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Programme Music/Tone Poems

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Initial post: 18 Sep 2012 16:52:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2012 16:58:11 BDT
Malx says:
Has progamme music, tone poems et al, failed if it doesn't produce a feeling or a vision for the listener of the subject matter it intends to represent?
What brought this to mind was a couple of comments on another thread where JJD and Piso suggested that R Strauss's 'Alpine Symphony' doesn't work for them ( I hope I have understood both correctly).
Personally I like the Alpine Symphony but I am less concerned whether it accurately represents what I would consider an Alpine sunrise, storm etc preferring to enjoy the music as music.
Speaking for myself I have never been to that part of the world so have no first hand experience of the events depicted, so can make no judgement of how successful or otherwise the music is in its attempt to portray them.
The late tone poems of Dvorak are in my opinion some of his greatest achievements but is it essential to know the folklore behind them, I don't believe it is.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 16:55:40 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:43 BDT]

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 17:11:37 BDT
Bruce says:
Whenever I hear Walton's Symphony No 1 - it sounds like a tone poem describing the Sea to me - the opening is like seeing a ship emerging from the horizon and the finale is like waves crashing on a beach, for example. Whereas Debussy's "La Mer" doesn't sound anything like the Sea, to my ears.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 17:15:17 BDT
Nick says:
Malx; any piece that needs an "instruction booklet" with it I treat with profound suspicion! Of course you then start opening a can of worms with that - does Shostakovich 10 become a better piece once you know its his cocking a snook at Stalin? Don't ask me! Personally, I do think context helps you understand a work more and by extension greater understanding tends to bring greater insight and in turn greater appreciation. But that is surely a central joy of CM - peeling away as many layers of knowledge as you want to for any given piece.

I agree with you re the late Dvorak - they work as both detailed narratives and absolute music - the interesting element of the latter is how Dvorak moulded his melodic lines to fit the rhythms of the actual original text ... clever man or what.

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 17:21:57 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Good thread. My view of programme music and tone poems/symphonic poems is that if it succeeds as music then it has succeeded.
Often the 'programme' is only a intended as crutch or a pointer, and those composers who dumped their programmes knew what they were doing.
However, many of us like a story to hang onto when approaching a new work, and I imagine that is where the attraction lies. As a youngster I loved the idea that Sibelius was writing 'about' the Finnish landscape. And if the Grand Canyon Suite sounds grander with the attachment of that imagery then surely no harm is done.

But ultimately I would suggest that music is the greatest of the arts because it expresses that which is otherwise inexpressible.

Wow... Bruce, I have never thought of Walton as expressing the sea in his First Symphony.... the power of imagination is stupendous, indeed.
Poor Debussy with his mare! I can no longer judge if it really sounds like the sea because the titles tell me that it is.
But there is no mention of Eastbourne. Which would have spoilt the image altogether if I'd heard that before translating the french....

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 17:38:52 BDT
Here we go again! We have discussed this before in several guises but I realise there will be people new(ish) to the forum so apologies to the rest if I bore you with what I have to say.

I rarely, if ever, see or imagine images (or colours) when I listen to music, even the most descriptive tone poems. The Alpine Symphony sparked this debate and as I said it is one of my least favourite Strauss tone poems; Till Eulenspiegel, possibly the most descriptive of them all, is another. My favourites - Zarathustra, Heldenleben, Don Juan, Don Quixote - I just enjoy as music and rarely think about the programmes. I realise that DQ is probably as graphic as Till but I think it is vastly superior in musical terms.

I agree with the above posters about the Dvorak Symphonic Poems, the programmes are an irrelevance. The first set of them I owned didn't even say what the stories were and I came to love The Golden Spinning Wheel in complete ignorance of the gruesome plot.

I don't see images at all with abstract symphonies. I suppose there are a number of works that evoke the sea or storms with varying degrees of realism and very enjoyable they are too but while I can recognise that is what they are doing I don't have mental images of any specific storm (or sea).

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 18:04:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2012 18:14:39 BDT
Mandryka says:
It may be that Strauss was describing a spiritual journey rather than a physical one in the Alpine Symphony.

I think that depicting the physical world in music is silly, producing at best trivial entertainment. Playing things like Ravel's Mirroirs or Chopin's Barcarolle as impressions in music of boats etc seem a step in he wrong direction to me. The best performances play down this side of the music.

Some of the most enjoyable programme music I know has a commentary integrated in the performance. Rameau's Apotheoses, for example.Or the Dussek piano thing about the death of Marie Antoinette.

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 18:30:45 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2012 19:00:48 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Full agreement there, Mandryka, and the error (if entered into at all) is trying to be too specific and graphic with sound.
Only those who have experienced a massive waterfall (like Niagara or Victoria Falls) or a volcano (like St.Helens or Tavurvur Vulcan, Matupit) or a major flood can testify that the drama and horror of the real thing can never (that is...*never*, Tchitcherine) be expressed accurately as a programme in a musical piece. And those who have heard birds singing in virgin rain forest (again - not you, Tchitcherine) will understand that Messiaen was so far short with his imitations to be rather foolish in the endeavour! Unless communicating with anodyne suburbia, perhaps!

I would suggest that the best composers stick to what humans are good at. i.e. Synthesising the natural world and expressing it within abstract music. Anyone who thinks that music can repeat the physical impact of nature should try standing five miles from an active volcano and listen to the raw power of the explosion that emerges from thousands of feet beneath the surface. Been there, done that on the Pacific Rim of Fire and it is humbling, to say the least.
Try it Mr. T; and please do an Empedocles while you're there!

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 19:37:46 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:44 BDT]

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 20:36:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2012 20:40:32 BDT
Mandryka says:
I was thinking of Une Barque sur l'océan in Mirrois. An example of a non-impressionist way of playing it -- which I like -- is maybe Roger Muraro's. Richter plays it like a representation of a boat on the ocean and he does so very impressively.

Sofronitsky pays the Chopin Barcarolle very non-impressionistically in his second recording (1960 I think) An outstanding impressionistic reading is from Marcelle Meyer.

Maybe this is not really relevant to programme music though I think there is a very strong link between impressionism and programme music -- both about representing the real in music. My point really is that I don't see the point of trying to do that, other than to entertain.

I wonder what people make of highly spiritualised programmes for music -- stuff like Vingt Regards. And there's Beethoven 6 -- spiritual journey or just a picnic in the summer?

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 21:24:38 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Sep 2012 12:51:24 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Definitely is relevant to programme music, I would suggest, Mandryka.
Yes. Wonderful efforts at doing that abound throughout art and musical history. Beethoven's is such a great example and widely credited as being a pioneer of programme music! [Edit- or should that read 'tone poem'?]
But ....
Attempts at accurate pictorial depiction have generally led to failure.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 22:03:27 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:45 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 22:06:51 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:46 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2012 22:36:30 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Sep 2012 22:44:59 BDT
Piso Mojado says:
I like Alpine Symphony well enough, Malx, and do not exactly dislike it, but it doesn't work very well for me as music: a little too much repetition of ideas and melodies that strike me as not among Strauss's best. I would like to like it more but can't seem to manage it. I did criticise it on pictorial grounds, but that's incidental to the musical worth for me.

Certain of his other symphonic-poems I like very much, especially "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" and "Tod und Verklaerung".

Isn't it true that some "programmatic" works have the program grafted onto them after they are written?

Symphonic or tone-poems don'needn't necessarily evoke their purported subject to interest me, but they do have to interest me as music.

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 22:49:29 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Sep 2012 13:51:26 BDT
Piso Mojado says:
I think what we call "Impressionism" ... a term many of the Impressionists disliked ... began with such works as Chopin's berceuse and barcarolle, if not earlier with Beethoven's "Waldstein", in the case of piano music. The first actual tone-poem I think of is Rossini's four-part overture to "William Tell", as graphic as anything Liszt called a symphonic poem, and as pictorial as "Peer Gynt".

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 23:23:22 BDT
Knowing the background to particular tone poems or programmatic works can be an advantage depending on how much the listener wants to be taken on the journey, but maybe some people can obsess unnecessarily when it comes to those works where a programme is only alleged or perceived when in reality none was ever completely established by the composer. Ralph VW was particularly irked when asked if his occasionally turbulent 6th symphony had any connection to WWII - one of his more famous responses was 'I suppose it never occurs to these people that a man might just want to write a piece of music...' And about 50 years before then Gustav Mahler got completely fed up with apparent misinterpretation of whatever programme he had alluded to in his early symphonies and gave up on the idea while working on the 4th (I think). Like GC, my enjoyment of a work can remain unhindered whether or not I am familiar with any programme that might be behind it.

Posted on 19 Sep 2012 00:38:57 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Repeat prescription for Tchitch.
Kirkland Signature Anti-Diarrheal Loperamide Hydrochloride 2 MG Caplets, 200-Count Bottles (Pack of 2)

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 08:58:12 BDT
Bruce says:
Do they work for the verbal variety? ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 10:06:51 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:46 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 10:29:45 BDT
JayJayDee says:

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 10:43:15 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Sep 2012 10:44:56 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Malx, I am musing upon the joining together of 'programme music' and 'tone poems' in your thread title.
Over the years there has been considerable mutual exchange of those terms. I am not sure if the various composers are well served by the failure to distinguish between the two.
If we use Das Klagende Lied as a classic example of music with a programme (and a narrative to reinforce it), I would suggest that it does not purport to be a tone poem. All opera is programme music (under this contradistinction). On the other hand Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony appears to be a broad-ranging tone poem which seeks to evoke a mood rather than tell a story. Even the storm is stylised rather than pictorial - hence it works for me!

Under this distinction in terminology Sibelius wrote a lot of Tone Poems descriptive of mood (e.g. Tapiola, Oceanides) and some programme music (Pelleas et Melisande, King Christian II) to accompany specific stories.....and so on.
Was the Alpine Symphony supposed to be programme music that succeeds only as a tone poem?
Just thinking this through here....does anybody have further thoughts on this? And which pieces of programme music are also tone poems?

This question open to all except the ritually abusive Thitcherine.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 11:07:52 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:47 BDT]

Posted on 19 Sep 2012 11:36:46 BDT
JJD: Das Klagende Lied is a cantata and so it does have a story and (obviously) a text. The problem with Mahler lies in his first four symphonies. he gave them programmes and descriptive titles but then withdrew them. He wanted them to stand as absolute music but it is obvious they have extra-musical meanings. The problem is compounded by record companies and programme writers rehashing them in inappropriate contexts. For example, Symphony No 1 is invariably called 'Titan'. This is a name he gave to the second (of three) version of the symphony and then withdrew. He gave the names and programmes to help people understand the works but eventually withdrew them all, to no avail.

I can't accept your teminology. Tone poem and symphonic poem have been used interchangeably, often by the same composer (eg. Sibelius); 'programme music' covers both and lots more. The music to Pelleas, King Christian etc is incidental music. It is used to set a mood but it doen't have a story in itself and doesn't need one. The Karelia incidental music doesn't have a story and some most of it is no more programmatic than his symphonies.

Posted on 19 Sep 2012 11:48:28 BDT
There's a really unpleasant atmosphere in this thread, something I have not seen since the disappearance of the oh so clever Basiliedes. Just as easy to take sides this time as well.

Is it possible for a composer to portray a toxic aura of point-scoring in music? There's a challenge.

I think La Mer sounds like the sea. Walton's First? mmmmm....interesting concept!

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 11:50:15 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 13 Oct 2012 19:31:47 BDT]
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Participants:  15
Total posts:  82
Initial post:  18 Sep 2012
Latest post:  23 Sep 2012

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