Having had careers in both f ields, I have often thought about a parallel between photography and music regarding the way words affect the perception of the listener or viewer.
I started doing darkroom work 65 years ago and began photographing weddings while still in high school. After workshops with Ansel Adams beginning in 1967, I turned from photographing people to photography as art. This increased to full time by 1979. My music background included playing in bands and orchestras, two degrees, and f ive years of conducting and arranging, followed by 30 years of singing choral works with symphony orchestras. (I now listen to music instead of participating.)
A photographer or composer (or other artist) can exercise very much or very little control over how a given work will be perceived, depending on the presence or absence of words, and how this works in music is particularly instructive. I will call the sort of music that exerts maximum influence on the thoughts of the listener “Type 1.” Songs with words in a language understood by the listener do this.
Music that involves less specific direction (Type 2) includes that which is meant to describe a story or give an impression purely through sounds, such as Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or Debussy’s La Mer. The technical term for these is program music, and the printed program usually tells the audience what the composer had in mind. Other Type 2 examples are instrumental pieces with descriptive titles, and vocal works with words in a language you don’t know, such as the Verdi Requiem.