Treatise by Cornelius Cardew, interaction between the composer and the musician.

Treatise (1963-1967) , Cornelius Cardew

Treatise , page 49
Treatise, Page 131


Treatise is a 193 page abstract musical score composed by Cornelius Cardew. Instead of the conventional western notation we often notice, the scores are flooded with abstract lines, circles and curves. This score is not accompanied by any instructions on how it’s supposed to be played or with what instrument. This gives the musicians a free reign on deciding how they want to approach reading a score, translating a visual directive into sound.


Treatise performed by SYNTAX ensemble with piano, violin and flute

Treatise : Conducted by Nino Jvania (1:40min)

Treatise played with electronic instruments


The following examples of the piece being played by various ensembles displays the unique interaction between the score and musicians. There are human universals in music on how we relate visual cues to sounds. For example when there’s a line growing in size or height, it has the visual stimulation of a sound or feeling that grows in value. Similarly with shorter dots or dashes you would imagine it to be sharp attacks or jumpy accents in music. But if all these various visual cues are layered and compressed within each other, how do the musicians make out how a 3 dimensional sound would make. This questions the idea of notation, the method of reading and translating an thought from the composer to the musician.

Vasily Kandinsky , Composition 8

“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposely, to cause vibrations in the soul. —Vasily Kandinsky, The Effect of Color, 1911”


same same but different?


Similar connections between visual stimulation to sound has been explored by multiple artists in various mediums. They all tackle this transient and tactile moment that can be felt but difficult to be explained consistently to an audience.

Cardew had two phases in his career as a composer, from the 1950s-60s where his works were Avant Garde and during the 1970-80s when he tried to apply socialist and realist methods into his works. Treatise was made during his avant-garde period of composing of which he rejected the creation of the work as it went against his new beliefs. The piece allowed freedom and pure spontaneity between the artist/composer with the musicians, however it leaves the audience out of the picture. It therefore did not serve it’s purpose of being an artwork for the people as the audience is out of the loop.




Reference Links:

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944): Composition 8 (Komposition 8)

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