Institute of Philosophy

Research Projects

Ontology of Musical Works and Analysis of Musical Practices

Ontology of Musical Works and Analysis of Musical Practice, hereafter, the Project, proposes a new inquiry into the ontology of music. The ontology of music is its metaphysics, its identity conditions and metaphysical categorizations. We want to inquire in particular, What is a work of music? as a strategy for approaching the more general philosophical question, What is music? We want to determine first whether a work of music in traditional ontological terms is something abstract, concrete and nominal, contextualistic, a matter of metaphysical type-token relations, or something different yet again.

To address such questions, we need to know among other things what it means to speak of the same work of music being played on different occasions, and in general of what is meant by true propositions describing the same or different works of music in relation especially to the question of identity conditions over multiple performances. We need to understand semantically what it means to say that two different orchestras played the same work of music at exactly the same time in different places, and what it means for the same work of music to be played at different times and places, even by the same performers using the same instruments. We also need in this connection to consider the implications of making incremental changes in time, beat and instrumentation of a composition that may begin as alternative ‘interpretations’ of a work of music, but eventually result in an unrecognizable morphing of the original work. Without adequate identity conditions for a musical work, proprietary, copyright and legal interests are also deprived of proper conceptual foundations.

We aim to carry out a theoretical analysis in the domain of musical ontology. More specifically, the Project aims to define the ontological status of a musical work, as determined within a specific musical practice. Musical practice in the relevant sense in which we are interested, includes especially the following three main features: (a) existence of a refined standardized musical notation; (b) authoritative role of the musical score; and (c) notion of musical work as in an elusive sense existing independently of its collective performances. We defend these elements as essential constraints for an adequate ontology of musical works. We want to know at the end of the study what kind of thing a work of music is, how it is to be understood and defined. For methodological reasons, we begin historically in that period when an advanced musical notation has gained acceptance, which for convenience we associate with the time after Beethoven.



  Thomas Gartmann Dr. (Project Co-Applicant)
  Marcello Ruta Dr.
  Annabel Colas


This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation - CoRe


March 2015 – February 2018