The term programme notes describes a thin booklet of written material that has the purpose of supporting a concert or opera. Programmes are a useful way of sharing information about the music that will be performed in a concert with the audience. Not only will programme notes inform the audience about the sequence of the performance, but they can also include details about the history or narrative of a piece.
Sometimes programme notes will tell the audience about key things to listen out for such as themes, motifs, sections, movements, or context about the era from which it was composed. Present composers often include notes and quotes across all of these areas to best inform audiences and ensure their intentions are conveyed and understood.
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Life in the 21st Century means that we have access to a wealth of information at our fingertips, and there are now many programme notes online. This means research can be carried out prior to concerts, or when studying music at home. Many venues publish free programme notes on their website for audiences in order to coincide with live performances, and sites like Making Music host 5,000 programme notes in their music bank – a fantastic resource for those wishing to read up on specific pieces.
You can easily search and find programme notes on music dictionary sites such as Groves and Scholes nowadays, as well as Wikipedia providing a reliable resource for delving into a range of pieces.
For students and composers, there are several guides online that outline how to write programme notes today, with the ABRSM guide and University of Washington providing some excellent starting points.
Whether you are taking part in a concert or just going along, it has never been easier to study a score. Today you can download a score online for any work before the early 20th Century, and with the PlayScore 2 app you can play it back and really find out how the music works.