Kanye and Kim are much in the news right now because they are, finally, getting married. The pre-wedding party was at Versailles and the wedding will be in Florence at the Belvedere. The Daily Mail has all the details. Here they are at the party. Nice, uh, dress?
So what you do is, express yourself in your music, like Kanye West, make over $100 million, hook up with a Kardashian and throw a big wedding. I'm not sure that "big" quite captures it. Go read the Daily Mail story which just seems to get longer and longer as the weekend unfolds.
Now all this seems a nightmare to me! I think the last place on earth I would want to be is within a hundred miles of this wedding. I don't think I have ever seen a more dismaying display of sheer ugliness.
So let me pose an alternate theory: music isn't about self-expression at all. Sure, you can pervert it to those ends the way you can pervert anything, but the real aesthetic nature of music is quite different. It is fundamentally about structure and beauty or beauty through structure. Trust me, Beethoven did not sit down to the piano and mutter to himself, "hmmm, I need to express myself--how about a gloomy arpeggio in C# minor?"
That is not about Beethoven's mood, biography, or love-life. Nor is it about Valentina Lisitsa's, nor mine, nor, I'm sorry to say yours. That is just "about" beauty.
As soon as we start thinking that music is expression or "self-expression" then we start looking at the life of the composer for clues as to what it "means". In that sense, it doesn't "mean" anything. It is just about the beauty of the music. But "beauty" in this sense, has a perhaps complex meaning. We create musical beauty in many ways, often through contrast with passages that might sound "ugly". We create a feeling of tranquillity by preceding it with agitation. We create passages with the energy of the dance and others with the calm of meditation. We create passages that we might call "passionate", though really only by metaphor.
But if we decide that we need to express ourselves, we risk the danger of ending up like Kanye West.
Oh, incidentally, Louis XIV, who built Versailles, liked to listen to some music when he retired for the evening. The musician who provided this service, Robert de Visée, Maître de Guitare du Roi, left us several volumes of his music. He was a lutenist as well as guitarist and here is a sample:
And no, he wasn't expressing himself. But he is expressing something: musical beauty.