From today’s edition of Composer’s Datebook:
On today's date in 1958, Leonard Bernstein asked a question: “What does Music mean?” He posed the question specifically to an audience of kids assembled at Carnegie Hall for the first of his “Young People's Concerts.” … That January 18th concert opened with Rossini's “William Tell” Overture -- music that “means” the Lone Ranger to most Americans, or as Bernstein put it: “Cowboys, bandits, horses, the Wild West.” But, he argued:
Stories are not what the music means at all. Music is never about anything. Music just is. Music is notes, beautiful notes and sounds put together in such a way that we get pleasure out of listening to them, and that's all it is.
Every once in a while we have feelings so deep and so special that we have no words for them. Music names them for us, only in notes instead of in words. It's all in the way music moves -- we must never forget that music is movement, always going somewhere, shifting and changing, and flowing, from one note to another; and that movement can tell us more about the way we feel than a million words can.
SPECIAL ALERT TO WITTGENSTEIN FANS!
By coincidence, there's a fine essay on musical language and the "aboutness" of music at The Music Salon, a fine blog well worth reading: