Theodor W. Adorno's 1924 and 1964 articles on Richard Strauss offer, in the words of Leon Botstein, "challenging and perceptive indictments" of the composer. The influence of these essays on musicological Strauss reception is, to be sure, difficult to gauge. Nevertheless, Adorno's prominence in current academic discourse makes it hard to ignore his polemic against Strauss. Scholars seeking to recuperate the composer as an object of legitimate academic inquiry have therefore found it necessary to respond to Adorno's Strauss critique.
The form of these responses has ranged from Derrick Puffett's curt dismissal of Adorno on grounds of the latter's high modernist and Marxist commitments to Anette Unger's sophisticated attempt to demonstrate that Strauss's music indeed fulfilled Adorno's aesthetic demands. Such approaches, however, have not addressed more fundamental contextual considerations that bear on the validity of Adorno's criticisms. In particular, Straussian practice and Adornian theory are divided by two differing and perhaps even rival traditions concerned with the musical realization of nineteenth-century German neohumanist ideals.
This study, then, presents a reconstruction of some of the premises that guided Adorno's Strauss critique. Central to Adorno's argument was his demand for compositions to conform to the principles of a strictly musical logic. This demand was rooted in nineteenth-century Germanic conceptions of the relationship between music and neohumanist ideals. Strauss, for his part, identified strongly with these ideals, but he rejected rigorous musical logic in favor of "poetic logic." The incommensurability of Adornian and Straussian standpoints, then, precludes a response that neutralizes Adorno's critique. For music historians, a more productive response may be to maintain a permanent tension between the two positions.
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