programme music (illustrative music) Music that aims to describe a scene or tell a story. It may be contrasted with absolute music, which has no direct references to experiences outside the music itself. Programme music is an essential concept in the music of the Romantic period; perhaps the earliest example from this time is Beethoven's 6th Symphony (“The Pastoral”). Symphonic poems by Bedřich Smetana and Jean Sibelius are later instances. See also Romanticism
programme music. Instr. mus. which tells a story, illustrates literary ideas, or evokes pictorial scenes. Though the term originated with Liszt, illustrative mus. has existed for as long as mus. itself. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is a well-nigh perfect example of mus. which is both illustrative and satisfying purely as mus. In the 19th cent., composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and R. Strauss lent the full resources of the sym. orch. to this form of mus. art in works such as the Symphonie fantastique, Romeo and Juliet, and Don Quixote. The precept, once widely propagated, that ‘absolute mus.’ was, ipso facto, superior to ‘programme mus.’ is now, happily, outdated.
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