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Program music is a type of instrumental art music that attempts to render an extra-musical narrative musically. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience through the piece's title, or in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music. A well-known example is Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, an instrumental works which relates a series of morbid fantasies concerning the unrequited love of a sensitive poet involving murder, execution, and the torments of Hell.

The genre culminates in the symphonic works of Richard Strauss that include narrations of the adventures of Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel, the composer's domestic life, and an interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy of the Übermensch. Following Strauss, the genre declined and new works with explicitly narrative content are rare. Nevertheless the genre continues to exert an influence on film music, especially where this draws upon the techniques of 19th century late romantic music.

The term is almost exclusively applied to works in the European classical music tradition, particularly those from the Romantic music period of the 19th century, during which the concept was popular, but pieces which fit the description have long been a part of music. The term is usually reserved for purely instrumental works (pieces without singers and lyrics), and not used, for example for opera or lieder. Single-movement orchestral pieces of program music are often called symphonic poems. Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world.