Music As Communication


My first really powerful musical experience came at a very early age when I happened upon a recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in my father’s record collection and I put it on. This music communicated to me so powerfully that, afterwards, when I read the descriptions that Beethoven had made on the manuscript from the record jacket, I was merely validated. I thought ‘of course, that’s what it had to be about; music about various scenes in nature’. It’s interesting that Beethoven also made the following note on the manuscript;

“The hearers should be allowed to discover the situations,”

“All painting in instrumental music is lost if it is pushed too far,”

I find this very interesting because it is a bit of an explanation of how music is a two-way communication. The way I believe it works is this; music has an emotional content and maybe or maybe not there is a specific happening or event that inspired the composer, but not everyone is going to have the same emotion regarding a specific happening. Therefore, there is a bit of an open-ended-ness to the music that allows the listener to fill in what he or she thinks the music is about. This then is the two-way part of the communication. The listener is then actually contributing to the work. If you have an audience of a hundred listeners, you have a hundred different contributors to a single work.

This makes a composer or songwriter a far different job description than the solitary, ivory-tower image that we usually have for these individuals. So, if you listen to a particular piece of music or song and have a specific idea of what it’s about, it might not be exactly what the writer was thinking of, but you are still, nevertheless, probably right.


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