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date: 28 February 2020

Characteristic [character-]piece (Ger. Charakterstück)locked

  • Maurice J.E. Brown


(Ger. Charakterstück)

A piece of music, usually for piano solo, expressing either a single mood (e.g. martial, dream-like, pastoral) or a programmatic idea defined by its title. The term is usually applied to pieces written since the early 19th century, although a number of harpsichord pieces by Couperin and Rameau and other earlier composers anticipate the genre. An early use of the term occurs in Beethoven, who called his Leonore Overture no.1 a ‘characteristic overture’, by which he must have implied that it was characteristic of operatic overtures and dramatic in style. The two marches by Schubert published posthumously as op.121 (d968 b) were called ‘marches caractéristiques’ by the publisher Diabelli, no doubt to suggest that they were characteristic of Schubert’s marches, many of which had already been published; at that time (1830) the term was still unusual. An early frequent use of the term is in the piano music of Stephen Heller. He gave titles to many pieces, sometimes of a general nature, e.g. Four Arabesques (op.49) or Three Albumleaves (op.157), and others more definite in their implications, as in ...

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