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

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?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wittgen­stein Day-by-Day: Face­book Page Tracks the Philosopher’s Wartime Expe­ri­ence 100 Years Ago

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

Wittgen­stein: Watch Derek Jarman’s Trib­ute to the Philoso­pher, Fea­tur­ing Til­da Swin­ton (1993)

See the Homes and Stud­ies of Wittgen­stein, Schopen­hauer, Niet­zsche & Oth­er Philoso­phers

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

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)
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  • Matilde says:

    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,


  • David says:

    That’s so sweet Matilde.
    I thor­ough­ly agree.

  • G says:

    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.

  • Carol Frome says:

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

  • Pog says:

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

  • Ed says:

    Let us not for­get the mel­liflu­ous musi­cal Wittgen­sein from the mind and mouth of Ken­neth Gold­smith!

  • Ed says:


  • henk tuten says:

    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

  • Dr Richard McDonough says:

    Greet­ings, I won­der if you have any data on how pre­cise­ly Eliz­a­beth Lutyens scored the Trac­ta­tus? If you do, I won­der if I could ask some spe­cif­ic ques­tions? These would involve ques­tions about how the num­ber­ing sys­tem is trans­lat­ed into the musi­cal score. It would involve the issue of tonal­i­ty, etc. The answers might be of the great­est pos­si­ble impor­tance. I have pub­lished a book on the Trac­ta­tus 1986 and am work­ing on anoth­er now. I am retired from teach­ing now and live in Sin­ga­pore. Richard McDo­nough (BA Pitt 1971; Ph.D. Cor­nell 1975)

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