The Concept of Musical Material: From Adorno to the Present

“Musical material” came into use by musicologists as a simple term, not warranting further explanation or reflection. However, contemporary composer practice has changed traditional views of “musical” and “non-musical”, making necessary this term’s reevaluation. This article is devoted to the new concept of “musical material” in modern German musicology, mainly because it acquires its new meaning – as a music-theoretical and philosophical term – in Th. W. Adorno’s “Philosophy of New Music”. This article examines presuppositions for the term evolution (P. Bekker, W. Schrenk), differing views about “musical material” among Adorno’s contemporaries (E. Krenek, A. Webern) as well as modern critical discussion about Adorno’s concept (K. Dahlhaus, K. von Blumröder, D. Sack, J. Kreidler). Examples taken from contemporary musical life in Germany are given within the context of this study. Some conclusions are drawn about the new term application tendencies within the scope of a complex acoustic phenomenon, often tending towards a multisensorial experience, aligned with new accents and perspectives in music sociology, and esthetical and philosophical reflection of “musical” and “non-musical”.


Keywords: concept; musical material; German musicology; contemporary music; criticism; Adorno