Descriptive Music: Programme Music

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1. Programme music is a type of music that describes an item or person, tells a story or sets a scene. It's descriptive music.

2. The name was first used in the 19th Century - it was very popular in the Romantic Period (from about 1820 to 1900). There are earlier examples of programme music though - Vivaldi's Four Seasons (written in the 1720's) portray spring, summer, autumn and winter.

3. Programme music is instrumental - it doesn't have words. All the imagery comes from the music.

4. Symphonic poems (Also called tone poems) are examples of programme music. They're single-movement works that tell stroies - like myths and fairy tales.

5. Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy and Richard Strauss all composed programme music.

Composers use music to represent moods, places or objects.

1. Composers use music to set the mood (like using a minior key to make it sound sad) or set the scene (the instruments used in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony make it sound like it is in the countryside - e.g. he uses flutes, oboes and clarients to imitate birds).

2. Composers often imitate real-life sounds - for example, a composer might use flowing notes to represent a brook. In Mendelssohn's Spinner's Song (from Songs Without Words), the fast, trundling rhythm sounds like someone working at a spinning wheel.

3. When the programme music is telling a story, different characters are sometimes represented by different themes. Every time the character appears, their theme will be played. The composer can vary the theme depending on what is happening - e.g. if the character has just won a fight, it'll sound triumphant and majestic.

Danse Macabre is an example of a Symphonic Poem

1. Danse Macabre was written by a French composer called Camille Saint-Saens. You'll probably recognise it - it is used as the theme tune to the TV series Johnathan Creek.

2. It is based on a poem by Henri Cazalis and illustrates Death calling skeletons from thier graves to dance. Death plays the fiddle and the skeletons dance to his tunes.

3. Death is represented by a solo violin melody. The E-string is tuned to an E flat to make it sound creepy. When the violin plays an A against the E flat (both on open strings), it produces a tritone (or augmented fourth - two notes with an interval of three whole toneS, like F and B). The tritone's often used to make things sound weird and scary - it's used in the film Psycho to accompany the knife stabs.

4. The skeletons are represented by a xylophone - it sounds like the bones knocking together.

5. He also uses a melody from the Dies Irae (which means 'day of wrath') from a Requiem Mass by Thomas of Celano. A requiem mass is a


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