It's the Romantic composer, Franz Liszt, who is usually credited with the invention of the "tone poem," defined as an orchestral piece that usually has some sort of "program" or story depicted in music. In the Romantic Era these stories were often, well, romantic in nature. Enchanted huntsmen, water fairies, and tales of thwarted lovers were popular, as were depictions of mountains, rivers, and other evocative natural scenes.
On today's date in 1927, the Boston Symphony premiered a modern tone-poem on a modern subject. The music was by the American composer, Frederick Converse, and the complete title was: "Flivver Ten Million: A Joyous Epic Inspired by the Familiar Legend 'The Ten Millionth Ford is Now Serving Its Owner.'"
"Flivver" was a slang term appropriated by the Ford Motor Company for its inexpensive, mass-produced cars. The advertising tag-line about the "10 Millionth Flivver" must have struck Converse as poetic, in a modern American sort of way, and so fit material for a tone poem.
"I set about it for my own amusement," wrote Converse. "I wondered what Mark Twain would have done with such a theme if he had been a musician. He who wishes to express American life or experience must include the saving grace of humor."
As a "road map" for this musical Flivver, Converse provided descriptive titles for sections of the tone-poem, like "Dawn in Detroit," "The Din of the Builders," "The Joy Riders," and (perhaps predictably) "The Collision."
Music Played in Today's Program
Frederick Converse (1871 – 1940)Flivver Ten MillionBuffalo Philharmonic; JoAnn Falletta, cond.Naxos 8.559116