What does it mean?

Recently I heard a series of episodes of "Exploring Music" in which Bill McGlaughlin investigated music and meaning - certainly an elusive concept.

Soon after, I attended a concert and was moved by performances of Francis Poulenc's "Stabat Mater" and Herbert Howells' "Hymnus Paradisi."

The tragic events many years ago that precipitated the compositing of these dramatic works by these composers were similar.  The performance by the orchestra, soloists, and choir under the directions of a fine conductor was first rate.  And for whatever reason, I was in a receptive frame of mind that day, ready for immersion in the glorious sounds that enveloped me.

So what did the music mean?

An answer is not easy to express in everyday language.  Poets and philosophers have responded eloquently to their impressions of musical moments in their lives.

For me on that particular day, any meaning arose from the depth of my experience of the music.  And I guess this experience occurred at the intersection of the composer's inspiration and craft, the performers' interpretation, and my (the listener's) context.

Now I'm listening to John Coltrane.  What does this music mean?  I can't readily say.  But I know I like it.

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    "Where words leave off, music begins."  
    - Heinrich Heine