Wittgenstein’s Masterpiece, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Gets Turned into Beautiful, Meditative Music

in Music, Philosophy | March 9th, 2015

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?

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Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Gets Adapted Into an Avant-Garde Comic Opera

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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.

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Comments (9)

  1. Matilde says . . .
    March 9, 2015 / 5:20 pm

    Hi Open Culture,

    I would just like to take a moment to express my gratitude for the existence of this webpage. What you do is truly remarkable, and I could not be more excited to have found such an enriching, informative and exciting collection of food for thought and material for intellectual stimulation.

    Please, for the love of literature and history and everything in between, keep doing what you are doing.

    Many thanks,

    Matilde

  2. Dan Colman says . . .
    March 11, 2015 / 8:41 am

    Hi Matilde,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments. It’s always great when our readers go out of their way to show some support for what we’re doing. And it’s motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. Onward we go!

    Best regards,
    Dan

  3. David says . . .
    March 9, 2015 / 6:53 pm

    That’s so sweet Matilde.
    I thoroughly agree.

  4. G says . . .
    March 10, 2015 / 12:27 am

    For International Women’s Day you could have highlighted my old friend, the late Elizabeth Lutyens, who also set the Tractatus to music. It is a pretty dreadful work, by the way, but that’s no doubt not the point.

  5. Carol Frome says . . .
    March 10, 2015 / 7:33 am

    I’m with Matilde. Open Culture is one of my favorite sites.

  6. Pog says . . .
    March 10, 2015 / 5:32 pm

    I love this, it’s definitely today’s study soundtrack.

  7. Ed says . . .
    March 13, 2015 / 10:55 pm

    Let us not forget the mellifluous musical Wittgensein from the mind and mouth of Kenneth Goldsmith!
    http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2006/05/singing_theory.html

  8. Ed says . . .
    March 13, 2015 / 10:58 pm

    *Wittgenstein*

  9. henk tuten says . . .
    July 5, 2015 / 8:13 am

    I really like the meditative music.
    I think Wittgenstein was more thinking like a gunner, but the music fits my speed when I’m trying to make sense of Wittgenstein

    you might have a look at
    http://paradigm-shift-21st-century.nl/mini-tractatus.htm

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