INTRODUCTION TO THE SOCIOLOGY OF MUSIC
Theodore W. Adorno
The Seabury Press, Inc.
originally published 1962
English translation 1976
Next in line would be another type, one defined not by the relation to the specific quality of what is heard, but by its own mentality, grown independent of the object. This is the emotional listener. His relation to music is less rigid and indirect than the culture consumer's, but in another respect it is even farther removed from perception: to him, the relation becomes crucial for triggering instinctual stirrings otherwise tamed or repressed by norms of civilization. [bold added italics original] Often music becomes a source of irrationality, whereby a man inexorably harnessed to the bustle of rationalistic self-preservation will be enabled to keep having feelings at all. Often he has virtually nothing to do any more with the form of what he has heard: its preponderant function is that of such a trigger. The listening process follows the theorem of specific sense energies: a sensation of light results from a punch in the eye. Yet this type may indeed respond with particular strength to music of an obvious emotional hue, like Tchaikovsky's. [emphasis added] He is easily moved to tears, and his links with the culture consumer are continuous; ·the latter's arsenal too is rarely without an appeal to the emotional values of genuine music.
In Germany-perhaps under the spell of the cultural respect for music-the emotional listener seems less characteristic than in Anglo-Saxon countries, where the stricter pressures of civilization necessitate evasions into uncontrollably introverted realms of feeling; in technologically backward countries, notably in the Slavonic ones, it is also likely to retain a role. The contemporary output tolerated and mass-produced in the Soviet Union is tailor-made for this type; in any event its musical ego ideal is patterned after the cliché of the violently oscillating, now ebullient, now melancholy Slav. As in music, the type is probably naive, or ostensibly naive, at least in his overall habitus. The immediacy of his reactions tallies with an occasional stubborn blindness to the thing he is reacting to. He does not want to know anything and is, therefore easily influenced from the outset. [emphases added]The musical culture industry can plan for him-in Germany and Austria with the synthetic folk song species, for example, from about the early nineteen-thirties on ... .
Now and then I have come across folks who have studied music who have expressed some interest in critical theory. I would advise they skip a good deal of the secondary literature and just dive straight into the work of Adorno. Far better to discover that Adorno comes across like an elitist with prejudices against a variety of ethnicities in musical-cultural terms than to have this mediated away by sympathetic readings from critical theorists who post-date Adorno's work.
Certainly, he observed that there are types of people who listen to music for a mood-altering or even an essentially narcotic effect. He worked out that there are those who listen to music so that it may function as a mood-altering drug or as a reinforcement of whatever feelings they already have.
Had he confined himself to that more general observation he wouldn't come across as he does declaring that this emotional listener is more common in Anglo-Saxon and Slavonic regions. Implicit in his taxonomy of types of listener is a case that it might be possible for those who operate at the lower levels to graduate to higher and more informed levels of music cognition within the parameters of musical thought that are available. The friendly way to put that is to say that music education can help people think more clearly and with greater appreciation for whatever it is they hear, whether they enjoy the music or not. I'm not really a fan of Mahler, for instance, but I appreciate a point that one of my music instructors made when he said "My job isn't to make sure you like Mahler, it's to help you understand Mahler." This particular professor wasn't a Mahler fan but he could help explain what it was I didn't enjoy about his work. But any way ... that's enough for a post like this.