Character Pieces

A convenient term for a large repertory of short 19th-century compositions, mostly for piano or piano and one solo instrument, designed to express a definite mood or programmatic idea.  Often these pieces have titles that suggest briefness or casualness.  Many  have programmatic titles.

Although there is a considerable body of third-rate character pieces, most 19th-century masters also contributed to this field, beginning with Beethoven, who opens the repertory with his "Bagatelles."  Schubert followed with his "Impromptus" and "Musical Moments," Mendelssohn with his "Lieder ohne Worte" (Songs without Words) and "Kinderstucke" (Children's Pieces), Chopin with his "Nocturnes," "Preludes," "Etudes," "Impromptus," etc.

The character piece was the favorite and characteristic form of Romantic piano music, serving as a vehicle for expressing every conceivable mood, thought, attitude, or emotion.  Most of these pieces are written in the ternary form A B A, a form that proved especially suitable for depicting two contrasting moods.