"Part of Liszt concept of the symphonic poem was there has to be purely musical coherence some purely abstract logic to a piece of music even in a symphonic poem. If a piece of instrumental music is entirely dependent on a extramusical storyline, if we have the audience don't know the story and there is no musical logic to hold the piece together what can I get out of the performance of that piece.....
Indeed it's typical for work to be performed with storyline/synopsis in the programme note ... but frequently this is not adequate either unless someone points out what the individual section represents blow by blow. It's really hard to hear to figure out what is going on in program music.
A program by itself isn't going to tell us what holds the piece of music together. Ultimately there must be some coherence and that coherence is what we called thematic development or at least thematic unity.
There should be enough thematic development of one or few themes over the course of the piece that the piece just makes sense by itself without the intrusion of the story.
Now this is my personal opinion, this is where a lot of 19th century music fall flat because composer do not imbue their piece with enough purely musical coherence, enough structural clarity for the piece to make sense without a program. If I have to be look at a piece of literature the whole time I'm listening.... that piece as a composition fails.
Maybe as a soundtrack it would be marvellous but as a composition it fails. That's the different between a soundtrack and a musical composition. There are great soundtracks out there to be bought in record store, the episode that illustrate certain visual scenes itself could be thrilling but all the episodes played back to back, do they make musical coherence as an entire entity. Probably not, the episodic nature of most soundtrack means that we hear point to point but we won't hear a long arcing span there would be no greater metaphor or metaphysical story line in the piece as a whole. That's alright but if someone say this is a concert composition, I want more than just episodes that just illustrate individual thing. I want something that holds thing together compositionally..... Thematic development is what governs symphonic poems"
Well said Robert Greenberg but then why does he give the Russian and Stravinsky a free pass?
I think this sums up that Stravinsky ballet works are really glorified soundtrack music with no intrinsic music coherence and that should only be listen to when accompanied by the ballet.