In order to differentiate between program music, symphonic poem, concert overtures, grandiose, or miniature compositions, we first need to go over each one individually. Each type has its own unique characteristics.
Program music is a term for instrumental music written in accordance with a poem, a story, or some other literary source (Kerman, Tomlinson, 233). Program music was not new in the Romantic era but it made music even more expressive because it included that literary connection. The word “program” refers to the story the music has a connection to. Operas usually coincide with program music. A program symphony was an entire symphony spelled out movement by movement (Kerman, Tomlinson, 254). An example of program symphony would be Fantastic Symphony by Hector Berlioz. When this was performed he actually handed out his own made up program and the music of the symphony acted as a narrator (Kerman, Tomlinson, 233). The music in this piece followed the story all the way through to the end. Hector actually composed this symphony under the influence of opium. In order to narrate a story he used the orchestra in many different and creative ways. He had to ensure that the story was expressed in his own unique and strange way.
There is also another type of program music. Instead of trying to narrate a story, it attempts to capture the general flavor of a mood associated with some extra musical condition, concept, or personality (Kerman, Tomlinson, 233). An example would be a piece by Frederic Chopin Nocturne, which was a title for a whole genre of compositions that set up expectations of nighttime romance (Kerman, Tomlinson, 233).
Program music is a debate that still goes on today. Does the music really express or represent the program? Is the audience able to tell what the music represents without being given a program? In the Romantic era audiences did not want to be without a program. The audience didn’t necessarily want the music to make sense on its own. They embraced the less “pure” music because they liked that it mixed musical elements with non musical elements (Kerman, Tomlinson, 233). This also gave the composer freedom of expression and the knowledge that the audience will understand.
A concert overture is an early 19th century genre resembling an opera overture but without any following opera. In other words, it’s the music that would be played before an opera. Like program music, concert overtures were usually based on some kind of literary theme. A very well known example of this would be A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn which was later made a part of Shakespeare’s play (Kerman, Tomlinson, 254). I would explain it as the prelude of an opera. The music you hear before the opera begins, or opens the curtains. Usually that music is soft and slow. Very rarely is it loud and fast temped.
In the Late Romantic period a different form of program music came about. Symphonic poems were one-movement orchestral compositions with a program in a free musical form (Kerman, Tomlinson, 283). The most well known composer that used this from was Franz Liszt. Liszt’s main goal was to create a composition that depicted and expressed a well known poem, play, or literary piece. This differs from the concert overture because it is more of a free form. It doesn’t follow the guide lines of a sonata. Another major composer of symphonic poems would be Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He composed Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky preferred the name symphonic fantasia or overture-fantasy for his works (Kerman, Tomlinson, 283). His compositions had one movement, a free form, and adopted features from sonata form (Kerman, Tomlinson, 283).
Miniature compositions only last a few minutes. They were mostly made up of songs and short piano pieces which were meant to convey a specific emotion (Kerman, Tomlinson, 234). This way the composer could closely...