About a week ago, or thereabouts, I was listening to Classic FM on my way to work when the presenter announced that the next piece of work was a composer’s last before his death, and (I’m paraphrasing, I can’t remember what he actually said word for word!) that knowing that fact seems to add new layers of meaning. Then he said, or do we just imagine it does?
Which got me thinking about the layers of meaning in a musical work. Then I began searching for a good analogy for the meaning a particular piece of music has, which would allow for changes in knowledge, experience, circumstance, etc. The infinite onion with its many layers of meaning wasn’t going to cut it, so I was thinking of other ways to explain musical meaning.
Understanding of a piece of music, and therefore the meaning one associates with it, is deepened whenever a new connection is made. The more connections, the more complex the meaning a work has for an individual. This seems to me more like a web of meaning, with new strands being added all the time, without thr threatening the integrity of the prior meaning.
So when it becomes known that a work was written just prior to a composers death, the listener makes a new connection to the work, and its meaning develops. So that meaning does not reside in the music itself, but is forged in its relation to an experiencing person.
Likewise, when a piece of music is used at, say, a funeral, (I’ve been preparing music for a funeral all day! Can you tell?) those who experience it there make new connections to the music related to the particular circumstances, and that will influence their understanding of its meaning. A new strand is added to its complex web of meaning.
If you have any other ideas as to how to conceptualise the complexity of meaning a of music, let me know!