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Composer Tips - What are Program Notes in Classical Music?

Composer Tips - What are Program Notes in Classical Music? 

I have had a couple of questions regarding program notes. Here are a few helpful hints and examples:
  • Program notes can describe what is happening musically in a work (Ex. "The trumpet in Movement 1 conveys a militaristic feeling of war.")
  • Program notes can explain the composer's intention (Ex. "Stravinsky wished to convey the rites of passage through primal rhythm.")
  • Program notes can quote nonmusical references, like a poem or biblical text. (Ex. Movement 1 symbolizes, "And let there be light.")
  • Program notes can give lyrics. (Ex. "I look in the mirror, and who do I see? Hollowed eyes, looking back at me.")
  • Program notes can give historical information. (Ex. "Originally composed in honor of Napoleon, Beethoven's Symphony #3 eventually came to recognize any hero, and not just Bonaparte."
  • Program notes for 20th century concerts can be more experimental. (Ex. "Whirling widgets in my head. The metal clang of the drum. And all is silent.)
Even if the program notes end up being your own personal musical interpretation of the composition, be sure to keep it historical and musically accurate (ex. describing the correct instrument and using correct terms like "solo", "duet", "symphony", etc.). It also needs to remain within the context of the entire program. For example, writing "Yeah, so the sax really plays some awesome notes in that one section of the piece." would not be acceptable, but "The saxophone sprightly plays the jazz melody as the drum set pushes the beat on."


I hope that these examples help you with the program notes. Feel free to ask me any questions. I am glad to help! 

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