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date: 10 August 2020

Programme musiclocked

  • Roger Scruton


Music of a narrative or descriptive kind; the term is often extended to all music that attempts to represent extra-musical concepts without resort to sung words.

The term ‘programme music’ was introduced by Liszt, who also invented the expression Symphonic poem to describe what is perhaps the most characteristic instance of it. He defined a programme as a ‘preface added to a piece of instrumental music, by means of which the composer intends to guard the listener against a wrong poetical interpretation, and to direct his attention to the poetical idea of the whole or to a particular part of it’. Very few of the programmes of Liszt's own symphonic poems are of a narrative character. He did not regard music as a direct means of describing objects; rather he thought that music could put the listener in the same frame of mind as could the objects themselves. In this way, by suggesting the emotional reality of things, music could indirectly represent them. Such an idea – already familiar in the writings of Rousseau – was also expressed by Beethoven when he described the Pastoral Symphony as ‘mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerey’ (‘more the expression of feeling than painting’)....

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