Do you ever just close your eyes and listen to music? If so, there is a good chance the music will cause you to experience a range of emotions and envision scenes based on what you are hearing. Even when there are no words, you can feel the image of the music. For example, when listening to Spring, from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, you can hear the water flowing and the birds chirping. This is what composers call program music. It is instrumental music that can lead you to visualize non-musical events. There are no lyrics but the picture in your mind is as clear as if someone was verbally describing the scene to you. I believe program music can depict scenes with just the use of instruments.
There are four main kinds of program music including the concert overture, incidental music to a play, the program symphony and the symphonic poem. The concert overture is a concert piece for the orchestra that is a single-movement. It is not a prelude to a larger ...view middle of the document...
One of the most popular examples of a program symphony is Symphonie Fantastique written by Hector Berlioz. This piece was written to tell the story of an artist with a self-destructive passion for a beautiful woman. The piece describes his obsession and includes tender moments as well as visions ranging from suicide and murder to ecstasy and despair.
The final form of program music is the symphonic poem. This tells a story and creates a scene or idea using music but is different than a concert overture. Symphonic poems are often too elaborate to be considered overtures. The symphonic poem expresses the nature of romanticism better than the symphony but it does not overtake the symphony. Many composers wrote both symphonies and symphonic poems. An example of a symphonic poem is Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche written by Richard Strauss. This composition shares the adventures and shenanigans of a German folk hero Till Eulenspiegal.
There are also examples of program music that is popular in recent times. Disney released a movie Fantasia that highlighted the composition the Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas. Sleigh Ride written by Leroy Anderson uses instruments to make sounds like a horse whip and a whinny. This piece was written in July during a heat wave but when listening to it, you envision a winter scene. Aaron Copland composed Rodeo to share the story of a cowgirl that can’t get the attention of a cowboy she is in love with only to find out once he notices her, that she lived another cowboy more.
Many composers create music in an attempt to lead the listener to a certain vision but others visions are created based on the listeners’ own interpretation of the music. The title of program music often gives a hint as to what the composer is trying to convey. Some titles such as Sunrise and Cloud Burst are examples of pieces where the composer leads the listener to his or her vision. The mood of the listener can impact what they visualize which explains why you can listen to the same piece of music but interpret it differently at different times. The instrumental music can be very relaxing and enjoyable when listeners take the time to focus on the instruments and the story they tell.