In this essay, I aim both to elucidate and to problematize Adorno’s reading of Beethoven’s middle and late styles as essentially dichotomous. Specifically, Adorno holds that the middle-style works express the utter interdependency of the subjective and objective spheres in their emphasis upon organic wholeness and totality. By contrast, the late-style works express the alienation of subject from object in isolating and laying bare musical conventions. Yet middle Beethoven, as Adorno himself intimates, often calls organic unity into question, especially with respect to the recapitulation and coda in a sonata-form piece. Moreover, although Adorno does not seem to acknowledge it, the middle style exhibits fragmentation both in partitioning the sonata principle into subprinciples and, more concretely, in partitioning a theme into various subcomponents. Conversely, using Schenkerian techniques, one can expose sub-thematic unity underlying foreground fragmentation in the late works (as demonstrated by Daniel Chua and Kevin Korsyn). Drawing on Schenker’s reading, I use Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in A, op. 101 as a case study. In the second half of the essay I confront the political connotations of Adorno’s argument, again problematizing particular stylistic binarisms with respect to issues of freedom, solidarity, and hope.
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