Max Paddison

Professor at the European Graduate School/EGS


Max Paddison is Emeritus Professor of Music and Aesthetics at Durham University. His research is on Adorno, critical theory and the philosophy of art with particular reference to music. His work is interdisciplinary in its approach, moving between philosophy, social and political theory, musicology and performance.

He studied composition and performance at the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the Royal Northern College of Music) in the mid-1960s, and was a winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for Composition in 1967, graduating in 1968 (GRSM and ARMCM Diplomas). After further composition studies in the late sixties, he spent a period as a translator in Frankfurt, where he became interested in the work of Adorno. He collaborated with visual and performance artists and theatre groups in the mid-1970s, performing in art galleries, theatres and music venues, with tours in The Netherlands, Germany and Italy. In 1978, he was awarded research funding for projects on Adorno, critical theory and the philosophy of music at the University of Exeter (MA by research, 1980), and completed his doctoral dissertation on “Music and its Social Mediation: The Concepts of Form and Material in T.W. Adorno’s Aesthetics of Music” (PhD, 1990). During this period he was also a DAAD Stipendiat at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt (1979-81), where he continued his research on Adorno and attended lectures and seminars in the Philosophy and Sociology Departments with Jürgen Habermas, Alfred Schmidt, and Jürgen Ritsert. In 1981, he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Music at Dartington College of Arts, a cross-disciplinary institution focusing on performance practice and contextualizing critical theories. There he taught Composition, Improvisation, Twentieth-Century Music, Aesthetics, and Cultural Studies, as well as working with Theatre on productions of Brecht. In 1995, he moved to Durham University to take up a post as Senior Lecturer, and was appointed Professor of Music and Aesthetics there in 1999.

Max Paddison’s Adorno’ s Aesthetics of Music (Cambridge: CUP, 1993, 1997) was the first in-depth study of Adorno’s thinking on music in English and has become a standard text in the field. His essay collection Adorno, Modernism and Mass Culture (London: Kahn & Averill, 1996, rev. ed. 2004) looks at the concepts of the modern and modernity in Adorno and also offers a critique of his writings on popular music and jazz. In a recent publication “Adorno and Beyond: The Modern as Critique of Modernism,” in Robin Goodman (ed.) Understanding Adorno, Understanding Modernism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2020), he takes these ideas further to consider Adorno’s contentious discussion of the problem of art after Auschwitz by examining it in the context of the art of Joseph Beuys. Paddison is joint editor of a volume of essays with Irène Deliège, Contemporary Music: Theoretical and Philosophical Perspectives (Ashgate, 2010; Routledge 2015), an earlier version of which first appeared in French (Mardaga, 2000). He is also joint editor (with Andy Hamilton and Peter Cheyne) of The Philosophy of Rhythm (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).