Wittgenstein’s Symphonic Premiere

Lasting less than thirty seconds, four bars of music Ludwig Wittgenstein scrawled on a notebook in 1931 was given life for the first time in what The Independent‘s Simon Tait calls, ‘little more than a powerful, fiery flourish.’ The two-line score, titled Leidenschaftlich (in English, ‘Passionate’), is no undiscovered masterpiece. Says composer Anthony Powers, ‘We haven’t found a snatch of a lost great work. But it’s like the continuation of an incomplete sentence, as if he had started to say something and hadn’t the words to finish it, and turned to music. That’s what is really interesting.’

The only book Wittgenstein published in his lifetime, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposes one thesis saying that language has become unclear and actually serves to obfuscate the truth. Part of the solution lies with the artist, particularly a composer with a multi-faceted language, simultaneously making many statements. Using his own theories, his writing has often been perceived as musical in nature and it is not surprising to Wittgenstein fanatics that he would pen a few bars of music when words failed. Thus, Wittgenstein has inspired generations of composers, as Powers explains, ‘The phrasing, the form of words he uses, the way some sentences look as if they have meaning but actually go nowhere, are all amazingly musical, and it seems a perfectly natural thing to put it to music.’ Wittgenstein did not merely enjoy art and music, the concert, with its ‘powerful, fiery flourish’ is a testament to the power of his genius, still inspiring, decades after his death.
Joel Stonington

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Wittgenstein’s Music — All Four Bars of It — Offers a New Window Onto His Work and Influence

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