Is music just sounds? And what does it communicate? Daniel Dorff



Daniel Dorff, Photo by Eiko Fan

Some instrumental music is “just sounds” to communicate musical patterns, ranging in style from Haydn to Brahms to Persichetti to Shapey.  Other instrumental music communicates tangible meaning, generally with extra-musical clues, as in Berlioz, Strauss, many recent composers, and Vivaldi‘s Four Seasons. (Vocal music is a different story, since there are words with immediate meaning.)

Abstract music about musical patterns is magical in its ability to move our emotions despite not meaning anything.  Program music is magical in its ability to mean something despite being “just notes.”