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Correspondence 1925-1935

Theodor W. Adorno, Alban Berg, Henri Lonitz (Editor), Wieland Hoban (Translated by)

ISBN: 978-0-745-62335-1 December 2005 Polity 168 Pages


Adorno was twenty-one years old when he traveled to Vienna in March 1925 to study musical composition with Alban Berg. Twenty years later, Adorno wrote: "how much of my writing will remain is beyond my knowledge or my control, but there is one claim I wish to stake: that I understand the language of birds," It was no less than the desire to learn to speak this language that drew him to Berg. Adorno already knew what he wanted to drew to compose before he went to Berg, and the aim of his stay in Vienna and the following years was to learn to put this knowledge of musical composition into practice.

His correspondence with Berg, who was soon to be world famous, is partly defined by his engagement with the compositional problems posed for the musical avant-garde by Schoenberg’s discovery of the twelve-tone technique, for which Adorno was to become an advocate, not least in Vienna and through Berg. This correspondence documents how he wrote numerous essays on Berg, Webern and Schoenberg during this time, and tried in vain to establish a platform for the Second Viennese School against "moderated modernity" in the journal Anbruch, where he exerted considerable editorial influence. It also shows how much Adorno – continually admonished by Berg to focus only on his musical composition – strove to reconcile his academic duties and his literary and journalistic work with the constant which to do nothing more than compose.

Editor's Note.

Translator's Note.

Correspondence 1943-1955.

Appendix I: Letters from Adorno to Helene Berg 1935-1949.

Appendix II: Other Correspondence.

Bibliographical Listing.


"These letters provide us with a unique overview of the period and offer interesting and enlightening perspectives on even mundane aspects of daily life, as well as bringing us closer to the characters in question by allowing us a special insight into thir peculiar foibles and eccentricities."
Musical Times

"Major composers who befriend major philosophers, and vice-versa, are hardly numerous in the history of Western culture. Alban Berg's relationship with Theodor W. Adorno as teacher and colleague ranks with that between Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, with the difference that Berg's and Adorno's genuine affection for each other, and their magnificent insight into each other’s work, remained constant to the end. Their correspondence is one of the landmarks of the early twentieth century and its music – a beacon of light in desperate times."
John Deathridge, King’s College London

"Sensitively translated and skillfully edited, the Adorno-Berg Correspondence represents scholarship eminently worthy of this extraordinary collection of letters between two twentieth-century intellectual-artistic giants. Adorno's composition lessons with Berg lasted for only a few months, but the impact transformed his understanding of modern music in particular and aesthetics in general. Berg, in turn, respected his pupil’s abilities as a composer, just as he clearly benefited, both intellectually and emotionally, from young Adorno’s profound insight into his master’s music. Though separated in age by nearly two decades, the two men formed a relationship born of deep affection and still deeper shared respect that lasted until Berg's untimely and sudden death. The collected correspondence makes available for the first time in English a body of texts that will add significantly to our understanding of Adorno and Berg as well as their breathtaking accomplishments."
Richard Leppert, University of Minnesota

  • The correspondence of Theodor Adorno and Thomas Mann documents a rare encounter of creative tension between literary tradition and aesthetic modernism spanning the years 1943-1955.
  • The letters offer the reader a fascinating insight into the lives of two of the most important figures of twentieth-century intellectual life.
  • The letters touch upon issues of great personal and historical significance, such as the problems of returning from exile to post-war Germany.
  • The letters are extensively annotated and provide the reader with detailed notes concerning the writings, events and personalities referred or alluded to in the correspondence.