From Aaron Copland's essay,"How We Listen to Music", what dose Copland mean by " musical meaning?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Copland, the idea of "musical meaning" is a label that helps to explain the transcendent quality of music.  Copland believes that there is a level of musical appreciation that can transcend words.  This transcendence represents what he terms as "musical meaning:"

It [Music] may even express a state of meaning for which there exists no adequate word in any language. In that case, musicians often like to say that it has only a purely musical meaning. They sometimes go father and say that all music has only a purely musical meaning. What they really mean is that no appropriate word can be found to express the music's meaning and that, even if it could, they do not feel the need of finding it.

In this, Copland wishes to make the argument that the definition of music does not have to be limited to words.

It is a fairly postmodern argument in that it asserts that there is a level of expression and understanding that exists outside the realm of language.  In the most strict of terms, language is a limiting function.  For example, a piece of music might reveal some aspect of consciousness to a particular listener.  Yet, when they try to express this to another person through language, Copland maintains that they might not be able to fully express the experience because language is a domain whereby its full appropriation by all will only result in a limited understanding of all.  This means that while we all communicate through language, we are not able to fully communicate our experiences through it.  If I listen to a piece of music and it expresses a condition that means something significant to me, my use of language limits it because I am not able to fully convey its meaning to someone else.  In this, Copland argues that "musical meaning" is a way in which we can convey meaning without the limiting function of language.