This scene is infused with a melancholic and contemplative atmosphere. The true topic of the painting is the emotional effect of music. The woman isn’t really steeped in the world; she is lost in her memories.
Her feelings and emotions are not meant for the spectators. All the attention is drawn to her hand, the central focus of the composition. That hand which protects her against the spectators.
One can nearly ‘hear her listening to’ the music. Khnopff was a great admirer of Schumann’s work. He used his mother, whose portrait he’d already painted in 1881, as his model for this feminine figure (from Sophie Van Vliet, in catalogue ' Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)', Brussels, RMFAB, 2004, p. 17-18, 74-75)
English Translation by Marianne Reynolds (2010)