symphonic poem

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symphonic poem (Ger. sinfonische Dichtung). Descriptive term applied by Liszt to his 13 one-movt. orch. works which, while on a symphonic scale, were not ‘pure’ syms. because they dealt with descriptive subjects taken from classical mythology, Romantic literature, recent history, or imaginative fantasy, e.g. Prometheus, Mazeppa, Les Préludes, etc. In other words, they were ‘programmatic’. Other composers followed his line, e.g. Smetana (Wallenstein's Camp, etc.), Tchaikovsky (Francesca da Rimini, etc.), Saint-Saëns (Le Rouet d'Omphale, etc.), Franck (Le chasseur maudit, etc.), and many others. Richard Strauss, who carried pictorialism a stage further, preferred the term Tondichtung for his works in this form (Don Juan, etc.). This is usually translated as ‘tone-poem’, but it has been well suggested that ‘sound-poem’ comes nearer to the intention. Most late 19th- and early 20th-cent. composers wrote symphonic poems though they did not always so describe them, e.g. Delius's In a Summer Garden. Elgar used designation ‘concert-ov.’ for what are in effect 3 symphonic poems, Froissart, Cockaigne, and In the South, and he called Falstaff a symphonic study. Later 20th-cent. composers have shown less interest in the form, but it still survives in such works as Birtwistle's The Triumph of Time (1972) and Tippett's The Rose Lake (1991–3).

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symphonic poem, type of orchestral composition created by Liszt, also called tone poem. Discarding classical principles of form, it begins with a poetic or other literary inspiration. Although it is usually considered program music, no literal following of a program was intended by Liszt. His Tasso (1849) and Hamlet (1876) are compositions of this sort. Although the symphonic poem better expressed the spirit of romanticism than did the symphony, it did not supersede the symphony; many composers, e.g., Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Sibelius, Franck, and Dvořák, wrote in both forms. In the symphonic poems of Smetana and Sibelius an element of nationalism is added. Influenced by Alexander Ritter's tone poems, Richard Strauss, in, for example, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895), carried the programmatic possibilities to an extreme of realism, in contrast to the impressionistic tone poems of Debussy, such as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune (1894), which are closer to the Lisztian concept.

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symphonic poem (tone poem) Orchestral piece of the late-Romantic period that describes in music a poem, story, or other extra-musical programme. The term was first used by Franz Liszt. Till Eulenspiegel and Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss are perhaps the best-known examples of the genre. See also programme music

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sym·phon·ic po·em • n. another term for tone poem.