Music tells the truth in a song???

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Couple of days ago I was listening to YLE 1- a Finish radio station. There was a program about Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787) and his operas. The reporter talked about one of Gluck's arias and said: " But as we all know, when words and music contradict, the music tells the truth."

That was an interesting thought. I've never heard it before. Was the reporter being ironic when she said that we all know it?

I value both lyrics and music, of course. Both are essential and often the mixing or juxtaposition of these two feels like the most creative thing you can do in a song. But I kind of agree with that reporter. The feel of the music has an upper hand in many cases. ...or does it? Smile

@Klaus I tend to agree! There are so many songs I love where the lyrics are either strange, unrelatable or even mis-heard by me...yet I still am gretly moved by the songs! Clearly in those cases the lyrics did not matter so much! Great music has a way of making you fist-pump to lyrics that you don't even understand!

Yet, with that all said, I must also admit I rarely love songs where the lyrics are in another language than mine. Maybe the hook (in my native language) is still critical to pull me in to then get me listening to the music?

I don't know, I kinda feel like every song has its own truth that comes from the marriage of words and music. Like you said, it's often a writer's technique to juxtapose the music with the lyrics. In that case, the words are effectively masked by the music. Usually it's not until later listening that the true meaning becomes evident. So really, I think it's about each individual song creating a certain mood based on how the words and music are related. But I will admit that when it comes down to the final say about whether we like a song or not, it's really more about the music. If that's what she means by truth, then I agree.

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I love the feel of the music to Simon and Garfunkle's song, Cecelia. The lyrics are rather sad, but the music being just the opposite feel sort of lends to " I get up to wash my face, when I come back somebody has taken my place. Cecelia, you're breaking my heart" a bit of comical feel to it even though the lyrics alone would feel sad. Then the whistling adds another dimension of lightheartedness to an otherwise sad lyric, so I would agree in that case the music leads the feel over the lyrics.

Music is always valid. How it connects with or makes a listener feel is always "correct." Maybe not the same for every listener, but it is how you perceive it. Words are lies. Or, at least, an approximation. An inexact tool to convey a thought, emotion or concept. Both can be lovely. Both can be sad. Or inspiring. Or cruel.

But if I want honesty, I'll trust the music over the lyric every single time.

Interesting thoughts here. Makes me wish I was better with my guitar playing, because there are so many things I would do to uplift my songs, if my playing skill was better. This is why I try to learn new songs and practice daily. But I feel like maybe I need to be looking for local band mates who can back up my songs and vocals if I'm ever going to succeed with an album.

i have to disagree. i especially like songs where there is a disconnect between the musical tone and the lyrics. the smiths were especially adept at this-- "girlfriend in a coma," "bigmouth strikes again," unhappy birthday," just to name a few. i DO believe morrissey when he sings, in a cheery voice, "i've come to wish you an unhappy birthday, because you're evil and you lie, and if you should die, i may feel slightly sad but i won't cry," regardless of how sunny and happy the music sounds. if art is indeed a lie that helps us see the truth, to paraphrase picasso, i see no reason to believe the preternatural bounce that accompanies the lyrics "girlfriend in a coma, i know, i know, it's serious" over the lyrics. now maybe the insane artistry of the smiths (in my humble opinion) is not a fair comparison point for the rest of music, but i have seen it other places as well-- "maggie may," by rod stewart. "i ain't missing you" by john waite, and many others, some full of denial and others where the lyrics seem to tell the simple truth over a musical backing that seems to serve simply to capture one's attention, not to denote the true intention of the song. i do write both lyrics and music, as much of my stuff only appears here as lyrics, and have thought about this very subject quite a bit. so i am far more conflicted on this subject than the opinions i have seen thus far in this thread.

I think it can work either way depending on the individual and how they approach listening. I think for most people it will be true that the music is dominant; music has such a basic appeal to our subconscious that it will evoke feelings regardless of full engagement with it and it takes a conscious act to override the mood that the music evokes.

However, if you are listening more critically or more 'intellectually' then it becomes a matter of the strongest element of the song. In the case of The Smiths that will always be the words - the added complication there is that everything Morrissey does is dripping in irony most of the time so 'intellectual' engagement is pretty much a prerequisite.

kc5's picture

As I go through some of these comments I begin to think I may have misread the gist of the reporter's comments. For clarity, I don't think lyrics lie (in terms of what was intended by the songwriter's emotion or intent.) I took that to mean the music leads the emotion of the song which I think it often does. I think sometimes a conflict of mood in the music to the lyrics can change the inflection of the lyrics and therefore change the mood of it, can even sometimes take over and make it mean what wasn't intended. Think how written communication can be interpreted differently without facial expressions or vocal inflection (and then they invented emojis). Music leads the vocal inflection so to speak and can completely change the feel of the lyrics. Perhaps why writers might say yes or no to a music collaboration--because it conflicts with the intent of the lyrics. Does music have power (emotionally speaking)? Yes it does. Which is why there's a bit of responsibility on the part of lyricists to take care with their message. If the music that accompanies is powerful enough, it can relay a repeated message to someone vulnerable enough to absorb to an action. Do lyrics lie? Depends on what you mean. Does music lie? Depends on what you mean.

Yes, indeed.

Who'd listen to "I shot the sheriff", E.C., if not in the ~ context it exists? Esp. 2day?

Satire, irony in any blow ur brains out Blues song... "Woman, you got me hiding from your man, at your back door", or a fav other e.g, "My woman she left me, but I got the Cadillac" ...

Another weird one, orig wrote for Film, (why so orig short, not a whole song), "Knocking on Heavens Door" ... if not for the Context, who'd listen, let alone pay money for it, or Lic. it, to Cover? 3 minute mind, --vacations thru the day.

A favorite bar band, as I call them is Flogging Molly... some of the lyrics, to me, are histerical... nice twists of irony. "Hey Joe" as J.H. covered it, is a violent song... who'd let their kid listen to it... yet, at 12yo, --a fav of mine, purely for the music. I don't think I ever "learn a song", ~lyrics, until I was so "adult" later in life... I was shocked at the Krappe I had been blasting, --due to the 1, 5 Power Chords, thru my 100W Earth Head, via 4-12" bottom of unknown '70's origin... "Iron Man" ... Geese, I embarrass myself Wink

Then, there's Bach for Bass... what really got me to really play it, which led to Cello... I only use to riff on, anyway...

Context, yes indeed, both electric and acoustic.

Today, you can not say you'll pick up a bat and smash your boyfriends truck, but, you can sing it in a song... Smile ... well, until that amendment is in question, too. Context, makes it OK... so, no, don't yell Fire in a crowded theatre, unless sung in a song on its stage, --that makes it a lie Smile

Lyrics are just the gap between guitar solos anyway... Wink

*tongue firmly in cheek*

I like Hermann Hesse's line "I am fond of music I think because it is is so amoral"

I don't think one is true, another false - they have different standards, and connecting the two can be a struggle
In pop music, the integrity of the music is of higher importance than the lyrics - and at a glance, the immediacy of music always trumps lyrics, which require more interpretation - though to be fair, most good pop songs are quite well written too.

You've got to keep in mind that they're also talking about 18th century opera. You can apply it to other music, but it's not going to apply in exactly the same way. Music expresses the parts that we aren't willing to say out loud. In an opera, the music draws attention to deception. Wagner was the master of this with his use of leitmotifs. In opera music explicitly reveals deception to the audience because the audience needs to know about it, but a character on stage needs to not know about it, and maybe the composer doesn't want to get there through ham-fisted melodrama.

As far as popular music, I don't think of Unhappy Birthday as a particularly cheerful tune. I do think it sounds "easy." But I always interpreted that as, these are really horrific things I'm saying, but I'm comfortable with that. I hate you and I don't mind saying it. It gives the lyrics a sort of matter-of-fact quality. Just because lyrics and music don't connect, doesn't mean that one is lying. It might mean that they're both expressing different aspects of the same idea.

This is what makes songs so special as opposed to purely instrumental music. What a great topic, and even a great challenge: write a song where the music is at odds with the lyric and tag it #lie . Smile My first song for my first 50/90 had the chorus, "There isn't any song that can tell a lie, there isn't any song that can tell a lie ." I thought that was really funny because it actually is a lie. I was just telling myself it was okay to write anything, it didn't have to be perfect, and the feeling was more important than what was being said. Music can bring out all kinds of connotations the words don't have alone. And the words can twist and layer the feeling of the music. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.