program music Instrumental music of the 19th and 20th cent. that endeavors to arouse mental pictures or ideas in the thoughts of the listener—to tell a story, depict a scene, or impel a mood. Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, intended by the composer as program music, might be contrasted with a symphony of Brahms, which is considered as absolute music. It is so called because it relies on a "program" (an expanatory text or narrative) to explain its extra-musical associations. Examples are the symphonic poems of Liszt, and Sorceror's Apprentice by Dukas.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.