Music as Message: An Introduction to Musical Semantics

PDF Music as Message: An Introduction to Musical Semantics 27 février 2016

Book author
  1. Constantin Floros
51E23chGumL SX329 BO1204203200

Music is often defined as art for the ear, as the language of feeling, of the heart, as sound play, or as the science of composition. But music also conveys intellectual and emotional experiences, literary, religious, philosophical, social and political ideas. Countless composers encrypt contents in their music that can be deciphered by a variety of methods. This book is designed as an introduction to the basic questions of musical semantics and discusses Beethoven's committed art, the core ideas of the "Ring of the Nibelung" and of the "Symphony of a Thousand", Wagner's idea of a religion of art, the relation of music and poetry, the musico-literary conceptions of composers, the large field of program music and the history of the impact of Gustav Mahler.


As long as people have been theorizing about art, there have been diverse conceptions of music. Some take it as an art that follows its own laws, a play of “moving tonal forms,” as the high priest of music Eduard Hanslick put it. To others, it is expression, an art of “inwardness,” the “language of the soul.” For some, music serves the purpose of amusement and entertainment, being an art designed solely for aesthetic pleasure. Others tirelessly point to its educational and therapeutic function – a function ascribed to it already in Greek antiquity. If in the 18th century it was widely held that music has a specific end in view, in the 19th the notion of music as pure, purposeless, so-called absolute music, began widely to prevail.

The words message and code denote basic concepts in the modern science of communication, in mythography and semiotics. Music, too, is a communicative phenomenon par excellence but has to date hardly been analyzed in terms of the communicative process. What do composers from Ludwig van Beethoven to Luciao Berio and Luigi Nono intend with their music? What do they want to say, and to whom do they address themselves? What is the nature of the messages they transmit, and how are they received and deciphered by the listeners? The subject of music as message is one that has fascinated me for half a century. The book is intended as an introduction to the basic questions of musical semantics. Nearly all of my books profit from it (cf. section 3 of the bibliography).

The publication of the original German version in 1989 made a lasting impression in several European countries. The concept of the “message” established itself in musicological criticism and inspired several symposia on the subject: in Bratislava (Hudba ako posolstvo) in 1993, in Cracow (Music as Message of Truth and Beauty) in 2008, and in Vienna (“Music as Ideological Message”) in 2011. The second chapter of this book appeared in a Spanish translation in Quodlibet Issue 39 (September-December 2007) and in a Polish translation in Teoria Muzyki, 6 (Cracow, 2015): 211–226. The present English edition has been brought up to date and expanded by the chapters “Public and Private Messages in Music,” “Autobiographic ← 11 | 12 → Elements in Schumann’s Music” and “Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony. A Semantic Analysis,” as well as some additions to chapter V and XVII.

For the past ten years, I have been collaborating intensively with my dear friend, Emeritus Professor Dr. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch of Indiana University. He has carefully translated a number of my books, functioning at the same time as a very conscientious copy editor, who does not miss a thing. He has once again provided an expert translation, as well as making numerous fruitful suggestions. My most cordial thanks go to him.
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