Paradise, Nature, and Reconciliation, or, a Tentative Conversation with Wagner, Puccini, Adorno, and The Ronettes                                           



1. Charles Ives employed the same technique, and for the same apparent purpose, in the string-ensemble opening of The Unanswered Question. (Hear Ex. A)

2. Adorno recognized precisely this feature in Wagner’s music generally—though arguably the “tendency” is particularly pronounced in the telling opening to the Ring cycle; for example, “In no case [in Wagner’s music] does sound go beyond itself in time; it rather vanishes in space” (Philosophy of Modern Music 190). See also the insightful commentary on Adorno’s critique by Rose Rosengard Subotnik, “The Historical Structure: Adorno’s ‘French’ Model for the Criticism of Nineteenth-Century Music” (224 and 348 n. 62).

3. Original emphasis. Schopenhauer continues: “This is why the effect of music is so much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but [music] speaks of the thing itself” (333).

4. See Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment 62. Competition is domination’s twin. The necessity of the struggle for survival, and for risk-taking in the name of personal advancement, become “the postulate of a moral excuse for profit.”

5. The first and last aphorisms in the “Notes and Drafts” section address cunning. The first, “Why It Is Better Not to Know All the Answers” [Gegen Bescheidwissen], (209–211), concerning “cleverness” [Gescheitsein]; and “The Genesis of Stupidity,” [Zur Genese der Dummheit], (256–58) (“Stupidity is a scar” of a child’s unanswered queries and unfulfilled needs). Cf. Adorno, “Notes on Philosophical Thinking”: “Stupidity is nothing privative, not the simple absence of mental ability, but rather the scar of its mutilation” (Adorno, Critical Models 132).

6. Adorno is thus bluntly positioning himself against Hegel, whose disregard for nature is well known. On this point, see Aesthetic Theory 63, 75–77; and Wolin 42.

7. See also Paetzold.

8. “Under its optic, art is not the imitation of nature, but the imitation of natural beauty” (Adorno, Aesthetic Theory 71). See also Behrens.

9. Cf. composer-philosopher David Dunn. Alluding to a lengthy passage in James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men describing the meanings and intelligence audible in late night calls of two foxes, Dunn comments: “We hear in the world talking to itself a sense of otherness that simultaneously mirrors our deepest sense of belonging” (95); and “Perhaps music is a conservation strategy for keeping something alive that we now need to make more conscious, a way of making sense of the world from which we might refashion our relationships to nonhuman living systems” (97).

10. “The instrumental backing tracks on these classic Phil Spector productions were normally provided by three drummers, three bass players, numerous guitarists and keyboard players, a three- or four-piece horn section and several percussionists” (Tobler and Grundy 51).

11. He also overdubbed: “I can get 23 string players and overdub them 10 times and have 200 strings then I put them onto one track” (Kubernik 8).

12. See also Schafer, “Music and the Soundscape” 58–68.

13. Schafer’s conception of soundscape is defined by the plethora of sounds in any environment that may or may not be produced by humans. John Andrew Fisher suggests that “it is natural to begin to speak of the soundscape, defined as it is by the boundaries of a particular physical environment, as the containing space of sounds” (9). My concern is different since what I’m after is how, in music, the space within which natural sounds occur can be sonorically manifested. That space is marked by a segment of the earth, a territorial parameter, at once a reality and an abstraction, which cannot adequately be “captured” by the actual sounds that may occur within or on it by, say, insects, birds, the movement of water, etc.

14. Among the basic historical accounts of the opera’s history, see in particular Carner 190–91, 401–15 and Phillips-Matz. Both Davis and Stuart recount details of the Belasco play and its staging, and the Belasco-Puccini collaboration at the Metropolitan opera.

15. Puccini’s own love of “nature,” notably including speedboats and a passion for hunting, is well known. See Russo 20–22, Phillips-Matz 215, and Carner, passim.

16. The “West” came to Puccini in Milan in 1890 in the form of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Puccini liked the spectacle and, characteristically, noting the take, also admired the business enterprise (Russo 20).

17. The song’s text narrates a tale about missing home, mother, and faithful dog, and is borrowed from a 19th-century song called “Old Dog Tray” by Stephen Foster; Puccini’s tune is an adaptation of a transcription and arrangement of a Zuni Indian melody first published in 1904, as Allan Atlas has shown in “Belasco and Puccini.” See Atlas “Lontano-Tornare-Redenzione.”

18. Nelson makes a similar point and compares the opera’s conclusion to the final act of Aida (404–405). As the lovers ride off, the miners’ chorus on stage repeats a motive from “Old Dog Tray” (see previous note).

19. On the discourse concerning bird song during the period in question, see Austern, especially 19–20.

1   2   3   4   Endnotes   Works Cited



Paradise, Nature, and Reconciliation

“Hello Cleveland!”


Yatrika Shah-Rais

Review Essay


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