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Theodor W. Adorno

Biography

Born: September 11, 1903; Frankfurt, Germany   Died: August 6, 1969; Visp, Switzerland  
Theodor W. Adorno was one of those rare figures whose talents and interests spread across a range of endeavors, from music and philosophy to debating, mountain climbing, and the films of Charlie Chaplin. He befriended or socialized with some of the most prominent artists and intellects of the early twentieth century: Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, Ernest Bloch, Otto Klemperer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Paul Tillich, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Read more Lotte Lenya, Max Horkheimer, and Walter Benjamin. Adorno's most lasting influence has probably been in the area of philosophy (he was a member of the so-called Frankfurt School), but his writings on music and his music itself are not to be dismissed. Stylistically, his works are related to the sound and compositional techniques of the Second Viennese School. His music is not widely available, though some of it can be found on several major labels, including BIS and CPO.

Adorno was born in Frankfurt on September 11, 1903. His mother was a professional singer who often concertized with her pianist sister. Young Theodor studied piano and composition with Bernhard Sekles, who would number Hindemith among his pupils.

In 1924 Adorno received a doctorate degree in philosophy from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University and the following year began a three-year period of composition studies with Alban Berg in Vienna.

Active in the 1930s in both philosophy (as a university professor) and music, Adorno was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1937 (he was half Jewish). He settled in New York in 1938 and lived there, homesick, until his 1949 return to Germany. That year he resumed his academic career at the University of Frankfurt, where he was appointed chair of the philosophy department.

In his last two decades Adorno also remained active in music, especially in the area of musicology: he wrote a book on Berg (1968) and a massive work on Beethoven (left incomplete at his death) entitled Beethoven: Philosophie der Musik, which was published posthumously (1993).

But his last years might ultimately be viewed as a mixture of rewards and suffering: Adorno was awarded the Goethe Medal in 1963, but in 1968 was derided by students because of an article he wrote in 1934 that appeared in a Nazi magazine. He died the following year. Among the more important releases of music by Adorno is the 1996 CPO CD of Six Studies and other works for string quartet. Read less
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