The Aesthetics of Rupture: Adorno and the Adagio of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Judith Ofcarcik, Florida State University

The intrusive fanfares that disruptively signal the start of the coda in the slow movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Op. 125) have inspired conflicting structural interpretations. Defined by Spitzer as "a breakthrough, or eruption, of the repressed," Adorno's aesthetic concept of Durchbruch captures the disruptive nature of the fanfares, while also accounting for their effect on the expressive trajectory of the movement. This trajectory can be mapped onto an internal quest: Theme A represents a yearning for tonal completion that is never attained, and can be heard as an earnest, effortful search for truth. The tonally and affectively remote Theme B is a potential solution to Theme A's yearning; however, the alternating scheme of the movement ensures the rejection of Theme B. Expressively, Theme A turns away from the second theme as the false serenity of temporary escape from problems. The fanfare, with its connotations of aristocracy and the hunt, represents authoritarian social order, in direct opposition to the individual. The search for true serenity persists until after the second fanfare, when the external world can no longer be ignored, and Theme A voluntarily abandons its quest -- a move of abnegation in hope of transcendence that is just out of reach (for this movement, at least). This analysis will explore the musical mechanisms that suggest this narrative, while addressing the complex musical and aesthetic content of Beethoven's late style.