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. (July 2017)
Program music or programme music is a type of
art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical
narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of
program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music. A classic example is
Symphonie fantastique, which relates a drug-induced series of morbid fantasies concerning the unrequited love of a sensitive poet involving murder, execution, and the torments of Hell. The genre culminates in the symphonic works of
Richard Strauss that include narrations of the adventures of
Till Eulenspiegel, the composer's domestic life, and an interpretation of
Nietzsche's philosophy of the
Superman. Following Strauss, the genre declined and new works with explicitly narrative content are rare. Nevertheless the genre continues to exert an influence on film music, especially where this draws upon the techniques of late romantic music.
The term is almost exclusively applied to works in the
European classical music tradition, particularly those from the
Romantic music period of the 19th century, during which the concept was popular, but pieces which fit the description have long been a part of music. The term is usually reserved for purely instrumental works (pieces without singers and lyrics), and not used, for example for
Lieder. Single movement orchestral pieces of program music are often called
Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world.