Brockhaus-Riemann’s “Musiklexikon” defines programme music as “instrumental music that is associated with the presentation or suggestion of a conceptually graspable subject to which the composer himself usually refers by means of a content description or heading. The subject suitable for music is capable of stimulating the composer’s imagination, motivating the compositional shaping, presenting the mode of performance and directing the listener’s perception along certain lines”.

Programme music from the Baroque: The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, in whose 1st concerto from Spring the second violins are supposed to reproduce the rustling of branches and leaves and the violas the barking of a dog.

The term programme music goes back to the term symphonie à programme, which originated in Paris around 1800. Examples of programme music are Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, where each movement has a new heading, the title of a picture, or The Vltava by Bedřich Smetana, a movement from the programmatic cycle My Fatherland, in which the Czech composer transposes, among other things, the development of the spring into a river in tone painting.

Die Grenzen zwischen “Programmmusik” und “absoluter Musik” sind verwaschen. Vor allem in Anbetracht dessen, dass der Begriff erst – siehe oben – etwa um 1800 herum definiert wurde. Was aber ist nun mit Kompositionen, die früher entstanden sind, wie z.B. Vivaldis “4 Jahreszeiten”? Hier lässt sich also trefflich streiten. An interesting treatise on programme music vs. absolute music can be found, for example, in this essay by Uta Schmidt on (in German)

In the category “Concert/Wind/Brass Band”, a new selection option for programme music has been included in the “Subcategory”. However, this list is not yet complete. Your help is needed here! Which works should still be included in the “Programme Music” list? We are sure you have suggestions that we will implement immediately.