Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (available in our collection of 130 Free Philosophy eBooks has surely set a fair few of its readers on the path to philosophy. But how much music has it inspired? Improbable as it may sound, the German-Austrian philosopher of mathematics, language, and mind's ultra-terse 1922 masterpiece has brought about at least two pieces. We've previously featured Finnish composer M.A. Numminen adapting the Tractatus into an avant-garde comic opera. Today, we have Tibor Szemző's Tractatus.
You can download the whole piece as a single MP3 on Ubuweb, or hear it above. According to UBU's page about it, the work, first composed for Szemző and Péter Forgács' video Wittgenstein Tractatus, "took six months of hard work in the studio to produce, yet it is only 30 minutes and 30 seconds long." And not only has Szemző set to music Wittgenstein's statement after statement on the relationship of language to reality, he's done so in seven different languages, combining readings recorded in English, Spanish, and Hungarian in Budapest, Japanese in Tokyo, Czech in Prague, the original German in Vienna, and Slovak in Bratislava.
Though I can only really follow three of those (assuming I really grasp Wittgenstein in the first place), Szemző's Tractatus makes me appreciate how well Wittgenstein's Tractatus — with its simple yet complex lines like "Everything we see could also be otherwise" and "The light that work sheds is a beautiful light, which, however, only shines with real beauty if it is illuminated by yet another light" — functions not just as a set of lyrics, but as an exercise in foreign-language comprehension. And didn't Wittgenstein want to get us thinking about language in the first place?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.