.


July                            Adorno writes "Die gegängelte Musik" in reference to the Prague Congress (see above).


1 August                     "COMPOSERS HEED SOVIET; Tass Indicates Shostakovich and Prokofieff

                                   Follow Official Line" (NYT).


31 August                   Zhdanov dies after a brief illness.






12 May                      The Berlin Blockade ends.


14 August                  The first parliamentary elections are held in West Germany; Philosophie der neuen Musik is published in Germany.

November                  Adorno arrives in Frankfurt. He is 45 years old.





"That the objection falls silent before the fact"


The date on which Adorno first mentioned the section on Stravinsky, barely two weeks after the publication of the Central Committee Resolutions, reinforces the thesis that his reworking of the Schoenberg essay was a covert response to culture-political events in the Soviet Union. Further support comes from several glaring contradictions in the uncompromising verdicts that he levels against each and every Stravinsky work singled out in Philosophy of New Music. This even applies, let it be noted, to L'Histoire du soldat. Not only had Adorno, as Klüppelholz put it, "thrashed the living daylights out of Stravinsky," he had butchered him and hung him up on hooks to draw his blood. Indeed, his ceaseless tirade against Stravinsky, peppered with technical terms from psychopathology and at times harping unbearably on the same themes, reads at times like a musico-philosophical treatise run amok. In contrast, an aphorism from the first section (1944) of his Minima Moralia seems almost unsettling after the violent ride through the "Restoration" chapter. The very fact that Adorno, in the thirtieth of his 153 "Reflections from Damaged Life" (thus the book's subtitle), devotes a philosophical aphorism to a single composition – an aphorism neither cynically ironic nor critical in any other way, even pretending, with the chosen title "Pro domo nostra," to be speaking on his own behalf with an air of solidarity – is wholly incompatible with the language of his fifty-three-page hatchet job on Stravinsky.


            "Pro domo nostra. – When during the last war, – which like all others, seems peaceful in comparison to its successor – the symphony orchestras of many countries had their vociferous mouths stopped, Stravinsky wrote L'Histoire du soldat for a sparse, shock‑maimed chamber ensemble. It turned out to be his best score, the only convincing surrealist manifesto, its convulsive, dreamlike compulsion imparting to music an inkling of negative truth. The precondition of the piece was poverty: it dismantled official culture so drastically because, denied access to the latter's material goods, it also escaped the ostentation that is inimical to culture" (Adorno 1962, 57, Eng. trans p. 50).


Equally incongruous are two comments on Stravinsky found once again in Adorno's correspondence with his mother. On 11 December 1947, a few months before embarking on the Stravinsky section, he wrote almost admiringly of the composer: "A couple of days ago I went to a concert with Fritz and Carlota to hear a performance of a wind sextet by the young Rebner, not bad at all, accurately heard and well orchestrated, but of course not independent à la Stravinsky" (Adorno 2003, 437). A month after starting on the Stravinsky section (24 March 1948), he waxed almost contemptuous, informing his mother that "Philosophy of New Music [...] is finished in the rough" (Adorno 2003, 452) only to describe his impressions of a Stravinsky concert in the following words:


            "I heard a Stravinsky concert, expertly conducted, consisting entirely of recent works, prodigiously masterful, but quite standardized and hollow, even the new symphony, which is more challenging and relatively modern in its deportment. Compared to the good Virgil Thomson he is a Beethoven, although he strikes me as a cross between a buffoon and a department head, something of which also attaches to his music" (ibid.).


No, the uncompromising animus of the Stravinsky section is unsettling and cannot be squared with the "first large-scale musico-sociological essay" (Adorno 1997b, 248) that Adorno wrote for the journal of the Frankfurt IfS in 1932. In that essay, "On the Social Situation of Music" (Adorno 1997), he developed a four-part hierarchical system to typify "musical production which [...] does not subordinate itself unconditionally to the law of the market" (ibid., 734, Eng. trans. p. 395). Uncontested pride of place is given to Arnold Schoenberg, followed in the second category by Stravinsky, in the third by Kurt Weill, and in the fourth by Hindemith and Eisler. Adorno's final explanatory remarks on Stravinsky read almost like an encomium:


"Stravinsky’s games of masks are protected from demasking of this type by his highly precise and cautious artistic understanding. It is his great and dangerous accomplishment, dangerous to himself as well, that his music uses the knowledge of its coercive antinomy in presenting itself as a game. It does this, however, never simply as a game and never as applied art: rather, it maintains a position of continual hovering between game and seriousness and betweens styles as well, which makes it almost impossible to call it by name and within which irony hinders any comprehension of the objectivist ideology. This, however, is the background of a despair which is permitted every expression, since no single expression suits it correctly; at the same time it brings the game of masks into relief against its dismal background. Within this oscillation a game might become seriousness at any moment and change suddenly into satanic laughter, mocking society with the possibility of a non-alienated music; it is this which makes the reception of Stravinsky as a fashionable composer whose pretention simultaneously elevates his music impossible. It is precisely the artistic security with which he recognizes the impossibility of a positive-aesthetic solution of the antinomies conditioned by society, recognizing, at the same time, the social antinomy itself which makes him suspicious in the eyes of the upper bourgeoisie. In his best and most exposed works – such as L’Histoire du soldat – he provokes contradiction. In contrast to all other objectivist authors, Stravinsky’s superiority within his métier endangers the consistent ideological positivity of his style, as this is demanded of him by society: consequently, in his case as well, artistic logical consistence becomes socially dialectical" (Adorno 1997, 742f., Eng. trans. p. 406).


To be sure, ever since the early 1920s Adorno considered Schoenberg's music to be the supreme point of reference. However, composers who made use of "congealed" material were subjected to his acrid polemics, which even Stravinsky sometimes had to face after his turn to neo-classicism, but from which L'Histoire du soldat was usually exempted.

            Similarly, in the book on film music that Adorno co-wrote with Eisler in 1944, but which he considered ex post facto to be "nine-tenths" his doing, "Schoenberg, Bartók, and Stravinsky were taken as the benchmark [...] and enjoyed equally favorable recognition" (Jäger 2009, 164).

            Nor should it be overlooked that Adorno was graciously willing to make exceptions to his rigorous strictures in the case of other composers and major works of the 1920s, in blatant contradiction, he willingly conceded, to the otherwise dogmatic axioms of his aesthetic of material. The most striking example of this is his paean to Die Dreigroschenoper:


"This is not to speak of the merits of the libretto, but rather of the gray, smoke-filled songs that remain immured behind a couple of notes; of the ballads, gray, smoke-filled, and hoarse, as they summon the amorphous, pressing, rebellious masses of the Lumpenproletariat. No matter how far removed I initially feel from music which, rather than drawing consequences from the current state of the musical material, attempts to achieve its effect by transforming old, shrunken material: in Weill’s case such an effect is achieved in so striking and original a manner that the objection falls silent before the fact. To be sure, there is recurrence in Weill’s music, too, but not for the sake of stabilization; rather, it is a recurrence that unveils and exploits the demonic traits in the defunct sounds. Triads have become so false that, when we write them, we ourselves are compelled to write them wrong so that they disclose themselves. This is all accomplished with such skill, technical assurance, economy, and instrumental capability – a new attainment on Weill’s part – that the last doubts about the rebellious right of this sort of Gebrauchsmusik vanish with its coziness: Gebrauchsmusik that really can be put to use” (Adorno 1997c, 138).


"And many a powerful one who wanted to run well with the people, hath harnessed in front of his horses – a donkey, a famous wise man."  Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "The Famous Wise Ones"


Soviet composers had been taken to task and placed in the dock by their "cultural bailiffs." Adorno, caught between the twin stools of fear and outrage as their self-appointed fiery advocate, had risen to make a case for the defense ("my Philosophy of New Music") whose very preface lashes out "with breathtaking nonchalance [...] to deal a devastating blow" (N.N. 2002, 1) against an aesthetic position he regarded almost as repulsive:


            "Across every frontier, the epigones – themselves sworn enemies of the epigonous – resemble each other in their weak concoctions of adeptness and helplessness. Dmitry Shostakovich – unjustly reprimanded as a cultural Bolshevik by the public authorities of his homeland – the lively pupils of Stravinsky's pedagogical ambassadors, the pretentious meagerness of Benjamin Britten: All of these have in common a taste for bad taste, a simplicity founded in ignorance, immaturity that fancies itself clear minded, and a lack of technical capacity. In Germany, the Reichsmusikkammer has left behind a rubbish heap. The universal style, after World War II, is the eclecticism of the shattered" (Adorno 1991, 16, Eng. trans. p. 10).


If Zhdanov transferred the two-camp theory to music with his anti-formalist campaign, Adorno, with his aesthetic polarity between "Schoenberg and Progress" vs. "Stravinsky and the Restoration," adopts Zhdanov's dichotomous rhetoric by taking up the cudgels for the aesthetic position censured by Zhdanov, assuming the role of a knight in shining armor at the temporary end of a spiraling chain of stimuli and responses, and giving this position what might be called a sharp-edged musico-philosophical profile. Adorno had taken Stravinsky, a composer above political reproach "whose name [in the Soviet Union] was a symbol of musical modernism" (Vlassova 2006, 151), and sacrificed him in the cultural war between East and West. For what applied to "Stravinsky and the Restoration" applied in spades to Shostakovich, "unjustly reprimanded as a cultural Bolshevik by the public authorities of his homeland," and still more to all those composers, not only in the Soviet Union, who fell short of Stravinsky's compositional prowess.


            Though Adorno had used Stravinsky as his punching bag, his true target was that icon of the Soviet aesthetic, the donkey of "Socialist Realism," and the régime that stood behind it as surety.


            Those who feel that the camouflaged version of Adorno's loyalty oath lacks sharpness of contour may wish to look at "Die gegängelte Musik" (Adorno 1997a) and read it as a subtext to the aesthetic of polarization whose genesis[17] is to be found in Philosophy of New Music. This essay was, he claimed, "written in summer 1948 immediately after the completion of Philosophy of New Music" (Adorno 1996b, 10), but it was only published in 1953 in Monat, the house organ of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom. Here Adorno speaks his mind, with no holds barred, about the Second International Congress of Composers and Music Critics, which was held in Prague from 20 to 29 June 1948 and was ideologically aligned on the Central Committee Resolutions. Using the "vocabulary of the Cold Warriors" (Mayer 1979, 150), he takes an ungarnished and crystal-clear stand against the "culture-political measures in the Soviet sphere of influence [and its] official guidelines" (Adorno 1997b, 51f.).




Epilog: //youtube.com/watch?v=u6abtw7Mxq0















[1] Indeed, volume 7 (Aesthetische Theorie) and volumes 10 to 19 encompass some 6650 of the 11,572 printed pages in the twenty-three-volume edition of Adorno's collected writings.

[2] Theodor W. Adorno in a letter of 19 July 1949 to Thomas Mann, quoted from Adorno 2004, 43. "The Philosophie der neuen Musik is now being printed and should appear in August." The earliest review known to the present writer appeared in the Braunschweiger Zeitung on 13 September 1949 beneath the title "Revolutionary in Composition."

[3] The first elections to the German Bundestag were held on 14 August 1949. On 15 September, Konrad Adenauer was elected the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

[4] Secretary of War Stimson, quoted from Loth 1980, 107.

[5] The Daily Worker was the journalistic mouthpiece of the Communist Party of the USA.

[6] The Committee was attached to the House of Representatives.

[7] See http://www.americancivilrightsreview.com/docs-trumanloyaltyoath1947.htm (retrieved 20 August 2012).

[8] As a result of the investigations, some three-thousand civil servants lost their positions for belonging to one of the seventy-eight organizations classified as communist or for subscribing to a suspicious publication.

[9] 12-19 April 1948 (John Howard Lawson); 3-5 May 1948 (Dalton Trumbo).

[10] In fact the edition, printed by G. J. Thieme of Nijmegen and published in two-thousand copies by Querido in Amsterdam, was not released for distribution until spring 1948. See Behrmann 1999, 251.

[11] See Behrmann 1999, 291: "The probably not unjustified reproach that Horkheimer denied his Marxism from 'fear, fear: fear' was leveled at him from various quarters, including Gershom Scholem. Friedrich Niewöhner: 'Alles andere ist Schwindel: Gershom Scholem liest die Geschichte der Kritischen Theorie,' Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung no. 204 (3 September 1997), p. 6."

[12] "I probably first met him [Eisler] in a café in Berlin some time around 1932. There were three of us, Adorno included. At that time Adorno was still completely pro-Communist" (Bloch 1973).

[13] See Homann 1999, 66: "In the years 1947 and 1948 there was little to be seen of a Frankfurt School. The goals of its earlier manifestos, rather than being achieved, had been definitively abandoned with the discontinuation of the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung and the relocation to California. Nor did a new glorious future in the United States and Europe seem to loom on the horizon. All that remained in the United States were academic mavericks with greater or lesser success, such as Neumann, Löwenthal, and Marcuse, and the two-man team of Horkheimer and Adorno."

[14] Stravinsky, who had a perfect command of German, "was one of the first readers of Philosophy of New Music, as was confirmed to me by his friend and biographer Robert Craft. He felt struck to the quick by Adorno's critique. Rather than allowing this deadly assault to stand, he arranged for his own resurrection with the aid of serial technique" (Metzger 2003). Schoenberg wrote to his pupil Josef Rufer in Berlin: "He [Adorno] deserves a spanking. I'd like to say, simply for the viciousness of his behavior toward Stravinsky. One can't speak with a man like Stravinsky in that way. But also for his viciousness towards me" (Schoenberg 2009, 206).

[15] See http://www.rosalux.de/fileadmin/rls_uploads/pdfs/Utopie_kreativ/84/84_Graefe.pdf

[16] I wish to extend my warm thanks Richard Taruskin for alerting me to the Daily Worker.

[17] The author deliberately invokes the title of Thomas Mann's The Genesis of Doktor Faustus (Mann 1995).





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