symphonic poem, type of orchestral composition created by Liszt, also called tone poem. Discarding classical principles of form, it begins with a poetic or other literary inspiration. Although it is usually considered program music, no literal following of a program was intended by Liszt. His Tasso (1849) and Hamlet (1876) are compositions of this sort. Although the symphonic poem better expressed the spirit of romanticism than did the symphony, it did not supersede the symphony; many composers, e.g., Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Sibelius, Franck, and Dvořák, wrote in both forms. In the symphonic poems of Smetana and Sibelius an element of nationalism is added. Influenced by Alexander Ritter's tone poems, Richard Strauss, in, for example, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895), carried the programmatic possibilities to an extreme of realism, in contrast to the impressionistic tone poems of Debussy, such as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune (1894), which are closer to the Lisztian concept.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.