Analyses of the meaning of music frequently attempt to use theoretical concepts borrowed from other branches of learning - semiotics, linguistics or literary theory, - such as the concepts of symbol, index, iconic sign, metaphor, metonymy and others. The article demonstrates examples of erroneous usage of the concepts of the index and iconic sign in analysis of vocal music, and the doubtful value of using the concept of metaphor in relation to musical meanings. It shows that the typical, frequently quoted examples of claimed indexical signs in music are not true indices, and that the latter are totally absent from the significant meanings of music. On the other hand, the concept of metonymy (which, although related to it, is not an index), applied carefully, may be used to describe some meanings in music, but does not seem to have great explanatory power in relation to music. Further analysis leads to the conclusion that it is the iconic element which plays the fundamental, central role in constituting musical meanings in the overwhelming majority of cases. Out of all the concepts which have been analysed: metaphor and metonymy, index and icon, only the last one applies to music in a significant manner. This does not mean that the nature of all musical meanings is so very uniform. On the contrary, they are very varied, but concepts imported mechanically from other branches of learning are inappropriate for describing this variety. The article finally concludes with the suggestion that, in order to carry out such a description, one should construct a framework of differentiation and categorisation of meanings designed specifically for music.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.