In his The Romantic Generation, Charles Rosen cautions that "too firm an identification of an element in a work with an aspect of the artist's life does not further understanding but blocks it." This is in connection with Robert Schumann, who tends in his music to encourage autobiographical interpretation. Taruskin in the Oxford History talks about the 'literary' aspect of Schumann's music, how it alludes to the extra musical world with suggestive titles, some of which he later suppressed.
Musical notation has long contained text, of course. Not just the titles of pieces, but with tempo and expressive indications like 'sadly' or 'delicately'. Schumann went a lot further in adding an epigraph to the score to his Phantasie, op 17 from a poem by Friedrich Schlegel. In translation it reads:
Taruskin suggests that the importance of things like this is to engage the mind in speculation as "A mind engaged in speculation is a mind receptive and alert." In other words, don't take this kind of thing literally, but rather literarily.Through all the soundsIn the motley dream of earthly lifeThere sounds a soft, long drawn-out soundFor the one who overhears in secret.
Some of our current tendency to think of music as being autobiographical probably comes from the predominance of popular songs where there is scarcely a distinction between the voice of the singer/composer and the narrator of the text. They are, after all, one and the same. But the usual cautions that apply to all literature apply here. All you need to do is look at the lyrics to a song by Bob Dylan to see the point. Here is a particularly famous song:
All Along the Watchtower
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