List of program music

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Program music is a term usually applied to any musical composition in the classical music tradition in which the piece is designed according to some preconceived narrative, or is designed to evoke a specific idea and atmosphere. This is distinct from the more traditional absolute music, popular in the Baroque and Classical eras, in which the piece has no narrative program or ideas, and is simply created for music's sake. Musical forms such as Symphonic Poem, Ballade, Suite, Overture and some compositions in freer forms are named as program music since they intended to bring out extra-musical elements like sights and incidents.

Opera, Ballet, Lieder 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[edit]

Leroy Anderson[edit]

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

J. S. Bach[edit]

P. D. Q. Bach[edit]

Ludwig van Beethoven[edit]

  • 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)

Hector Berlioz[edit]

Anton Bruckner[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Aaron Copland[edit]

Claude Debussy[edit]

Debussy wrote more or less entirely in the program style; see List of compositions by Claude Debussy

Paul Dukas[edit]

Antonín Dvořák[edit]

Edward Elgar[edit]

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

George Gershwin[edit]

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

Alexander Glazunov[edit]

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[edit]

Ferde Grofé[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • Irlande
  • Pologne

Leoš Janáček[edit]

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

Albert Ketèlbey[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Frederik Magle[edit]

Gustav Mahler[edit]

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.

Olivier Messiaen[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Carl Nielsen[edit]

Maurice Ravel[edit]

Ottorino Respighi[edit]

Terry Riley[edit]

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov[edit]

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

Camille Saint-Saëns[edit]

Arnold Schoenberg[edit]

Jean Sibelius[edit]

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.

Bedřich Smetana[edit]

William Grant Still[edit]

Richard Strauss[edit]

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.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky[edit]

Nobuo Uematsu[edit]

  • Final Fantasy Many different themes over the video game series representing different characters and situations

Richard Wagner[edit]

Ralph Vaughan Williams[edit]

See also[edit]