Instead of individual pieces, I am thinking about the differences between program music and dance music – and how dance music evolved. Originally, dance music was meant for dancing. Literal dancing. Then, it was a vehicle for composition (i.e. the Minuet movement in a symphony.) Or, the suite. Not literally for dancing, but still recognizably dances. This seems to have held true, and I don’t think we play dance music (intended for dancing) on the keyboard anymore. Then comes the Romantics for whom expression is primary, so the dance form becomes a vehicle for expression, another tool. The form itself is actually an integral part of the meaning of each piece. Waltzes, polonaises, tarantellas, they all set the stage for the story being told by the music.
And that’s where program music comes in: where do we draw the line between music that tells a literal story and music that tells a figurative story? If expression is the god of music, isn’t each piece the story of its composer? Shouldn’t we be able to follow thoughts, feelings, through the music? Yes, I realize this isn’t “real” program music, but no longer do we have “music as narrative” and “music as process.” The lines are getting blurry.