program music

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program music

Instrumental music of the 19th and 20th cent. that endeavors to arouse mental pictures or ideas in the thoughts of the listener—to tell a story, depict a scene, or impel a mood. Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, intended by the composer as program music, might be contrasted with a symphony of Brahms, which is considered as absolute musicabsolute music,
term used for music dependent on its structure alone for comprehension. It is the antithesis of program music. It is not associated with extramusical ideas or with a pictorial or narrative scheme of emotions, nor does it attempt to reproduce sounds in nature.
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. It is so called because it relies on a "program" (an expanatory text or narrative) to explain its extra-musical associations. Examples are the symphonic poems of LisztLiszt, Franz
, 1811–86, Hungarian composer and pianist. Liszt was a revolutionary figure of romantic music and was acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He made his debut at nine, going thereafter to Vienna to study with Czerny and Salieri.
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, and Sorceror's Apprentice by DukasDukas, Paul
, 1865–1935, French composer and critic. He was influenced by both the romanticism of Wagner and the impressionism of Debussy. His compositions are few, the best known being a symphonic poem, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897), and an opera,
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Program Music


a type of instrumental music; musical works that communicate and expound upon a verbal, often poetic idea (the program). The program may be expressed in the work’s title, which may indicate, for example, a phenomenon in real life (Morning from Grieg’s incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt); the title may also be drawn from a literary work that inspired the composer (R. Strauss’ Macbeth, a symphonic poem based on Shakespeare’s play). More detailed programs are usually based on literary works (Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Antar, based on Senkovskii’s tale of the same name); less frequently, they have no connection to a literary prototype (Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique). The program describes something that cannot be embodied in music and therefore is not communicated by the music itself. In this way it differs from any analysis or description of the music. Thus, only the composer can impart the program to the composition. In program music, wide use is made of musical imagery, the imitation of natural sounds, and the musical expression of nonmusical ideas.

The simplest kind of program music has a pictorial theme, for example, nature, folk festivities, or battles. In program music with a plot, the development of musical images to some degree corresponds to the outline of the plot, which is usually borrowed from literature. Sometimes only a musical characterization of the principal characters, the overall plot development, and the initial and final interactions of the forces at work are given (program with a summarized plot); sometimes an entire sequence of events is represented (program with a sequential plot).

The methods of development used in program music allow a plot to be expressed without violation of musical principles. Such methods include the use of variations and the associated principle of monothematic music, as advanced by Liszt; the use of the leitmotiv as a descriptive device, which Berlioz was one of the first to introduce; and the use, in a one-movement work, of elements of both the sonata form and the cyclic form, a characteristic feature of the symphonic poem created by Liszt.

The programmatic genre represented a great achievement in music; it stimulated the search for new means of expression and helped widen the range of images in musical compositions. Program music enjoys the same prestige as absolute music and is developing closely with it.

Program music dates from antiquity—it was known in classical Greece. Examples from the 18th century include the harpsichord miniatures of F. Couperin and J. P. Rameau and the Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother by J. S. Bach. Beethoven composed a number of programmatic works, including the Symphony No. 6 (”Pastoral”), the Coriolan Overture, and the overture to Egmont. The flowering of program music in the 19th century was associated with the romantic movement in music, which strove to renew music by uniting it with poetry. The program music of the romantic composers includes Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy and Liszt’s A Faust Symphony, A Symphony to Dante’s “Divina Commedia,” and the symphonic poems Les Préludes and Tasso, Lament and Triumph.

Russian composers also made an important contribution to program music. Famous works include the symphonic poem Night on Bald Mountain and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, the symphonic suite Antar by Rimsky-Korsakov, and the symphony Manfred, the fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet, and the fantasy for orchestra Francesca da Rimini by Tchaikovsky. Program music was also composed by Glazunov, Liadov, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff. The national traditions in program music were continued and developed by the Soviet composers Miaskovskii and Shostakovich.


Tchaikovsky, P. I. O programmnoi muzyke: Izbr. otryvki iz pisem i statei. Moscow, 1952.
Stasov, V. V. “Iskusstvo XIX veka.” Izbr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1952.
Liszt, F. Izbr. stat’i. Moscow, 1959. Pages 271–349.
Khokhlov, Iu. O muzykal’noi programmnosti. Moscow, 1963.
Klauwell, O. Geschichte der Programmusik. Leipzig, 1910.
Sychra, A. “Die Einheit von absoluter musik und Programmusik.” Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft [vol.] 1, 1959.
Niecks, F. Programme Music in the Last Four Centuries. New York, 1969.


References in periodicals archive ?
In adjoining sections, program music is presented as comprising "symphonic poem" and "tone painting," while musical ekphrasis is related, respectively, to "music on works of literature" and "music on works of art.
Slightly diverging in content from the title, Chion's book covers only some program music outside the symphonic poem, and we are promised that the programmatic symphony will be discussed in another volume.
Unlike many other Web radio services that automatically program music by a computer database, the music on Lycos Radio is hand-selected by professionals, enabling them to create a "mood" and "flow" for the programming session.
com will program music for sale at the kiosks tailored to the specific interests and consumer preferences of not only the region, but each individual store location.

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