No Comment, Quotation — August 14, 2010, 3:03 am

Hegel – Purpose, Results and the Philosophical Essence

beethoven_3

Worin könnte mehr das Innere einer philosophischen Schrift angesprochen seyn, als in den Zwecken und Resultaten derselben, und wodurch diese bestimmter erkannt werden, als durch ihre Verschiedenheit von dem, was das Zeitalter sonst in derselben Sphäre hervorbringt? Wenn aber ein solches Thun für mehr als für den Anfang des Erkennens, wenn es für das wirkliche Erkennen gelten soll, ist es in der That zu den Erfindungen zu rechnen, die Sache selbst zu umgehen, und diesen beydes zu verbinden, den Anschein des Ernstes und Bemühens um sie, und die wirkliche Ersparung desselben. – Denn die Sache ist nicht in ihrem Zwecke erschöpft, sondern in ihrer Ausführung, noch ist das Resultat das wirkliche Ganze, sondern es zusammen mit seinem Werden; der Zweck für sich ist das unlebendige Allgemeine, wie die Tendenz das bloße Treiben, das seiner Wirlichkeit noch entbehrt, und das nekte Resultat ist der Leichnam, der sie hinter sich gelassen.

What could speak more to the essence of a philosophical writing than its own purposes and results, and how can these be recognized with more clarity than through their differentiation from that which the age otherwise produces in the same form? If, however, this process is to pass for more than the beginning of recognition, if it is to pass for actually knowing, then we must actually regard it as a device for avoiding the real matter at hand, an attempt to combine the appearance of being in earnest and taking trouble about the subject with an actual neglect of the subject. — For the real matter is not consumed in its purpose, but rather in its realization; neither is the result in and of itself the true whole, but rather result combined with the process that led to it. Purpose in and of itself is an inanimate universal, just as a trend is a mere press in a certain direction, which lacks concrete realization, and the naked result is the body which it leaves behind.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Vorrede (1807) in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 9, p. 10 (W. Bonsiepen & R. Heede eds. 1980)(S.H. transl.)


Among the truly great book projects that was never fully developed in the author’s lifetime and found its way to the public only as a mass of notes and sketches, a special place belongs to T.W. Adorno’s Beethoven book, ultimately reproduced as volume 1 of his Nachgelassene Schriften. Snippets of it appear here and there–in some of his masterful music criticism, for instance, in his Introduction to the Sociology of Music or deep in the folds of Thomas Mann’s dark masterpiece Doktor Faustus, where discussions of the evolution of Beethoven’s sonata form were–as Mann himself freely acknowledges–extracted from some afternoon conversations with Adorno in Los Angeles. But the book itself remained a massive, unfinished torso, a collection of instructions about what to discuss, passages to be used as mottos, insights to be expanded upon, bars of music with interpretive glosses. It is a great testimony to Adorno’s genius that those fragments, like Novalis’s Allgemeines Brouillon, can be read and studied today and are intensely thought provoking–though perhaps not in the same sense that a final work by Adorno might have been. Adorno’s book is not a conventional biography, though it pays careful attention to the marking posts of Beethoven’s life. Neither is it really entirely a discussion of music theory as it develops in Beethoven’s works. It is rather an effort to establish the thoughts that link Beethoven, a Promethean figure in the Western musical literature, to the rise of German idealism in his own era. Hence the inner connection between Beethoven’s music and Hegelian philosophy is right at the heart of the work.

Beethoven’s music is Hegelian philosophy: it is at the same time truer than this; i.e., it contains the conviction that the self replication of society as something identical is not enough, indeed, that it is false. Logical identity as the esthetic and produced domination of forms is at once practiced and criticized by Beethoven. The seal of its truth in Beethoven’s music is its suspension: the transcendence of form, through with form for the first time achieves its inner meaning. The transcendence of form is for Beethoven the portrayal–not the expression–of hope.

To effort to distill philosophical consequence from the evolution of the sonata form in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is hardly new. E.T.A. Hoffmann inferred a parallel between human development and the sonata form in some of his writings on music theory; Cuthbert Girdlestone found the same in his celebrated study of the evolution of the piano concerto in Mozart’s work. But Adorno is on a somewhat different track. He points to the quoted passage from the forward to Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit as “a direct description of Beethoven’s sonata style.” He does not of course suggest that Hegel is thinking of Beethoven, nor indeed of any other musician, as he composes this passage. But he does detect a certain spirit of the times that Beethoven and Hegel share. “‘Purpose’… it depends indeed upon the performance of this fate. The theme is neither purpose nor is it quite a matter of indifference, i.e., without the theme there can be no development. Rather the theme is (in a genuinely dialectical sense) both: dependent, i.e., a function of the whole, and independent, that is, sustainable, transformative, etc. Consider next to this the difference between theme on one hand and the fields of tension and integration on the other. In the caesura around the center, which I maintain is essential for modern music, there is a pacification of dialectics.” Thus the inherent tension between the unfolding of a theme and the restrictions inherent in a concept of form. Beethoven’s work, and particularly his late work, shows a development of sonata form that winds towards surmounting its constraints.

Does it make sense to impose philosophical structures like this on the medium of music, to see in music a separate development of similar philosophical concepts? Beethoven broke free from the world of confectionary that dominated the gallant era. His works have an unmistakable philosophical, even political underpinning–most easily seen in the Ninth Symphony and the opera Fidelio. Why is it so strange to think that these ideas would not also influence his approach to music forms and to the development of musical lines? Adorno’s linkage of Hegel to Beethoven shouldn’t be misunderstood as a suggestion that Hegel studied and was influenced by Beethoven (indeed, the name doesn’t seem to appear in his writings), or vice versa. Rather it shows how common intellectual precepts can work their way into philosophy and art. On this point he appears to be on firm ground.


Although Adorno sees the Hegelian principles at work principally in late works, such as the final string quartets, he identifies one of the earlier sonatas as a starting point. Listen to the Sonata No. 17, op. 31, no. 2 (1802)(the “Tempest”) in a performance by Glenn Gould here:

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