Music inspired by a program, i.e., a nonmusical idea,
which is usually indicated in the title and sometimes described in explanatory
remarks or a preface. Thus, program music is the opposite of "absolute
music". Although examples of program music are found in nearly
all periods form at least the 14th century, it was not until the 19th century
that it became a serious rival of absolute music.
Programmatic ideas are frequently found in the works of 17th- and 18th-century
composers. Couperin with
his numerous program pieces and Bach
with his word painting in arias
and chorale preludes
have frequently been cited to support the cause of 19th-century programmatic
music. The old masters, however, did not identify themselves with
the programmatic thought but used it only as a point of departure.