Our Parents’ Dreams

Piano Lesson Mihály Munkácsy, Oil on panel, c. 1900.

“We must awaken from our parents’ dreams” is the way I remember the passage from Benjamin, from the Arcades Project. It’s not exactly right. A related one, “Each epoch dreams the one that follows” covers some of the same ground. But I think my mother dreamed of her daughter playing the piano. The dream was visual, not acoustic.

I didn’t dream it. I analyzed, memorised, practiced, sorted out fingering and fought the gnawing suspicion that no one was listening. Even now I don’t think anyone was listening. Maybe Dad, occasionally. Mother was looking. The image reproduced here could be mother’s dream, an image I could never have seen when I was seven or eight. Now I can.

“Torn halves…”

Theodor Adorno’s often-quoted phrase about “torn halves of an integral freedom” appears in a letter to Walter Benjamin (1936). There, it refers to film. Adorno is best-known for his writing about music, a field in which he sees a chasm between products of the “culture industry,” (his term) and, broadly, popular music, and New Music, beginning with the Second Vienna School), Schönberg, Berg, Webern. And the famous phrase applies as if it were made for the purpose — which it probably was: they are “torn halves of an integral freedom, to which, however, they do not add up.”

I feel the division…and perhaps have for a very long time. There is “classical” music and “popular” music, and they are very different. But is it really always obvious which is which? Is one hard, the other easy, one satisfying, the other not? Is there ever a possility of reconciliation?