List of program music


List of program music

Program music is a term usually applied to orchestral music in the classical music tradition in which the piece is designed according to some preconceived narrative, or is designed to evoke a specific concrete idea. This is distinct from the more traditional "absolute music", popular in the Baroque and Classical eras, in which the piece has no narrative program, but is simply music for music's sake.

Opera, Ballet, Lieder, and Incidental music could also trivially be considered program music since they are intended to accompany vocal or stage performances. They will be excluded from this list except where they have been extensively popularized and played without the original vocals and/or stage performance.

The orchestral program music tradition is also continued in some pieces for jazz orchestra. For narrative or evocative popular music, please see Concept Album.

Any discussion of program music brings to mind Walt Disney's animated features "Fantasia" (1940) and "Fantasia 2000" (1999), in which the Disney animators provided explicit visualizations of a number of famous pieces of program music. However, not all the pieces used in the films were particularly programmatic, and in most cases the narratives illustrated by the animators were different from whatever programmatic narrative might have existed originally.

List of program music by composer

Leroy Anderson

* "Sleigh Ride" featuring sleigh bells, whip cracks, and a horse noise (trumpet)
* "The Typewriter" a concerto for solo typewriter

P. D. Q. Bach

* 1712 Overture

J. S. Bach

* Capriccio for keyboard in B♭ "On the departure of a beloved brother" BWV 992
* Many of Bach's cantatas contain elements that could be considered programmatic

Ludwig van Beethoven

* Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 (1807); based on the story of Coriolanus
* Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral", Op. 68 (1808); features titled movements, country dances, bird calls, and a storm.
* Leonore No. 3 Overture, Op. 72b (1806); one of a series of overtures composed for the opera "Leonore", later renamed "Fidelio". Leonore No. 3 is well known for portraying some of the major events of the plot in a condensed, purely orchestral form, most notably the distant trumpet fanfares of the finale. Next to the actual, finalized "Fidelio" overture, this is the most commonly performed version, and still sometimes replaces the "Fidelio" overture in some productions.
* Egmont Overture, Op. 84
* Wellington's Victory, or The Battle of Vitoria, Op. 91 is also known as the "Battle Symphony" and describes the battle between the French and British armies outside the Spanish town of Vitoria and the subsequent British victory. The work features rifles and cannons as instruments. It also makes use of "Rule Britannia", which is used to describe the British, whereas the French side is announced by the French song "Marlbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre".
* Piano Sonata in A flat Op. 26 (3rd movement subtitled "Death of a hero", 4th movement manifestly "Life goes on" in intent)
* Piano Sonata in D minor Op. 31 Nr. 2 ("Der Sturm", inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest")
* Piano Sonatina in F major

Hector Berlioz

* "Symphonie Fantastique", (1830)
* "Harold in Italy", based on "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" by Lord Byron, (1834)
* "Romeo et Juliette", Symphonie Dramatique"

Anton Bruckner

* Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, "Romantic" — The program, involving medieval castles and dawn and royal hunts, appears to have been an afterthought like it was with the other Symphonies, but the validity of it in this case is supported by the subtitle given to the work, the only one of Bruckner's Symphonies to have been given a subtitle by the composer himself.

Michael Colgrass

*Winds of Nagual

Aaron Copland

* Appalachian Spring
* Billy the Kid
* Lincoln Portrait
* Rodeo

Paul Dukas

* The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Antonín Dvořák

* Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," which is associated with The Song of Hiawatha and describes the composer's impressions of America.
* "The Water Goblin"
* "The Noon Witch"
* "A Hero's Song"
* "Hussite Overture"
* "Three Overtures:"
*"In Nature's Realm"
*"Carnival"
*"Othello"

Edward Elgar

Many of Elgar's works are associated with favourite places, mostly in Herefordshire and Worcestershire where he lived, and his MSS are often noted as such
* "Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma)", op. 36 A series of musical portraits of the composer's friends (and in one case their dog as well), and incidents associated with them. In addition a secret underlying "Enigma" theme runs through the whole work, which has never been definitely discovered
* "Cockaigne (In London Town)", op. 40
* "The Wand of Youth", op.1A and 1B, two suites based on music he had written as a child
* "In the South (Alassio)", op. 50
* "Falstaff", op. 68
* "Severn Suite", op 85, for Brass Band
* "Nursery suite"

Alexander Glazunov

Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was a prolific composer of symphonic poems, independent overtures and fantasias, who often drew his inspiration from history.

* "To the Memory of a Hero", elegy for orchestra, op. 8
* "Stenka Razin", op. 13
* "The Forest", fantasy for orchestra, op. 19
* "Slavonian Feast", symphonic sketches, op. 26A
* "The Sea", fantasy for orchestra, op. 28
* "Oriental Rhapsody", op. 29
* "The Kremlin", symphonic picture in three parts, op. 30
* "The Spring", symphonic picture, op. 34
* "Carnaval", overture for large orchestra and organ, op. 45
* "From Dark into Light", fantasy for orchestra, op. 53
* "Solemn Overture", op. 73
* "From the Middle Ages", suite for orchestra, op. 79
* "The Song of Destiny", dramatic overture, op. 84
* "Russian Fantasy" for balalaika-orchestra, op. 86
* "To the Memory of Gogol", symphonic prologue, op. 87
* "Finnish Fantasy" for orchestra, op. 88
* "Finnish Sketches" for orchestra, op. 89
* "Karelian Legend", op. 99
* "Poème épique", op. posth.

Edvard Grieg

* Peer Gynt Suite, originally a selection from incidental music and a song for the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, but now is almost always played by itself.
* "Lyric Pieces"

George Gershwin

* "An American in Paris", (1928) Taxi horns, a solicitation by a prostitute, homesickness lifting on meeting with a fellow American

* "Rhapsody in Blue

Ferde Grofé

* "Grand Canyon Suite", (1931). Named sections illustrate "Sunrise," "The Painted Desert," "On the Trail," "Sunset" and "Cloudburst." "On the Trail" is the familiar section with a mule's braying and hoofbeats. "Cloudburst," another musical storm, was described by Toscanini as "vivid and terrifying."

Augusta Holmès

* "Irlande"
* "Pologne"

Leoš Janáček

* Rhapsody for orchestra, "Taras Bulba"; based on the novella by Nikolai Gogol

Albert Ketèlbey

Most of the better-known compositions of Ketèlbey are strongly programmatic, including:
* In a Monastery Garden
* In a Persian Market
* In the Mystic Land of Egypt
* Bells across the Meadows
* With Honour Crowned

Franz Liszt

Liszt is considered the inventor of the symphonic poem and his programmatic orchestral works set the framework for several composers of the romantic era. He composed a total of thirteen symphonic poems as well as two programmatic symphonies, drawing his inspiration from a variety of literary, mythological, historical and artistic sources.

* Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne (What is heard on the mountain), after a poem by Victor Hugo
* Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo, based on stories by Byron and Goethe on the life of the poet Torquato Tasso
* Les Préludes, based on Lamartine
* Orpheus
* Prometheus
* Mazeppa, based on Hugo and Byron
* Festklänge ("Festival Sounds")
* Héroïde funèbre
* From the Cradle to the Grave
* Hungaria
* Hamlet, based on the play by Shakespeare
* Hunnenschlacht (Battle of the Huns), based on a monumental fresco by painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach depicting the battle between Emperor Theoderic and Attila the Hun in 451
* Die Ideale based on a work by Friedrich von Schiller
* Faust Symphony, after the epic work by Goethe
* Dante Symphony, after Dante's Divine Comedy

Gustav Mahler

Much of Mahler's early work was designed programmatically. However, he made serious efforts to downplay the programmatic reputation of many of these pieces later in his life, including removing some of the programmatic titles from his symphonies.
* Symphony No. 1, "Titan", (1888)
* Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection", (1894)
* Symphony No. 3, (1896)

Olivier Messiaen

* "La Nativite du Seigneur" (The Nativity of Our Lord), strongly programmatic series of organ pieces
* "Des Canyons au Etoiles" ("From the Canyons to the Stars"), on the natural beauty of the United States
* "Catalogue d'Oiseaux" ("Catalog of Birds")
* "Oiseaux exotiques"

Modest Mussorgsky

* "Pictures at an Exhibition"; movements represent a series of paintings and the promenade of a viewer around the gallery

Carl Nielsen

* Helios Overture, Op. 17

Ottorino Respighi

* "Pini di Roma" (Pines of Rome)
* "Gli Uccelli" ("The Birds"), (1927)

Terry Riley

* "Chanting the Light of Foresight", with Rova Saxophone Quartet


= Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov =

* "Scheherazade", op. 35, (1888). Section titles such as "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship," "Festival in Baghdad."

Camille Saint-Saëns

* Phaéton, Op. 39
* "Danse Macabre", Op. 40 (1874)
* The Carnival of the Animals, (1886)

Arnold Schoenberg

* "Verklärte Nacht", Op. 4 ("Transfigured Night"), 1899 Romantic musical portrait of a moonlight forest walk, from Richard Dehmel's poem

Bedřich Smetana

* "Má vlast", 1874-1879
* String Quartet No. 1, "From my life"

William Grant Still

* Symphony No. 1, "Afro-American"
* Symphony No. 2 in G minor, "Song of a New Race"

Richard Strauss

A major developer of the tone poem as a musical form, Strauss displayed outstanding skill at musical description. He claimed that he was capable of "describing a knife and fork " in music, and said that a sensitive listener to "Don Juan" could discern the hair color of Don Juan's amorous partners.

* "Don Juan", op. 20 (1889)
* "Macbeth", op. 23
* "Tod und Verklärung" ("Death and Transfiguration") op. 24 (1889)
* "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" ("Till Eulenspiegel's merry pranks"), op. 28
* "Also Sprach Zarathustra" ("Thus Spoke Zarathustra"), op. 30 (1896)
* "Don Quixote", op. 35 (1897)
* "Ein Heldenleben" ("A hero's life"), op. 40
* "Symphonia Domestica" ("Domestic Symphony"), op. 53 (1903). A musical description of the composer's personal daily life, including an unflattering musical picture of Frau Strauss
* "Eine Alpensinfonie" ("An Alpine Symphony"), op. 64 (1915). A work with twenty-two named narrative sections describing the ascent of an alpine mountain. A section of the work depicts a thunderstorm, with perhaps the most realistic thunder-and-lightning in orchestral music.
* "Duett-Concertino" (1947), depicting a princess and a bear.

Jean Sibelius

Sibelius composed several tone poems throughout his career, often making use of stories and motifs from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Early in his career he also wrote works on national and historical subjects.

* Finlandia
* Kullervo, Op. 7 , symphonic poem based on the story of Kullervo in Finnish mythology
* En Saga, Op. 9
* Karelia Suite, Op. 11
* Lemminkäinen Legends, Op. 22, four symphonic poems based on the story of Lemminkäinen in the Kalevala
* The Dryad, Op. 45 No. 1
* Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49, tone poem based on a story from the Kalevala
* Nightride and Sunrise, Op. 55
* The Bard, Op. 64
* Luonnotar, Op. 70
* The Oceanides, Op.73
* Tapiola, Op. 112

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

* "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy Overture (1869; revised 1870, 1880
* "The Tempest" Symphonic Fantasia After Shakespeare, Op. 18 (1873)
* "Francesca da Rimini", Op. 32 (1876) is based on Dante's "Inferno".
* "Manfred" Symphony in Four Scenes after the dramatic poem by Byron, Op. 58
* "Hamlet", Op. 67 is based on the play by Shakespeare.
* The 1812 Overture (1882) famously uses different themes to represent the French and Russian armies in the Napoleonic Wars, and concludes with the firing of cannons and the ringing of the church bells.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

* "Sinfonia Antartica" About the explorer Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the south pole, arranged from his film score

Antonio Vivaldi

* The Four Seasons ("Le quattro stagioni", 1723) A set of four violin concerti depicting the four seasons of the year. There are also four sonnets that go with these concerti, see the article for more details.

Richard Wagner

* Siegfried Idyll


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