Music, Marxism, and The Frankfurt School

International Conference

School of Music, University College Dublin, 2-4 July 2014

The group of intellectual left-wing German thinkers known as the Frankfurt School, active in Frankfurt from the late-1920s and later in the US and Germany, focused their critical attention on culture, asking how it affected people’s political outlook and activities. Their powerful admixture of philosophy, sociology, and cultural critique played a key role in modernism in the German cultural sphere.Their conception of culture as a repository of new values continues to impact and influence how we in the twenty-first century think about art and culture. Music is particularly significant for the work of two members of the Frankfurt School—Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin. It occupies a central place in the writings of Adorno who seems equally at home in philosophy, sociology, and music. Benjamin wrote comparatively little on music, yet his theories on seventeenth-century baroque drama put forward in the seminal book Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels have exerted considerable influence on music scholarship. The remaining members of the Frankfurt School were not explicitly concerned with music, yet their philosophy and critical theory has informed numerous aspects of academic writing on musical hermeneutics, historiography and aesthetics. And outside the confines of Frankfurt’s Institut für Sozialforschung Marxist music critics such as Ernst Bloch were searching for utopia not only in art and culture, but in all realms of life. These writings continue to resonate in musical scholarship.

The international conference “Music, Marxism, and the Frankfurt School” will give sustained attention to the rich and fascinating interaction between music and the socio-cultural and aesthetic theory of Marxist writers in the Austro-German sphere, including members of the Frankfurt School. With its focus firmly fixed on music as the object of reflection and contemplation, the conference seeks to investigate how these thinkers conceived of and responded to music. It aims to probe the manner in which these thinkers illuminated the philosophical, political, and metaphysical aspects of musical material. Moving out concentrically from this central point, the conference will explore the influence these writers exerted on composers and musicians of their own time and of subsequent generations. It will also examine the influence of Marxist criticism and the Frankfurt School on musical discourse since the mid-twentieth century. In so doing, it aims to trace the intellectual debt many of these writers owe to the German intellectual tradition from Kant to their own time.

The Keynote Address will be delivered by

PROFESSOR MAX PADDISON (Durham University)

This international conference is hosted by the School of Music, University College Dublin as part of the celebration of the centenary of music at UCD. It is sponsored and co-funded by the FP7 Marie Curie Actions of the European Commission, and is carried out in association with the Society for Musicology in Ireland, and the Department of Music, University of California, Irvine.

The Call for Papers closed on 31 December 2013. Thank you for your interest in the conference.