Chinese pianist Lang Lang 

From Canadian Aesthetics Journal, Volume 10, Fall 2004 

In an engaging little book on Schopenhauer Michael Tanner makes striking observations about the absence of desire for music in the history of philosophy. “In the case of music philosophers have, on the whole, shown a notable lack of interest. That is partly because most of them seem to have little appetite for music, a fact to be noted rather than pondered. Schopenhauer is one of the great exceptions, and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are two of the others; Nietzsche’s philosophy always has music in at least the background, and Wittgenstein certainly thought of music as a deep phenomenon though he wrote little that is valuable.” 

I think these observations are on the mark as far as generalizations go. However, what Tanner’s says about one of the exceptions- namely, the case of Ludwig Wittgenstein- I find puzzling. The questions that immediately arise are: If Wittgenstein wrote much about music, which Tanner conversationally implies, where is such a body of work to be found? Why is most of it without value? What is the “little that is valuable” and why? In any case, why did Wittgenstein think of music as a deep phenomenon?  These questions cry out for answers, or at least for discussion that may be of interest to students of musical aesthetics, to those interested in a dialogue between music and philosophy, to Wittgenstein scholars, and to lovers of music at large.

I suggest that at present we are not in a position to make the sort of evaluation that Michael Tanner proposes about Wittgenstein and music. Here are a few reasons why. Even though Wittgenstein wrote quite a lot about music, his remarks about music are scattered over his entire corpus, and so far no one has brought them together or taken stock of it. While the masterworks that bear his imprimatur, namely, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations, contain many neglected allusions to music, Culture and Value and the Wittgenstein Nachlass unexpectedly present us with a wealth of material on, or related to, music. These materials have not been collected together, nor have they received due scholarly attention, and unless we gather and carefully reflect on them, any judgment as to value seems premature, even impulsive, if only because unsupported. So the project of assessment requires a gathering of the fugitives, a serious consideration of remarks that philosophers in general tend to be dismissive of or take lightly, giving them the sort of sustained attention routinely given to Wittgenstein’s other remarks on issues of meaning, reference, intention, and so on.

What I aim to do here is a sort of prelude to such a task of appreciation and assessment. I begin with the music Wittgenstein listened to and gather the biographical fragments that indicate the role that music played in his life. Then I turn to the cultural background of fin de siècle Vienna to situate Wittgenstein’s musical tastes. Then I retrieve some of Wittgenstein’s remarks on music which bear on the question of how they might relate to his lectures on aesthetics and to his philosophical activity. In closing, I turn to real family resemblance and difference between Ludwig and his brother, the concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein.

Entire article here.

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