To imitate all that is hidden. The place of mimesis in Adorno’s theory of musical performance

Alessandro Cecchi


The article examines the use of the concept of mimesis in Adorno’s notes towards a theory of musical performance. In trying to idiosyncratically define the latter as “reproduction”, Adorno relied on a framework elaborating on concepts introduced by Arnold Schoenberg, Hugo Riemann and Walter Benjamin – a framework that the article discusses insofar as it deals with the problem of mimesis. Specific attention is devoted to the relation between Benjamin’s essays on language and translation and Adorno’s theory of notation, that soon became the crucial aspect of his theory of reproduction. Given the shortcomings of Adorno’s theory, which in the end did not achieve its goals, the article proposes to capitalize on his terminology while at the same time rethinking his framework in the light of recent musicological paradigms for the study of musical performance. On the whole, the article shows that it was Adorno’s philosophical assumptions – in particular the theses of music’s non-intentionality and of its non-similarity to language – that prevented him from convincingly theorizing musical performance, and suggests an alternative framework for future research.


Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, musical performance, mimesis, language

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