Composition and Adorno’s Rhetoric of the New

Martin Dixon


This article explores Adorno’s treatment of the concept of the new with a view to proposing a pattern in the rhetorical strategy of his thinking. I show that Adorno’s critique of New Music in the post-war period operated on two rhetorical registers: these I term the exoteric and the esoteric. By exoteric, I portray the process whereby Adorno produced an open philosophical scrutiny of the cognitive claims of New Music, with the act of composition itself being redescribed with the resources of dialectical philosophy. A more speculative treatment of the new is also evidenced in his writings, a tendency which arguably deepens in his late work. This I characterize as esoteric. I intend by this term to locate the new as a dimension of the internal experience of composition, especially in the form of a desire for the new. This ‘new’ might itself be indistinct or unrealizable, but it persists as an authentic motivation for compositional production.

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ISSN 1755-4934