No piece of music is ever just “about” any one thing. In Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni stands beneath Donna Elvira’s window and sings the aria Deh vieni alla finestra, “Come to the window, O my treasure.” It’s a serenade, a love song, and a very beautiful one. But there’s one big problem: it’s a fake.
Don Giovanni doesn’t love Donna Elvira, he’s just trying to seduce her. So what’s the aria really “about”? Well, it’s certainly still “about” love, but it’s also about lying. But the aria is truly beautiful… so it’s also “about” how beauty can lie, and even about how music itself can lie. But also about how people sometimes want to be lied to. And again, the music really is beautiful, so it’s also just “about” itself, and about what Joseph Conrad called “the inexhaustible joy that lives in beauty.” One piece of music—a whole world of meaning.
A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.