Skip to main content

Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction: Notes, a Draft and Two Schemata



Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction: Notes, a Draft and Two Schemata

Theodor W. Adorno, Henri Lonitz (Editor), Weiland Honban (Translated by)

ISBN: 978-0-745-63198-1 December 2006 Polity 304 Pages


At the beginning of his career in the 1920s, Adorno sketched a plan to write a major work on the theory of musical reproduction, a task he returned to time and again throughout his career but never completed. The choice of the word reproduction as opposed to interpretation indicates a primary supposition: that there is a clearly defined musical text whose precision exceeds what is visible on the page, and that the performer has the responsibility to reproduce it as accurately as possible, beyond simply playing what is written. This task, according to Adorno, requires a detailed understanding of all musical parameters in their historical context, and his reflections upon this task lead to a fundamental study of the nature of notation and musical sense.

In the various notes and texts brought together in Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, one finds Adorno constantly circling around an irresolvable paradox: interpretation can only fail the work, yet only through it can musics true essence be captured. While he at times seems more definite in his pronouncement of a musical scores absolute value just as a book is read silently, not aloud his discourse repeatedly displays his inability to cling to that belief. It is this quality of uncertainty in his reflections that truly indicates the scope of the discourse and its continuing relevance to musical thought and practice today.

Editor's Foreword.

Translator's Introduction.

Notes I.

Ad Dorian.

On Richard Wagner's 'Uber das Dirigieren'.

Concerning the Older Material.

AdAancient Musical Notation.

Notes Taken After the Darmstadt Lecture.

Notes II.


Structural Keywords for chapters 2, 4 and 5 of the Draft.

Material for the Reproduction Theory.

Two Schemata.

Keywords for the 1954 Darmstadt Seminar.



Index of Names.

"Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction addresses the dialectical relation between the musical score (inscription) and its realized sound (performance), the two elements meeting in an act of interpretation, so as to produce what Adorno several times calls the x-ray image of the work, the subcutaneous depth that lies beyond surface manifestation. Adorno's concern is how music means, better how it is made meaningful. The book is a fragment, a set of extensive notes; what survives - more than 200 print pages - is nonetheless very considerable. Adorno's comments and commentaries, invariably aphoristic, are filled with insight and, into the bargain, are richly provocative and commonly provoking."

Richard Leppert, University of Minnesota

  • This book has considerable value as a text by one of the leading social and philosophical thinkers of the 20th century, and has no direct competition.
  • The book will be of great interest to Adorno scholars, musicologists and aestheticians.
  • The book contains theories of performance, which will make it appeal to students and scholars of the increasingly important area of musical and artistic performance.
  • Contains several facsimiles of Adorno’s handwritten muscial notation.