Tabula Rasa

Matthew Scott Phillips
Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
8 minutes
Modern classical music
Solo instrument + piano (Solo Violoncello)
Instrumental parts

The idea of Tabula Rasa as is understood in modern society is the epistemological theory that all human beings are born with no innate moral, perceptual, or contextual knowledge or motivation; that we are all essentially a “blank slate” onto which our sensory experiences imprint themselves. As these experiences occur in greater numbers we eventually abstract universal concepts such as morality, purpose, and social responsibility.

But the Tabula Rasa idea does not necessarily condemn humans to being an outcome of their environment. That idea as expressed by John Locke, its modern-day champion, emphasizes the freedom each individual has to author the content of their own character and values. According to Locke even if our innate status as human beings is unchangeable, the way we perceive the world is within our power to shape, through our own reflections and the creation of abstract notions unique to each individual.

This piece is an expression of the struggle to shape one’s inner being in positive way. The violoncello, representing the inner mind, attempts (often unsuccessfully) to absorb the experiences of the outer world, and translate them, through the act of self reflection, into an ideologically cohesive perception of existence. As this perception gradually becomes more complex it can even seem to have the ability to alter the outer world itself.

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