What is musical logic?

Saturday 4 december 1999 (Ircam)


François Nicolas

En français


I. If we remember three philosophical meanings of what a mathematical logic is (a grammar / a tautology factory / a consistency in the appearance), we can in this way identify their resonance in the musical field: musical logic could either be the syntax of musical language, the coherence of large musical forms, or the consistency of what means in music the fact of hearing (ou of what the fact of hearing means in music).

II. We will assert that in music, logic is traditionally said to be dialectic, and it then has two deployment areas: - the "world" of music in its entirety: from this stems the logic of the musical topos which will be called dialectic of the eye and of the ear (more technically: dialectic of writing and of perception); - the area that each musical work delimits in its own way: from this stems the logic of the work, which articulates the statements of the work with a specific duty of statements (more technically: dialectic of development, of deployment, and of variations), and which on the one hand structures the listening of the singular form of a work, and on the other hand - in a less "totalising" approach of the work - the hearing of its singular subjectivity (its strategy, its stakes, and its processes).

III. With these different hypotheses, we will explore a few important types of musical dialectic having been used in the 20th century, making sure they dialogue with diverse orientations of logic expressed mathematically.

François Nicolas, composer.


Former pupil at the École Polytechnique and qualified in philosophy, François Nicolas is a composer. After having been editor for the Entretemps magazine, he founded the edition of the same name and joined forces with the Revue de Musicologie. He is at present a composer in research at the Ircam.

Some of his latest publications: Les enjeux du concert de musique contemporaine (CDMC), Quelle unité pour l,oeuvre musicale? Une lecture d,Albert Lautman (Horlieu), La Singularité Schoenberg (Ircam ­ L'Harmattan).

Some of his recent works: Dans la distance (commissioned by the Ircam), Transfiguration (commissioned by the University of Corfou), La Ballade de Maldoror (commissioned by the group X-Musique), Veränderung (commissioned by Radio France).