View RSS Feed

Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Tell Me A Story With Music: The Tone Poem

Rate this Entry
En français

All this month on my Friday Blog and Podcast I have been exploring the theme of story telling. Of course, the most popular form of story telling in music is the tone poem, an invention that - as I explained in my post on Symphonie Fantastique - in one of the key contributions of the Romantic era. A toine poem is, by definition, the antithesis of form, it is a pure musical canvas, used to paint a particular story, express emotions, all those things we routinely associate with story telling.

Today;s playlist merely proposes a handful of tone poems (or orchestral fantasies), spanning nearly 100 years.

Our journey begins with Franz Liszt, who musiologists claim to be the inventor of the genre. In a past Tuesday Blog, I proposed Liszt's finest tone poem, Les préludes. Today's playlist presents another of his creations, Tasso.

One has to believe that the next torch bearer for the genre has to have been Richard Strauss. Strauss composed a series of epic tone poems, some of them massive beyond compare (Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Helkdenleben) and others (composed early in his career) have become standards of the genre, including Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, my choice for this week's playlist.

Not all works get the moniker Tone Poem, but they do fit the mold. One of these is the series of orchestral fantasies by Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Hamlet - all of them featured on my Podcasts almost two years ago - and Francesca da Rimini, my selection for today. Francesca is a lengthy work for the genre (at almost 30 minutes) but packs quite a punch. This performance by Tchaikovsky conductor extraordinaire Evgenii Mravinski grabs you from the initial downbeat and doesn't let go until the bitter end.

There are quaint and simple tone poems, and we owe quite a few to Camille Saint-Saëns: his Phaeton and this one, Omphale's Spinning Wheel illustrate that the genre doesn't need to go over-the-top (a la Strauss), that straight-forward and economical composing does just as good a job.

My final selection today is Gershwin's tone poem An American in Paris, a work that has transcended the concert hall (thanks to Vicente Minelli and Gene Kelly). In researching for today's post, I encountered this nice fact-filled web page that talks not only about the well-known back story to the work, but also discusses the story of the recording featured today, the world-premiere recording by Nathaniel Shilkret. I was amazed at how well the performance stacks up to the "modern" performances (Previn, Tilson-Thomas, ...). I'm especially impressed with some of the sound effects and, if you pay close attention, you will hear Gershwin himself playing the Celesta.

Happy Listening!


Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo, S.96
Leipzig Gewandhaus under Kurt Masur

Pyotr Ilich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Francesca da Rimini (symphonic fantasy) in E-, Op.32
Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgenii Mravinski

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28, Trv 171
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le Rouet d'Omphale, symphonic poem in A, Op.31
Orchestre du Conservatoire under Charles Munch

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris (1928)
Victor Symphony Orchestra under Nathaniel Shilkret

YouTube Playlist @

April 26 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "C'est poétique" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more April 26 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.
Likes ptr liked this post

Updated Apr-23-2013 at 11:15 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music